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Why Ezekiel Elliott is a No-Brainer First Round Fantasy Football Pick in Dallas

Fantasy prayers were answered everywhere last night, as the Dallas Cowboys passed on their defensive needs for Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, 2016’s top running back and arguably the most well-rounded, three down horse in years. This perfect marriage of an elite prospect meeting a dreamboat situation makes Elliott a surefire first round fantasy talent; the only question should be, how high?

Let’s take a look at his Fantasy Stock Profile and find out:

Talent 

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most complete backs to come out of college in the last decade. For an incredible, in-depth analysis, check out SB Nation’s scouting report and Pete Davidson’s of Rotobahn. But to sum up the key points:

  • More importantly,  Elliott’s game goes far beyond running as one of the most well-rounded backs we’ve seen this decade. He uses his massive hands to snatch the ball out of the air, and is sound in his route techniques. Even more impressive and rare, as a former fullback, Elliott prides himself on his blocking ability. He is truly the best blocking back we’ve seen at any level.
  • Just as a rusher, Elliott profiles as the total package. The size and speed. The burst and agility. The vision and power. Elliott has it all, and uses it to his advantage. Decisive in his cuts, aggressive in his style, yet still plenty elusive with sudden, running the ball appears effortless both in the hole and out in the open field for Elliott

In short, Elliott will never have to leave the field and can explosively contribute on any down. Cowboys Running Backs coach Gary Brown agrees:

“I’ve been coaching in the NFL for eight years. He’s the most complete back that I’ve been able to scout…When you get a guy like that, and you get an opportunity to get him, you got to go get him because they’re going to elevate everything around you.

Talent Score – 10

Opportunity & Coaching Scheme

Check yourself into the nearest mental ward if you believe the Cowboys passed on filling their other immense defensive gaps to groom Elliott behind a lackluster Darren McFadden.

This supreme talent is going to be force fed in all facets of the game a la 2014 DeMarco Murray.  Let’s jog your memory on that fantasy title clinching workload and production: 392 carries, 57 catches, 2,263 total yards, and 13 TDs

Clearly, when play-caller Scott Linehan has a worthy talent, he’ll ride it into the ground.  As solid as DeMarco was in 2014, last season’s Eagles’ disaster should prove Elliott’s on another level. With health, I’d be shocked for anything under 320 carries and 50 catches.

This makes complete sense, as Dallas understands one of the top ways to hide their defensive deficiencies is to control the clock through their running game.  Thus, Linehan has facilitated top 10 rushing offenses the past 2 years, including a #2 finish in 2014 when talent was flush, and arguably an even more impressive #9 finish despite injuries and/or talent limitations at quarterback, wide receiver, and running back.

They blend straight-ahead, power runs with the wide, stretch zone plays to keep defenses constantly on their toes. The former Buckeye flourished in Urban Meyer’s scheme, which highlighted inside zone and outside zone plays. Elliott has proven capable of flawlessly executing in either system, and is a monster in the red zone, which is fantastic given Linehan’s propensity for pounding the rock at the stripe.

Opportunity = 10

Coaching Scheme / System = 10

Surrounding Talent

A major reason for Dallas’ high run game usage is their elite offensive line. No other group in the NFL dominates at the point of attack and creates such gigantic holes quite like these maulers, a direct result of the team’s commitment to adding first round talents up front, such as Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick.

Another year of continuity and further development for the younger linemen, like the massive first round talent of La’el Collins (who dropped due to off-field issues), ensures gaping lanes will exist for Elliott. More than any runner who’s had this blessing, Elliott has the ability to take it to the house whenever he’s afforded room, and we should see some massive chunk plays regularly in Dallas.

Elliott takes it all the way

Beyond just the offensive line, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant’s return to health will similarly boost ‘Zeke’s value. The play-action and deep-ball threat the Romo and Bryant connection create should keep boxes honest and thus running holes even easier to create (not that these savages upfront need any help). Plus, more TD-capping opportunities will be present in a higher-powered attack.

Prior to Thursday night, Elliott recognized the dreamboat situation the Surrounding Talent Dallas presented. Perhaps that’s why he was decked out in Dallas colors in arguably the freshest draft day outfit of all time. The elite fantasy prospect stated:

“It would be an honor for any running back to go run behind them…I’m sure every running back in this draft is licking their chops for the opportunity to play behind that line. The commitment to the run and just all the all the veterans, all the superstars around you, is appealing. You’ve got some vets around you that you can learn a lot from.

“You can learn a lot from Romo. You can learn a lot from Jason Witten. You can learn a lot from Dez (Bryant). I think it would be a good situation for me. I could go in there and I can learn and I can develop.”

Surrounding Talent = 10

Risk

As is the case with any NFL rookie, the risk their skills don’t translate at the NFL level is always present. With a talent and body of work as complete as Elliott’s, this risk is minimal: 4,125 total yards, 41 touchdowns, and 55 catches in 2 seasons as the featured back among the highest levels of competition.  Moreover, running backs generally transition far easier to the professional level than other positions.

Despite voluminous workloads, such as his 653 career total touches at Ohio State, the St. Louis native has never missed time. True, he did undergo two wrist surgeries in 2014; yet, he played this entire title season with a cast on and ran like a maniac. Despite having limited stiff arm capability, the savage still ripped off 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns, and somehow caught 28 balls for 220 yards.

Yes, I’ll dock a point because he’s a rookie. But especially factoring his ideal landing spot, I’ve never been more sure about a college player succeeding than Ezekiel Elliott.

Summary

Due to their commitment to the run game, incredible offensive line, and explosive surrounding talent, Dallas has become Running Back Haven. A sub-par talent like McFadden produced low-end RB1 numbers at the close of last year. An above-average runner like Murray feasted for a championship-sealing 2,263 total yards and 13 touchdowns.

It’s truly frightening to imagine what an elite talent like Ezekiel Elliott can do here.

His versatility and three down potential are matched only by Le’veon Bell and David Johnson. Elliott truly might be more talented and in a better situation than both, making him one of the rarest, most valuable fantasy commodities out there. Surpassing Murray’s 2014 is not unrealistic by any means.

While I personally wouldn’t take him before more established products, I also wouldn’t argue with anyone taking him anywhere after Antonio Brown. He truly has that much upside. As I re-work my rankings, my initial guess is he will land right at #8, behind Gurley and ahead of Gronk. Elliott’s greater PPR potential might sway me to rank him higher pending off-season developments.