Did you have Ezekiel Elliott on one of your rosters in fantasy football last season? By his standards, 2020 was a down year. The 25-year-old running back finished as the RB9 in PPR formats and only averaged 15.6 fantasy points per game. This wasn’t the return on investment that fantasy managers expected when considering Elliott’s ADP. Has Elliott’s fantasy outlook changed in 2021, or could this be another tough year?
Ezekiel Elliott’s fantasy outlook for 2021
The Dallas Cowboys’ offense struggled mightily last season without quarterback Dak Prescott, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. The Cowboys also had right tackle La’el Collins (16 games missed), right guard Zack Martin (6), left tackle Tyron Smith (14), and left guard Cameron Erving (10) miss significant time with injuries in 2020.
Nevertheless, the perception now is that Elliott is past his prime. Yet, did you know that he was the RB2 in PPR formats during the first few weeks of the season? The only other running back ahead of him was Alvin Kamara.
Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million contract with the Cowboys, including a $66 million signing bonus and $126 million guaranteed. This is great news for Elliott’s fantasy outlook for 2021. With Prescott under center last season, Elliott averaged a robust 24.4 opportunities (rushing attempts and targets), 107.4 total yards, and 23 PPR fantasy points per game. In four of those five games, he finished as an RB1.
As the Cowboys played musical chairs at quarterback, Elliott saw more stacked boxes. From Week 6 on, he averaged 19.5 opportunities, 78 total yards, and 11.8 PPR fantasy ppg. He was active in 10 games and only finished as an RB1 three times.
Prescott suffered a minor shoulder injury in July, and the Cowboys have been cautious with him. This conservative approach appears to have paid off. Prescott is now operating without limitation, and according to Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, he is no longer on a pitch count.
Elliott had a solid training camp and preseason, and the Cowboys even restructured his massive contract. Dallas converted $8.6 million of Elliott’s $9.6 million base salary into a signing bonus. This transaction created $6.7 million in cap space for this season. Elliott’s contract nearly guarantees he’ll see consistent touches, but could Tony Pollard see more opportunities in 2021?
Will Tony Pollard lower Elliott’s fantasy ceiling?
From Weeks 1-5, Pollard averaged 4.6 opportunities per game. The second-year back did become more involved in the offense from Week 6 on, but Pollard didn’t impact Elliott’s workload dramatically. His largest number of opportunities (21) came in Week 15, when Elliott was inactive.
It is also important to mention that 32% of Pollard’s 435 rushing yards came on 5 attempts last season. Certainly, Elliott is the Cowboys’ preferred option in the red zone. He had 32 rushing attempts from inside the 10-yard line while Pollard only had 4 — 2 of them coming in the game Elliott was out.
Additionally, Elliott led all running backs in pass-blocking snaps (499). Kamara, meanwhile, was a distant second with 389. This is another advantage for Elliott. From a film perspective, Pollard is not that good at pass protection. It is worth noting that head coach Mike McCarthy has publicly stated that the Cowboys would keep the playoffs in mind when deploying Elliott this season.
Will the Cowboys’ offensive line bounce back in 2021?
Dallas’ offensive line has been lauded as one of the best in previous seasons. Multiple reports suggest that Collins, Martin, Smith, and Erving have not suffered any setbacks in their recovery. Therefore, the unit is well-positioned to reclaim its elite status in 2021.
Ezekiel Elliott is still in his prime
The chatter about Elliott’s demise is greatly exaggerated. Since 2016 when he was drafted, no other running back has scored more PPR fantasy points than Elliott (1,413). Todd Gurley (1,348) and Kamara (1,305) came in second and third. Elliott also ranks first in opportunities over that time frame and has finished as an RB1 in 61% of his 71 active career games in PPR.
Since 2010, there have been 74 running backs who have scored 250+ PPR fantasy points. Of them, 39 have come from players during their age-24 or 25 seasons.
The Cowboys’ defense has made improvements this offseason but could still be tested in 2021. The Cowboys have matchups against five of last season’s top seven passing offenses. Thus, the offense will have to control the time of possession and score as many points as possible.
The great news is that they have offensive weapons at every position to do so, and everyone will have an opportunity to get fed. After all, Prescott was on pace to throw over 800 passes through the first four games before his injury.
Elliott is in an excellent position to exceed over 325 touches and 1,500 total yards in 2021. The Cowboys will continue to find creative ways to keep Pollard involved, but Elliott is firmly on the RB1 radar in PPR.
Ezekiel Elliott’s ADP
You’ll likely need a top-five pick to land Elliott when you review ADP data from Fleaflicker. This trend is similar in pay-to-play fantasy formats such as the National Fantasy Championship. Elliott has an ADP of 6.2 as the RB5 overall. His ADP is slightly lower in half-point PPR formats on Sleeper (8.9).
Should you draft Ezekiel Elliott at this ADP 2021?
Elliott is a nice value at his ADP. You could land a player with the upside to finish as a top-three fantasy running back. There are few running backs I’d select ahead of him in fantasy drafts. Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry are three that immediately enter my mind. Don’t overlook Elliott in drafts if you have a mid-or-late first-round pick.