How Ezekiel Elliott Ranks Among the Top Fantasy Running Backs To Target In 2021 Drafts
George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Ezekiel Elliott
Editor’s note: The following analysis was written in June, but when coupled with the latest rankings and projections in our 2021 Fantasy Draft Kit, is still valuable research for your next draft.
Ezekiel Elliott Fantasy Rankings
|Consensus rankings via Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon are based on half PPR scoring and as of early June.|
The year 2020 was a down one for many, including All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The 26-year-old Elliott is a two-time rushing yards champion, but an alarming 2020 season — coupled with the looming threat of a potential running back committee — has many feeling understandably gun-shy about the Cowboy in their 2021 fantasy drafts.
Elliott’s 2020 Season
- Games played: 15
- Rushing stats: 244 attempts, 979 yards, 6 touchdowns, 5 fumbles (4 lost)
- Receiving stats: 71 targets, 52 catches, 338 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 fumble (1 lost)
- Fantasy finishes: RB10 in PPR; RB12 in standard; RB10 in half PPR
Elliott entered the 2020 season as a consensus top-three running back in fantasy. The Ohio State product ended the year with 244 attempts for 979 yards and six touchdowns and reeled in 52-of-71 targets for 338 yards and two touchdowns — good enough to finish as RB10 in half PPR scoring.
It was Elliott’s worst season since entering the league as first-round pick in 2016, however. He posted career-lows in multiple categories and elicited criticism for his five fumbles, which tied his previous total between 2016 and 2019.
Elliott’s performance in 2020 was negatively impacted by the early-season loss of quarterback Dak Prescott, who suffered a gruesome compound ankle fracture in Week 5 against the Giants. The devastating injury forced the Cowboys to lean on underwhelming backups Andy Dalton, Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci, all of whom limited the offense’s (and Elliott’s) upside for the remainder of the year.
Past Fantasy Performances
Elliott has been the Cowboys’ unrivaled No. 1 running back for the majority of his career.
After being drafted fourth overall in 2016, he immediately took the NFL by storm, posting 322 attempts for a league-best 1,631 rushing yards (1,994 scrimmage yards) and 15 touchdowns (16 total) as a rookie — all career highs behind Dallas’ strong offensive line. He earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors, and finished as the second-best running back in fantasy behind David Johnson.
The 2017 season began mired in scandal, as the sophomore rusher was suspended for the first six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He finished with 242 attempts for 983 yards and seven touchdowns over 10 appearances. He also caught 26-of-38 targets for 269 yards and two touchdowns and finished as RB10 in standard, RB14 in PPR and RB12 in half.
Elliott bounced back in 2018 and 2019, shattering the 1,000-rushing yard mark and earning Pro Bowl honors in both years. He led the league in rushing yards once again in 2018 and finished as RB5. He enjoyed similar success the next year and finished as RB5 in standard and PPR and RB4 in half PPR.
The Cowboys inked Elliott to a six-year, $90 million deal with $50 million guaranteed in 2019. The deal made him the highest-paid running back at the time and keeps him under contract through the 2026 season.
Elliott’s 2021 Fantasy Outlook
The return of Prescott is one definitive positive for Elliott heading into 2021. Prescott underwent surgery in October and December and told the media in May he is “close” to returning to full strength.
Elliott’s workload and yards per game have been steadily declining since his fantastic rookie campaign, however, with the most acute drop occurring in 2020.
Last season, he posted career-lows in rushing yards, attempts per game, yards per game and yards per attempt. His yards per game went from 84.8 in 2019 to 65.3 in 2020 — a 23% drop year-over-year — and his attempts per game went from 18.8 to 16.3 — a 13% drop. His 4.0 yards per attempt ranked him 41st in the NFL among qualified players.
This season, Elliott enters the year in an unfamiliar position having to compete for touches with a younger member of Dallas’ depth chart. Tony Pollard, 24, joined the Cowboys two seasons ago as a fourth-round pick from Memphis and outperformed Elliott on a per attempt basis last year. Pollard received 22% of the pair’s combined 456 touches in 2019 and 30% of their combined 425 touches in 2020.
The workload trend is alarming, and while it’s unlikely that Pollard usurps Elliott completely as an every-down back, Pollard has shown enough talent and dimension to create a messy scenario for fantasy managers.
How To Draft Elliott
The fantasy football community doesn’t agree on much, and Elliott is no exception heading into 2021.
He offers strong upside and should benefit from the return of Prescott, with whom Elliott posted top three running back numbers last year. But his declining efficiency and workload are valid arguments to move him to the bottom — or outside all together — of the top tier fantasy RBs this year.
Elliott should be drafted in the back-half of the first round with the hope he and Pollard don’t end up in a dreaded running back committee by the end of training camp.