Ezekiel Elliott Start/Sit Week 12: Why he’s shockingly not a safe must-start RB

Ezekiel Elliott has scored fewer than 13 fantasy points in three of his last four games. Can we trust him to do more on Thanksgiving?

Ezekiel Elliott is an automatic start, even dealing with a knee injury, right? Well, as we all know, anything can happen on game day. So the question isn’t just whether to start Elliott on Thanksgiving, but whether he can be trusted as a top-16 RB in fantasy football.

Should Ezekiel Elliott’s knee injury concern fantasy managers?

Ezekiel Elliott suffered a knee contusion in Week 9’s brutal home loss to the Broncos. In the moments following the injury, managers had reasons to be nervous, as the Cowboys’ franchise RB was seen limping. In a season when numerous RB1s have missed time, the team and Zeke managers escaped with limited damage.

But nearly three weeks later, the knee issue has lingered. True, he’s not on the final Week 12 injury report. He’s made it clear that he’s tough and can play through it. Yet, we can’t ignore how he’s played in the two games since the injury — only 73 yards on 23 rushing attempts (3.2 yards per carry). Through Week 9, he had amassed 622 yards on 128 carries (4.9 yards per carry). And his two poor performances in Weeks 10 and 11 came against two subpar defenses, the Falcons and Chiefs.

I always advise readers to pay close attention to yards per carry, targets, and touchdowns when analyzing future projections. Touchdowns are more situational, and therefore, harder to anticipate. Yards per carry and targets are a bit more predictable, depending on matchups.

While Elliott continues to earn a healthy target share, one has to wonder if his knee impacted his significant ypc drop-off, and if so, whether he might continue to struggle for ground yards against the Raiders.

Should fantasy managers trust Elliott as a top-16 RB in Week 12?

There are two ways to address this question. If the Cowboys jump out to an early lead, will they play it more conservatively with Zeke? After all, Tony Pollard is averaging a career-high 5.5 yards per carry, and for the past three seasons, he’s proven to be an elite backup. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect Dallas to give Elliott more rest if they don’t absolutely need him?

Or, if his knee is still limiting him, could we see a 12-carry, 40-yard effort, plus 3-4 receptions for 25-30 yards? If he doesn’t score, will managers be satisfied with this result? So no, I wouldn’t say managers should trust Zeke as a top-16 RB today. There are many reasons why he could crush it, and there are many other reasons why this franchise will give Pollard more work, knowing a healthy Elliott will be key to their December playoff push.

If you have two other locked-in top-16 RBs, plus a WR2 to plug into your flex, I’d rather start them over Zeke. Yes, it sounds like an overreaction to an injury that appears to be over and done with. But I’m not one of those “start your best players no matter what” people. It’s why I advised readers on this page to bench WR1 Michael Pittman last week.

There are nuances to fantasy football. Zeke could dominate. He could also easily score fewer than 13 points for the fourth time in five games. If you’re okay taking that risk, then you know what to do.

BJ Rudell is the Fantasy Football Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of BJ’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @BJRudell.