Can the Range of Outcomes Tool Find 3 Ways to Save Big on Ezekiel Elliott?
Image Credit: George Walker/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Ezekiel Elliott.

Shawn Siegele begins the 2022 Discount Series. Is there an easy way to draft Ezekiel Elliott’s upside without having to spring for his increasing price?

Over the past several years, the Discount Series has led us to drafting league-winning players like Diontae Johnson, D’Andre Swift, Chris Godwin, and Devin Singletary. Locating those mispriced players goes a long way to winning leagues and taking down tournaments, but it’s not just the player analysis that’s important.

Going through the Discount project helps to refine a mindset of creating exposure to positions, teams, and scenarios where we’re focused on getting the most upside at the lowest cost.

It also unleashes the insights and data from a wide array of tools. Just in today’s article, I’ll feature the Advanced Stats Explorer, Range of Outcomes tool, Player Stat Explorer, Stealing Signals tool, RotoViz Screener, Best Ball Win Rate Explorer, Game Splits app, and more. It’s easy to get locked into one projection or one piece of evidence and start overdrafting a player as a result. Using the various tools, coming at the questions from various angles, and trying to understand the counterarguments will often keep you out of this trap.

This week Ben Gretch and I began our look at fantasy tactics for redraft leagues in 2022. That makes it a perfect time to start this year’s discount series.

Ezekiel Elliott Has Been a Star Among Stars

Ezekiel Elliott has been a fantasy juggernaut throughout his career.

  • No back has scored more than Elliott (1,656) since he joined the league in 2016, and only four have averaged more than his 19.0 points per game.
  • In three of his first four seasons he scored more than 300 points.
  • His rookie year ranked No. 1 at the position in fantasy points over expectation (FPOE).
  • In each of his first five seasons, he ranked in the top six in expected points (EP) per game.
  • In his third through fifth seasons, Elliott earned at least 70 targets every year.

Elliott has been the definition of a high-floor/high-ceiling player. Even though he’s never rediscovered the glory of his rookie year from an efficiency perspective, there’s always been the potential for him to hit on a season with an outsized TD share in the Cowboys’ explosive offense.

Unfortunately, the Dallas bell cow is entering his age-27 season on a down note. After plodding through an injury-plagued debacle in 2020 (-2.9 FPOE/G), Elliott’s peripherals sank further in 2021 even as his FPOE rebounded. He also watched his EP tumble from RB1 levels for the first time.

Elliott’s reEP dropped to 5.4 per game, a serious decline from his previous three-year average and a sharp drop from the 2018 highs.

As a result, Elliott’s win rates have slipped even though he’s played in 38 of the 39 possible games over the last three seasons.

Of course, Elliott’s ADP has finally undergone a serious correction, dropping him into the late third round as the RB17 in early FFPC redraft leagues. That’s his positional rank in Underdog as well, although he’s going off the board at No. 40 overall in that format – an opportunity you can exploit.

It’s not just that Elliott has struggled the last several years. Tony Pollard is one of the most explosive backups in the NFL. Pollard doesn’t offer the same workhorse ability, but in a part-time role he’s the superior player across almost all metrics. The Advanced Stats Explorer provides a window into his strengths as a hybrid weapon.

YAC YBC Broken % Forced Missed % Yards Per Route Yards After Catch
Ezekiel Elliott 2.5 1.7 3.4 3 0.8 6
Tony Pollard 3 2.5 6.2 5 2.5 9.3

Even as Elliott struggled a year ago, Dallas didn’t lean as heavily on Pollard as his enthusiasts would hope. Some of that is probably due to the disparity in contracts. Elliott’s dead cap for 2022 was over $20 million, providing no realistic option for phasing him out of the offense. That changes in 2023, when the dead cap drops to just under $12 million. Still a lot, but not as prohibitive. If making the transition this season helps Dallas achieve the NFC’s top seed, the contract hurdle finally comes down.

Given this new ADP and despite all of the red flags, the upside case for Elliott is easy to make and quite provocative. Over the last two years, Elliott and Dak Prescott have spent much of the time injured. But when they’ve played together, Elliott looks much more like the star of old.

Elliott adds half a reception per game with Prescott at the helm, and his rushing TD numbers increase dramatically. Prescott’s presence mitigates the two biggest red flags for Elliott: receiving EP and efficiency upside. (Of course much of the damage occurred during a five-game stretch of 23 PPG to start the 2020 season. Elliott only averaged 15.2 PPG in Prescott’s 15 appearances last year.) If you then add the siren song of improved health for Elliott, the potential to destroy a late-third-round ADP is obvious.

That’s why I labeled Elliott as the most controversial pick in the third round of the MFL10 of Death. Elliott could break hearts or win titles.

But let’s say we want to create exposure to an Elliott-type player at a still more significant discount? The tools, including our Range of Outcomes tool, give us several intriguing options.

Last year an ROO exercise into foundation backs nailed one of the discount options we’re going to investigate again today.

3 Controversial Elliott Discount Options

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Shawn Siegele

Author of the original Zero RB article and 2013 NFFC Primetime Grand Champion. 11-time main event league winner. 2015, 2017, 2018 titles in MFL10 of Death.

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