On August 11, 2017 the NFL announced they were suspending Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliot for the first six weeks of the ’17 regular season, due to a violation of the League’s personal conduct policy. If Zeke’s suspension is upheld through the appeals process, he will not be eligible to play until October 29, 2017 (week 8, after Dallas’ week 7 bye). This news creates two big questions in the Fantasy Football world; Where do you now draft Elliott, a sure-fire top 3 pick prior to the suspension, and are either of the Cowboys’ backup running backs, Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden, worth drafting?
Prior to the suspension announcement, we here at the SFFS had Elliot ranked as the third running back to target on our fantasy draft board. Now the consensus thought is that he may not even be worth a third-round pick. If the suspension stands at six weeks, most fantasy owners will only get six regular season games out of Zeke, as the majority of leagues start their playoffs in week 14 of the regular season. Fantasy managers will have to determine how much those six games will help them, and how much eight games on their bench will hurt them. That’s a lot of risk to take, but Elliott might just be worth it. In 2016, Zeke topped 90 scrimmage yards in 13 of his 15 games and eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards seven times with five multi-touchdown games. In Yahoo-PPR formats, Elliott averaged over 21.76 points a game. Those numbers could be huge for your team down the stretch, and Ezekiel should come out the gates running, being fresh after eight weeks away from the grind of NFL play. Following the suspension, expect Zeke to rack up over 850 rushing yards, 150 receiving yards and 7-8 total touchdowns. Imagine if you can go even .500 in his absence, then you get to add his 20+ points/game to your roster? His return might just be enough to get you that 1st-place trophy. If you feel confident with your team-building abilities and believe you can absorb an early-round pick sitting on your bench for so long, then Elliott, a normal top-5 value, may very well be worth a late 3rd-round draft pick. Part of that confidence in your ability to build a strong interim stable of running backs may come from being able to pick up one of Zeke’s backups in your draft, Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris.
In 2016, Cowboys’ RB Darren McFadden was practically a no-show, getting only 24 carries for 87 yards as he struggled with injuries. But if you go back to 2015, you get a picture of what a healthy McFadden can do behind that Dallas o-line. On his way to 1,089 rushing yards, 328 receiving yards and three touchdowns, Darren averaged over 17.4 touches and 12.48 PPR-league fantasy points per game. While not eye-popping numbers, consider that those numbers were put up with the likes of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore filling in at QB after Tony Romo was lost for the season with a broken collarbone. Now, McFadden gets to play with Dak Prescott, the incredibly impressive second-year passer who will force defenses to stay honest and respect the pass. Opposing defenses won’t be able to stack the box to stop the run like they did in ’15, giving McFadden plenty of room to run behind one of the best o-lines in the NFL. Through the first three games of the 2017 preseason (Dallas gets five due to the HOF game), Darren has gotten the first-team reps and has looked impressive, gaining 81 yards on 18 carries with two catches for 12 yards. With Dallas needing to replace Elliott’s 22 touches a game, expect McFadden to receive the bulk of the work and average 15-18 touches and around 11 PPR-points per contest through the first 7 weeks. McFadden would be worth a sixth round pick in 12-team leagues, or a 7th or 8th round slot in 10-team formats.
That brings us to Alfred Morris, once a former three-time 1,000 yard rusher with the Washington Redskins, and now the third-stringer in Dallas. In his one season with the ‘Boys last year, Morris was un-impressive, averaging just 3.5 yards on 69 rushing attempts with two td’s. Entering 2017, Morris is the clear backup to McFadden, who Dallas coaches believe is a much better receiver than the power-back Morris. The good news for Alfred and his potential fantasy owners? Darren McFadden is 30-years old and injury-prone. If McFadden misses any time with injury, Morris should be the primary beneficiary. Barring said injury, expect Morris to see just 6-8 touches a game while receiving most of the carries around the goal-line. Expecting him to poach a few short-yardage touchdowns, Morris will be worth a late 10th-11th round pick in all formats.