The Buzz: After the Dallas Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 4 overall pick, the fantasy community became instantly divided. Zeke zealots contend he's a legitimate first-round pick, a presumed high-volume rusher placed in an ideal situation. Naysayers, however, argue he's an unproven product destined to ruin your fake franchise as a committee rusher. Yours truly, like most industry folks, unequivocally sides with the former group.
Why sinking a first-rounder in the rookie isn't Looney Tunes
A particular set of skills. Liam Neeson would have a hard time disposing of Elliott. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the No. 2 ranked FBS back in pass-blocking last season. He also gained 57.4 percent of his yards after initial contact, forced a missed tackle on 18.7 percent of his totes and caught 92.9 percent of targeted passes. The youngster is powerful, patient and versatile, a legit three-down workhorse in an age dominated by timeshares. His lone weakness: falling victim to 'bed selfies.' That's it. It's no wonder why some NFL scouts believe he's the most complete rusher to enter the league since Adrian Peterson.
Projected volume. Skittish investors believe Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris will challenge the youngster for touches. However, that perspective couldn't be further from the truth. Jerry Jones didn't spend the FOURTH OVERALL PICK on a committee back. The leathery GM said after the Draft a RB of Elliott's talents "doesn't need a year or two of acclimation," adding, the rookie "will hit the ground running." If you think he will be eased in, you're not thinking. He was handpicked to help alleviate pressure on Jones' brittle QB, Tony Romo, and keep the Dallas defense fresh. Bank on at least 17-20 touches per game starting Week 1.
Offensive environment. In fantasy terms, landing in Dallas is a verifiable jackpot. The offensive line is comprised of beefy dudes pizza buffet operators fear. When they show up famished at your door, be prepared to churn out meat-layered pies. Whether looking at PFF or Football Outsiders' metrics, Big D's man movers ranked top-five in run-blocking last year. Toss in the Romo-to-Dez Bryant connection and Elliott is sure to see plentiful wide holes.
Strength of schedule. Defensive turnover is commonplace in the NFL on a year-in, year-out basis. Though many teams have made personnel/coaching changes to reignite their units, several remain works in progress. With that in mind, Dallas boasts the fourth-easiest fantasy RB schedule as tabulated by FF Toolbox. Equally promising, the Cowboys are slated to face the Giants (7th-most fantasy points allowed to RBs in '15), Bucs (19th) and Lions (13th) during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16). From start to finish, Elliott, provided he stays healthy, is likely to be a championship roster cornerstone.
Bottom Line: It's virtually impossible not to like Elliott. Naturally those who fly the #TeamRaisins flag will express their fears of the unknown, but 18 first-year running backs have finished inside the RB top-12 since 2000. Spectacular showings during a rusher's inaugural campaign are far from atypical.
In Dallas, a fantasy star is about to be born. Zeke is a unique talent thrust into a nourishing environment. Expectations should be high. It's not hyperbole he finishes atop the RB ranks come year's end. On my big board, only David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell rank above him. He's that good folks. My fearless forecast: 266 carries, 1,173 rushing yards, 47 receptions, 463 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns. And that might be conservative.
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