Ezekiel Elliott or Corey Clement Start/Sit Week 18: Who to trust with Tony Pollard ruled out?

Starting Ezekiel Elliott or Corey Clement in your fantasy championship is a tough call, but either way, you're likely to get a good result.

If you’re still playing fantasy football in Week 18, you must be playing for something important. Hopefully, you’re going for your fantasy title and not to avoid winning the toilet bowl. Either way, let’s see if we can help fantasy managers out by looking at the Dallas Cowboys’ backfield. With Tony Pollard being ruled out on Friday, that leaves Ezekiel Elliott and Corey Clement to carry the load. Is either running back worth playing against the Eagles on Saturday?

Are Ezekiel Elliott and Corey Clement trustworthy for Week 18?

Dallas’ backs have been an enigma for fantasy managers all season. Elliott was drafted to be the bell cow, but all of a sudden, Tony Pollard became fantasy-relevant as well. Now that he’s officially out, are either Elliott or Clement worth a start, or do they cancel each other out?

Zeke is still technically an RB1, but it’s debatable

Zeke is clearly the starting running back for fantasy purposes. He’s scored a whopping 242.06 PPR points on the year, good enough to be RB6 through 17 weeks. His ADP was in the first round — looking at the season-long stats, it suggests he was worth that price.

When you dig into it, a different picture appears. Zeke is RB17 in points per game with 15.1 PPR points on average. This is soul-crushing for most Zeke managers, and you’ve probably been dealing with it all season. Zeke has played every game this year and has been ranked as a fantasy starter each week. However, you’ve probably made it to your final matchup in spite of him and not because of him.

If you use season-long points to rank your running backs, then Zeke is clearly an RB1. His best ability is his availability, so to speak. But if you use points per game, he’s a middling RB2.

Of the 16 backs ranked ahead of him in that metric, only six have played in 15 or 16 games. Both Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry have played fewer than nine games on the year, but both are in the top five in points per game. Can you really count them, though?

Elliott’s fantasy value is all over the place

Looking purely at the numbers, Zeke has been start-worthy most weeks. He’s put up fewer than 10 PPR points only four times this year, but three of those four were in the last five weeks. It’s no surprise that he’s waned as the season’s gone along. That happens with a lot of players as they weather injuries. It also feels like most fantasy managers are fed up with him after letting them down when they needed him most.

On the flip side, Zeke has scored over 20 points also just four times. His best outing was way back in Week 3 against the same team he’s facing this week, the Philadelphia Eagles. In that matchup, he ran 17 times for 95 yards and scored 2 touchdowns. He also caught all 3 targets for 21 yards receiving. His 26.6 PPR points that week relied heavily on him finding the end zone twice, but his 5.6 yards per carry wasn’t bad either. Can he do it again, or will Pollard get the chance to lead the team this week?

Which Cowboys running back will get the lead role against the Eagles?

When asked if he would take a rest week with the Cowboys already sealing their playoff fate, Zeke responded as you might expect. He simply said, “I’m playing this week.” I’m not exactly sure how much we can trust that given the context, so is Clement potentially in line for a bulk of the carries now?

Philadelphia’s run defense is stout but exploitable

In their Week 3 matchup, the Eagles allowed 160 rushing yards to the Cowboys. 95 of which went to Elliott, but Pollard rushed for 60 of his own on only 11 carries. Both backs saw plenty of room to run. The Eagles are seventh-best against the run on the season, but it felt like the Cowboys had them figured out.

Yet, that was way back in Week 3. It’s entirely possible that the Cowboys were just the fresher team playing at home. Now that we’re at the end of the year and injuries and COVID designations are adding up, this is a whole new ball game. It’s hard to predict the exact same thing happening again, but we can’t ignore it either.

Should you start Clement in fantasy along with Elliott?

As I said, Elliott has been annoying for fantasy managers this year. But I can’t imagine benching him unless you absolutely have to this week. His ceiling is mediocre, and his floor isn’t great, but if he’s playing, you’re likely starting him.

Clement is a true wild card in terms of fantasy value. He could see more carries than Zeke, but he’s the third-string running back for a reason. If Pollard were playing, you wouldn’t start Clement at all, but whoever backs up Elliott should be in line for enough opportunity to make them worth considering.

Elliott will play, but I can’t see the coaching staff leaning on him for the full 60 minutes. Clement should see plenty of looks down the stretch as the team eventually rests their studs. I’d probably play both backs but only in the right circumstances. If I were desperate at the position, I’d be reluctantly starting Clement, just hoping for something crazy. I’m starting Zeke wherever I have him now that Pollard is out, but I’m not expecting a 40-point explosion, either.

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