The Dallas Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft in hopes of recreating their 2014 success. Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and mainly DeMarco Murray led the Cowboys to a divisional title and a trip to the NFC Divisional playoffs with a 12 win regular season that saw Murray rush for a league-high 1,845 yards.
Moving the offense behind the best offensive line in football, Murray helped keep the Dallas defense off the field. This was a big reason why the defensive unit, when called upon, was able to force big turnovers – as they were playing with a lot of late leads in games.
Elliott can help the Cowboys turn things around to their 2014 form in an explosive way, as he is much more dynamic than Murray and will rarely come off the field. With that, let’s attempt to project his fantasy value by diving into some numbers:
The running back position is typically (but not always) a popular first-round choice for fantasy football players. The goal is to add at least one superstar to every team, and doing so with a RB is normally only possible in the first round.
There are tons of legitimate fantasy WRs every single year to choose from, but so few dominant backs.
Can Ezekiel Elliott be one of those backs?
To examine this further, we need to study the offensive trends of the 2014 Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott will make himself valuable to fantasy footballers with rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
Starting with touchdowns, let’s dive into some 2014 red zone numbers. Despite having a dynamic target in Dez Bryant, the Cowboys went to Murray 58 times when inside the 20. These 58 rushes led the league for this category, and resulted in a tie for the league lead in red-zone rushing TDs at 12.
This shows that, if the Cowboys are truly committed to replicating their 2014 game plan, Elliott will see his fair share of opportunities in the red zone.
What makes Ezekiel Elliott an even more intriguing fantasy player is that he is a threat to take any run from any yard-line to the end zone.
To maximize his carries, and thus his rushing yards, the Cowboys will need to play with the lead as much as possible. Playing from ahead leads to an added emphasis on killing the clock with the running game, a role Elliott can also thrive in.
DeMarco Murray saw 135 fourth quarter rushing attempts in 2014, thanks to the Cowboys entering the fourth quarter with the lead in 10 of their 16 regular season games. In the other 6 games, the Cowboys were often within striking distance in the final quarter, and still trusted Murray to help bring them back. An additional 51 attempts for Murray came with the Cowboys being within 7 points in the fourth.
Elliott, the more explosive back, could see plenty of fourth quarter carries with the lead along with potentially even more attempts to run and catch the football in an attempt to draw Dallas closer on the scoreboard.
Compare this data to 2015, where the Cowboys often found themselves needing points in a hurry come the fourth quarter. Darren McFadden saw just 91 of these fourth quarter attempts, going for 3.8 YPC.
We also know that McFadden only produced 3 rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, which is something they will put an emphasis on gaining more of in order to win.
If you’re noticing a theme here, it’s that Ezekiel Elliott will be a potential answer to a lot of these questions for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys.
Ok, Sean, I’ve read your numbers for long enough now! Should I draft Zeke Elliott with my first round pick?
My answer: Yes. Unless you are in a position late in the first round to grab a WR like Antonio Brown who was slipped a few picks, you should absolutely jump all over the chance to pick Ezekiel Elliott.
Teams do not draft a running back in the top 5 anymore unless they expect him to take over games. The Cowboys have already seen that, with this offensive line, a running back can certainly take over games.
That back was DeMarco Murray in 2014, who dominated on the ground while not providing a ton in the passing game. In 2016, that back will be Elliott, doing it both on the ground and through the air – racking up fantasy points that will have owners cruising to victory.
What do YOU think of Elliott’s fantasy value? Have any other early fantasy questions? Ask away in the comment section below, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ!
Happy drafting, Cowboys Nation!