Every year there are players that for whatever reason seem to have people on opposite ends of the opinion spectrum. This year, Andre Ellington is a player generating fiery discourse, with both his detractors and supporters throwing out anything they can to garner support for their side in the great battle. When examining the weapons of their respective artillery, I find it very hard to sympathize with the pro-Ellington side, and have firmly entrenched myself in the David Johnson is an athletic freak that could win your league bunker.
The first thing either side in this debate will bring up in Ellington’s health. If someone likes Ellington, his foot injury last year is used as a positive, not only excusing his poor play, but also proving how tough he is for playing through it. If someone doesn’t like him, his foot injury is a chronic medical condition not only susceptible, but guaranteed to be re-injured. The truth, as is often the case, is probably somewhere in the middle.
Last summer, the sky was falling just days before the Cardinals’ Week 1 game (and after every fantasy draft had already taken place) about a mysterious foot injury that Ellington had suffered earlier in the preseason and aggravated in practice that week.
While Ellington would go on to play Week 1 and not miss any games due to his foot injury, we later learned that he had torn his peroneous longus tendon. I won’t even begin to try and explain that, but should you feel up to the task this website lays it out in a very scientific but still digestible way. Rotoviz contributor and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jeff Budoff wrote this the week following the news of Ellington’s injury:
Ellington should be able to play through this injury. The issue is that he’s lost some burst and is not cutting as explosively, especially when moving from left to right. He has a history of multiple foot injuries. It’s possible that this is an aggravation of a previous injury; aggravations of pre-existing injuries are often worse than the original injury. He’s currently in a walking boot to decrease stresses on this tendon when not playing. He’s going to be limited in practices this week, and maybe for a number of weeks to come. Although he’ll play, without significant rest, Ellington may not be 100 percent in 2014.
That certainly sounds like something that would support the pro-Andre narrative of the injury not only limiting his play, but alleviating certain durability or toughness concerns due to his playing through it. However, Dr. Budoff posted this eye opening response on Twitter recently when engaging in a conversation, ironically enough, spurred by NFL.com fantasy analyst Matt Harmon saying Ellington “will be the war that divides the fantasy community”:
Honestly: that’s an injury an NFL RB should be expected to play through without a huge drop in production… Discussed it in detail with NFL foot surgeon. He was adamant most NFL RBs should play through that injury without significant problem.
Well that’s certainly a little bit different. Ellington would go on to suffer a hip injury in Arizona’s 11th game of the season before bowing out for good following a sports hernia a week later. While those injuries aren’t expected to have any long term consequences, this man is a walking sports medicine journal. Health concerns aside, just exactly how bad must his play have been for this type of postmortem to have taken place on the effect his health had?
A SHOW HORSE NOT A WORKHORSE
It’s ugly. There is no positive way to spin Ellington’s rushing last season. One thing even his biggest detractors will concede is that Ellington is one hell of a receiver. Last season his 16 game pace of 61 receptions for 527 yards would have been good enough for fourth and third best, respectively, among all running backs. In order to hit those receiving numbers and supplement them with enough rushing production to be a fantasy asset with positive return on investment,1 he would have to earn quite a few snaps. Based on his performance last year, that seems hard to rely on.
Ellington did not have a game with more than 15 carries during rookie season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in limited chances, when he was primarily a change of pace option behind Rashard Mendenhall. Two thirds of his games during his sophomore campaign, a stretch of eight consecutive contests in nine weeks, saw him afforded that workhorse opportunity — and the results were disastrous.
If he had gotten the opportunity to carry out that pace of 316 carries for 960 yards, he would have been the least efficient running back with that many carries by a pretty wide margin. In the history of the league. There are only four seasons in history when someone had even 200 carries with a YPC as low as Ellington’s 3.04.
I don’t know how else to say he was tragically bad at running the football last season. Two common excuses given besides health is Arizona’s poor offensive line play, and the woeful backup quarterbacks who came in after Carson Palmer‘s injury. Neither of these arguments hold a ton of weight because Kerwynn Williams came in at the end of the season and had three games with 15 or more carries, averaging 4.75 YPC across those contests.
Take a step back and look at the situation with fresh eyes and try to be objective. Do you really think Ellington is going to be used as the primary first and second down rushing option on this team? All the reasoning used to purport that theory seems tenuous or contradictory. There is a beast of a man breathing down Ellington’s neck for that work, and betting against him being used in an early down between the tackle capacity should be terrifying.
David Johnson caused 9 missed tackles as a runner this past weekend. In 2014 Andre Ellington caused 12 missed tackles as a runner #Cardinals
— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) August 25, 2015
An undersized, slow, old prospect that was a day 3 draft pick, with a poor dominator rating and breakout age, misses every single box that a potential NFL running back would want checked off. Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians used Ellington a certain way in his rookie season that seemed to align with what scouts had pegged as his role. And this quote, given in January, suggests that may have been his intention last year as well, and certainly sounds to be his intention this year:
“I think Andre Ellington’s injury early in the season set us way back offensively because we had put so much time and effort into his attack, and when he wasn’t able to practice, we lost all the passing we had worked on. I learned a valuable lesson about putting too many eggs in one basket… We missed Jonathan (Dwyer) a lot because he was gong to have a big year.”
- Ellington’s ADP is RB19, 44th overall courtesy of FantasyPros.com 8/25/15 (back)