Ezekiel Elliott officially began his contract holdout on July 26. Since that point, fantasy enthusiasts have held their breath hoping for a swift resolution for the consensus top-four fantasy running back. Instead, drafters have had to endure a volley of public posturing that has cultivated some unease in the fantasy-verse.
How Long is Elliott Willing to Sit Out?
Jerry Jones was the first party to address the matter publicly in an interview with CBS 11 Sports in late July:
“The point there is, you don’t have to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl […] Emmitt [Smith] was the first one to do it.”
“That’s one of the dilemmas at running back is that the league knows that you can win Super Bowls and not have the Emmitt Smith back there or not have Zeke back there.”
Then, just a few days later on August 2, Jones doubled-down, as reported by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport:
“Because of CBA rules that [Jones] called kind of sloppy, he does not yet see an end to this holdout. He even made a quick comment that it could be months into the season.”
Next, ESPN’s Josina Anderson added fuel to the fire by reporting that Elliott “would not play in 2019 without a new contract.” But, the Dallas Morning News quickly refuted that assertion, reporting that Elliott has made no such ultimatum to the Cowboys front office.
Fantasy Drafters Are Getting a Bit Skittish
All of this is made more complicated by Dallas’ current bids to extend wide receiver Amari Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott. Nonetheless, Elliott’s 2019 outlook remains murky, and it’s beginning to impact 2019 redraft and best ball drafts.
Using our ADP and Exposure Report tools, we can clearly see Zeke’s recent subtle decline in ADP — and the subsequent rise in ADP for David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell.
Despite the mind-numbing public debate and “hot take”-style over-reaction, most informed parties still believe that Elliott and the Cowboys will strike a deal before Week 1. If anything, this holdout situation may have created some built-in draft equity for late-offseason drafters targeting Elliott in the middle of the first round.
But, what if the deal doesn’t happen? What if Elliott is more committed to this holdout than we may think? After Le’Veon Bell’s holdout last year and Melvin Gordon’s current holdout situation, it’s understandable to be a bit anxious.
The Rest of the Cowboys Backfield
For the sake of argument, let’s presume that Elliott continues to hold out through the first four games of the 2019 season. Which Cowboys running backs stand out as possible redraft buys?
Jackson may be receiving some first-team snaps in camp, but I highly doubt he sees the field in 2019. Dallas originally drafted him in 2016, then waived him after 14 inactive games. Then, the Cowboys re-signed him in 2018, waived him before the regular season, and have now re-signed him once again this offseason. Sure, Dallas can’t seem to quit this guy, but they’ve also shown zero interest in offering him a dedicated roster spot for three consecutive seasons. I don’t consider him a serious candidate to contend for touches in Elliott’s potential absence.
Speaking of guys the Cowboys can’t seem to get away from, here comes Alfred Morris, rumbling and stumbling his way onto yet another NFL roster deep into his NFL career. Morris played in 28 games as a Cowboy from 2016-2017, and started in five of those during Elliott’s 2017 suspension. He managed a respectable 11.3 PPR points per game across those five games as a starter.
However, he was a complete non-factor as a 49er last season (despite heavy injuries to their entire backfield) and turns 31 years-old this year. He was most likely signed as an insurance policy rather than as a serious contender for snaps. Dallas spent two draft picks at running back this season: I doubt they’d waste time on an slow, elderly back like Morris when they could fire up either of their rookies instead.
One of those rookies is Mike Weber, drafted in the seventh round out of Ohio State. He’s fighting to make the 53-man roster, and his mediocre college stats suggest he may not make the cut. He also reports poor overall player comps in our Prospect Box Score Scout:
Perhaps most importantly, he simply didn’t pass the eye-test last season. As an avid CFB DFS player, I avoided Weber like the plague. He was a DFS scourge, leaching from the Buckeyes’ high-powered offense and offering little value in return. His poor backfield vision was frustrating to watch, and sophomore J.K. Dobbins easily out-classed him at H-Back all season. Hard pass from me on this one.
We’ve thoroughly discarded and excluded all other Cowboys running back options, which leaves Tony Pollard as the lone man standing. Still, he doesn’t just win by process of elimination; his collegiate production hints at PPR magic.
Since 2000, there have only been 15 drafted running backs with similar college totals to Pollard1 — and those 15 players represent an excellent group of player comps from a fantasy perspective:
Pollard may not have had the biggest overall workload at Memphis, but his explosiveness and efficiency leap off the page. Among this group:
- Only Percy Harvin and Dexter McCluster boast higher yards per reception than Pollard.
- Only Harvin and De’Anthony Thomas boast higher yards per carry.
- Only Harvin, Thomas and Jaylen Samuels boast a higher touchdown per touch rate.
Most of the players on this list have at least spent some time operating out of the slot, and nearly all of them have served as dedicated third-down backs in their respective NFL offenses. Whether Elliott holds out or not, Pollard’s receiving acumen should enable him to see action this season. His profile screams Jaylen Samuels- or Nyheim Hines-style gadget player.
On top of that, I’m not fully convinced that Randall Cobb still has the juice to produce at a starting caliber anymore. I could absolutely envision Pollard stealing time at the slot for the Cowboys, which would further enhance his PPR appeal.
So far, the public still hasn’t caught on to Pollard’s potential value. He’s available for free in most redraft and best ball leagues, along with a few other talented rookies with a strong case for backup duties this season:
I highly advise stashing him in the late rounds of your draft — no matter what happens with Elliott’s holdout situation.
Image Credit: George Walker/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Ezekiel Elliott.
- at least 100 rush attempts, 900 rushing yards, 100 receptions and 1200 receiving yards (back)