Zeke IS a Top-5 Running Back

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Article by Keith Vice


After undergoing the statistically worst season in his career, Ezekiel Elliott is primed for a bounce-back year. With the Dallas Cowboys decimated by injuries, Elliott finished as the RB14 in points per game and the RB9 overall. Despite the negative consensus around Zeke for next season, there are some positive takeaways from his 2020 season that point to better production in 2021.

Elliott got off to the best start of his career in 2020: averaging 22.3 points per game as the RB3 overall. If we were to prorate his 22.3 points per game for the 2020 season, he would have finished as the RB2 overall with 356.8 points. During the first 5 games, he averaged a fantastic 22.5 touches per game, but everything changed once his quarterback, Dak Prescott, along with his offensive linemen went down with injuries. Despite the Cowboys’ 3 best offensive linemen playing 618, 154, and 0 snaps this season, Elliott still finished 35.7% of his games as a top-12 running back or RB1, 14th highest among running backs.

Additionally, he was and still will be an extremely high usage running back in 2021 despite the “emergence” of Tony Pollard last season. According to Playerprofiler.com, Zeke placed 5th overall in carries and 4th overall in targets per game among running backs in 2020. Along with this, he finished 12th among running backs in red-zone touches at 3.4 per game. That’s only 0.8 less than his 4.2 touches per game the previous season when he finished as the RB3 overall. Among running backs with carries inside the 5-yard line, Elliott tied for the most attempts at 22. Only 3 running backs hit 20 or more carries: Elliot, Cook, and Drake. Cook had 8 touchdowns while Drake had 9. Zeke had 5. A positive regression will be coming. His opportunity share, although slightly decreased from 77.5% to 72.0%, was over 10% higher than players like Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones, who both placed top 5 overall in scoring in 2020.

With all the injuries, Zeke became an afterthought in 2020. He was deemed unreliable, but when he didn’t put up RB1 numbers, he still averaged a solid 10.65 points per game, higher than Derrick Henry (10.59 points per game) when he did not finish weeks as an RB1. Elliott still had a safe floor and did not need to rely on touchdowns to put up points. This was evidenced by his 20.1% touchdown dependency, which ranked 7th overall among running backs.

Ezekiel Elliot has been one of the most consistent and durable running backs since entering the league in 2016. Excluding his 2017 season where he was suspended for 6 games, Zeke has played in 15+ games every season, something top running backs like McCaffrey, Kamara, Barkley, and Cook couldn’t accomplish. With his durability comes production. Since 2016, Elliott has placed in the top-5 in overall finish or in points per game (2017) every year leading up to the 2020 season.

According to the consensus ADP on FantasyPros.com, Elliot has an overall and RB (PPR) ADP of 7th overall. He’ll be a value on draft day. With his offensive line and Prescott coming into the 2021 season healthy, Elliot should once again provide both the safety and elite upside of a top-5 running back.

Keith Vice is a student Physical Therapist with aspirations to work with professional athletes. Once he receives his doctorate in Physical Therapy, he intends to use his fantasy football platform to give updates on player injuries.

— You can see more of Keith's writing and analysis on Instagram

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