Should I start Ezekiel Elliott in Week 1 vs. Tampa Bay?

With the way Ezekiel Elliott ended the year in 2020, some are wondering if he's worth starting in Week 1. In reality, the choice is clear.

Fantasy football managers tend to overthink every single decision. Weekly start/sit decisions are some of the most talked-about decisions in fantasy. Everyone loves to agonize over it — the fantasy world is, if nothing else, a glutton for punishment. For Week 1, some are even asking if they should start Ezekiel Elliott against the Bucs. I think the answer’s pretty clear, but let’s take a look.

Should I start Ezekiel Elliott in Week 1?

Um, yes. You should.

Elliott is still a stud

Last season, Elliott was a top-tier running back, both in the NFL and in fantasy. Zeke finished the 2020 season with 979 yards on 244 carries with 6 touchdowns. He also caught 52 of 71 targets for another 338 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. He finished the year with 223.7 PPR points as the RB9 overall.

To make things even clearer, Zeke went off in the five games that he played with QB Dak Prescott. He averaged 23.1 PPR points per game in those games versus 11.8 PPR points without Dak. This was largely due to his 6 total TDs in those five games compared to only 2 touchdowns in the other 11 games (one of which came in Week 17 when most fantasy leagues were already done for the year).

Needless to say, the entire offense played better under Prescott, who returns from his ankle injury Thursday night. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine anyone else but Elliott getting carries this week outside of an injury. Elliott is a locked-and-loaded player with a tremendous fantasy outlook on a high-powered offense. Historically speaking, studs like him just don’t get ignored.

Tony Pollard is a handcuff, not a threat

Behind Elliott on the depth chart is backup RB Tony Pollard. With Dak in the lineup, Pollard only averaged 4.6 PPR points per game compared to a whopping 8.9 PPR points per game without him. It was clear that the offense changed dramatically without Prescott under center.

Now that everyone is back and healthy, it’s expected that Pollard will go back to the handcuff role instead of the change-of-pace back that he was late last season. Pollard is talented, but he’s no Elliott. While he could siphon a couple of points throughout the year, Pollard is clearly just a handcuff if Zeke is healthy. Therefore, he’s not a threat to take away any carries otherwise.

That being said, Pollard is still worth stashing regardless if you roster Zeke or not. Handcuffing is a polarizing topic in fantasy lately, but players like Pollard are why it’s still a topic of discussion at all. If something were to happen to Zeke, God forbid, Pollard will likely get 80% of the production that Elliott would have received. This makes Pollard worth rostering but not worth starting. Until he’s got a clear shot at the bulk of the carries, exercise patience.

Starting Zeke is clearly the right move

All of this tells me that Zeke is worth starting in Week 1. As the year goes on and injuries pile up, the question could have more merit. However, with everyone healthy, it’s an easy choice. No matter who the Cowboys face, Zeke should still perform well. He was drafted as a top-10 running back in most leagues — that hasn’t changed for Week 1.

Elliott is a stud whose only shred of competition at the moment comes from a handcuff player. The Cowboys’ running game clearly goes through Zeke. He should never leave your starting lineup, even against tough matchups. The Bucs aren’t an easy defense, but they aren’t good enough to move the needle for me on Zeke, either.

Everything we’ve seen in training camp leads me to believe that Elliott will dominate this year. This obviously includes the season opener Thursday night. The Cowboys should come out guns blazing and wanting to prove a point. Prescott will have a chip on his shoulder and should feed Zeke early and often. Start Elliott with confidence as your first-round pick, and watch the points add up in the first game of the year.

Andrew Hall is a writer covering the NFL and fantasy football and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewHallFF and find more of his work for Pro Football Network here.

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