Ezekiel Elliot led the league in rushing in 2016, and has now been suspended for six weeks. Let’s have a moment of silence for the Dallas Cowboys…
Wow, that was therapeutic. Time to get back to work. In the wake of this bombshell suspension, most of our draft boards have been thrown into chaos, and the fantasy community is raising their voice as one in panic, “Where do we draft Zeke?!”
Well, let’s talk draft strategy. The common wisdom is to pursue as little risk as possible in the first few rounds of a fantasy football draft. We’re looking for players with defined roles and proven output. That’s why guys like Lesean McCoy and Antonio Brown are good first round picks, while guys like Ty Montgomery and Keenan Allen whose ceilings would put them at the top tier of their respective positions should not be taken in the early rounds. They could be good or they could be very, very bad.
So we avoid risks in the first round. But Ezekiel Elliot is not a risk. He is on a solid offense in a workhorse role with proven production. There is no doubt that he will start when he completes his suspension, and he will be among the league’s top running backs on a weekly basis. He’s about as sure a thing as there is in today’s NFL, to be honest.
Here’s the dilemma: six weeks is a long time in fantasy football, and with a week six bye, Elliot won’t see the field until week eight. You’ll need to check your own league settings and adjust accordingly, but in most leagues, a manager can only afford six losses if they want to be assured a playoff berth. It does you no good to dominate like a rampaging bull down the stretch if you lose your first seven games and end up missing the playoffs. Your goal going into the season then is this– if you think you can win three of your first seven games, take Elliott. If not, let someone else have him.
So how do we optimize the draft to have the best chance at winning three out of the first seven games? First, a couple of assumptions– Elliott is guaranteed to appeal the suspension, and he may see either a reduced suspension or a suspension that is delayed beyond the 2017 season (cf Tom Brady). For our purposes, we will draft under the assumption that Elliott will miss the full six games, because it is much better to be pleasantly surprised than unpleasantly gob smacked. Also, we will assume that Elliot’s ADP will fall out of the first round (picks 1-12), and will settle between the second and third rounds (picks 13-36) in most leagues. Given these assumptions, let’s take a look at strategy by draft position.
Picks 1 and 2
It’s assumed that all players should be taking either David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell at picks 1.1 and 1.2. These guys have both produced at a top level, are guaranteed a high number of carries, and are extremely safe. Zeke’s suspension offers the best possibilities to these two picks, since they will single-handedly win their owners some weeks, and they provide the league’s most bankable fantasy points floor. If you have pick 1.1 or 1.2, take Elliott at the in the second round at the turn.
Picks 3, 4, 5, 6
The bad news is that these picks represent the highest Elliott risk. You’ll likely need to take him in the second round if you want to be guaranteed to snag him. The good news is that your choices in the second round were already unusually risky. If the best options available are Leonard Fournette, Dez Bryant, Marshawn Lynch, and Amari Cooper, then take Elliott. These players are very risky. If Michael Thomas, Todd Gurley, Rob Gronkowski, or Aaron Rodgers are available, you should strongly consider them instead of Elliott due to their much lower risk profile. He will possibly be gone by the next time you pick, make your peace with this.
Picks 7, 8, 9
There’s too much value available in round two to justify drafting Elliott there. However, there is a chance he’ll be there for you in the third round. Pray to your chosen deity and take him without hesitation if he falls to you there.
You probably won’t be owning Elliott, sorry. Do not even consider drafting him at the first/second round turn, there are too many higher value picks. You won’t pick again until the late third, when Elliott will likely be long gone.
Having said that, if Elliot is available in the third round, you should take him automatically at every draft pick position. Following these guidelines should give you the best chance at capitalizing on the suspension situation.
Go forth and dominate, good luck.