Itís Thursday, April 28, 2016. I am sitting on my friendís couch
anxiously awaiting the start of this yearís NFL Draft. Youíd think
an old guy walking up to a podium 32 31 times over the course
of three hours and announcing names wouldnít be that exciting.
Yet, every year, I watch the NFL Draft.
This year was different, though. My beloved Dallas Cowboys had
a top four pick. The Cowboys hadnít had a pick in the single digits
since 2011, which coincidentally, is the draft following the last
Romo broke his collarbone midseason. Well before the day of
the draft, we all knew Jared
Goff and Carson
Wentz were going 1-2. So we fast forward to pick No.3 Ė the
San Diego Chargers. Iím nervously glaring a hole through the TV,
hoping the Chargers take anyone but Jalen
Ramsey. Roger Goodell steps up to the podium and announces
the pick: Joey
Bosa. Iím ecstatic. For the past few years, the Cowboys have
been drafting smart: offensive lineman, defensive players, not
taking the players hyped up by the mainstream media.
And then it happens. Jerry Jones reverts back to his old ways.
The Cowboys take Ezekiel
Elliott. I wanted to throw things at the TV, but given that
I was at a friendís house, I felt it would be in poor taste. But
make no mistake about it; I was angry at this selection. In the
year 2016, running backs in the NFL simply do not matter like
they used to. Last year, the Cowboys had one of the worst secondaries
in the league. Orlando
Scandrick tore his ACL in training camp and was impossible
to replace. Meanwhile, DeMarco
Murray left in free agency and the Cowboys still had a top
10 rushing attack behind the ghost of Darren
McFadden. So why take a running back at fourth overall?
After that somewhat lengthy tirade, youíre all probably thinking
Iím about to blast Ezekiel Elliott the player. Nothing could be
farther from the truth. Much to my chagrin, I had to accept the
fact that the Cowboys actually took ďZekeĒ at fourth overall.
It took a while, but now that Iíve accepted it (even though I
still think it was the wrong move), I can actually tell you what
I think about him. He is going to be fantastic. Last year, the
Cowboys (and the Chiefs and Steelers, to name a couple more) proved
that in the right system, behind the right offensive line, any
moderately talented running back can succeed. Ezekiel Elliott
is much more than ďmoderately talented.Ē
With McFadden (elbow) on the shelf until
mid-August, the Elliott hype train is moving full steam ahead.
Historically, there will be an average of just over one rookie running
back finish in the fantasy top 12 each season. If we get one this
season, there is little doubt it will be Zeke. The difference between
past rookie RB1s and Zekeís upside is that Elliottís ceiling is
already built into his price. For comparison purposes, last yearís
rookie RB1 David
Johnson had an ADP of RB48 (11.02) and while bonus rookie RB1
Gurley went much higher with an ADP of RB26 (5.07) (acknowledgement:
had he been healthy from day 1, he probably wouldíve gone in the
2nd round). In 2014, the only rookie RB1 was Jeremy
Hill with an ADP of RB38 (8.10) and drafted at the absolute
highest in round six. I could go on and on, but the point is clear:
even though a rookie running back or two will emerge as a RB1, they
are rarely drafted as such.
I have little doubt that Zeke will be an RB1. Iíve seen him ranked
as high as No.1 and as low as No.12 among running backs. When itís
all said and done and weíre ready to draft in late August / early
September, we will see Zeke settle in at an early 2nd round ADP,
around the RB5-8 position.
Should you draft him at that expected price? The short answer: yes.
Why? Itís no secret that the starting running back for the Dallas
Cowboys carries tremendous value. They have the best offensive line
football and proved last year that without their two most important
offensive players (Tony
Romo & Dez
Bryant), they can still produce strong rushing numbers. If Elliott
is as good as advertised and touches the ball 250-plus times, he
will be an RB1 and live up to his draft value.
The primary concerns amongst detractors are valid. Heís never experienced
the speed of the NFL. Heís getting acclimated to a new system and
the NFL as a whole. We know how good heís supposed to be, but we
also knew how good Trent
Richardson and Montee Ball were supposed to be. The Cowboys
still have Darren
McFadden and signed Alfred
Morris this off-season. These are two veteran backs that haven
proven track records of success. Are the Cowboys really going to
keep them on the sidelines? If Zeke is the future of this backfield,
are the Cowboys ready and willing to put the weight of the entire
backfield on his shoulders as a rookie?
The concerns are legitimate but every other first round back has
concerns as well. LeíVeon Bell is coming off a devastating knee
Gurley plays on one of the worst offenses in the league with
a rookie quarterback in the toughest defensive division. David
Johnson has only five games under his belt as a starter. Jamaal
Charles is coming off another devastating knee injury. Adrian
Peterson is 31 years old. Lamar
Miller is on a new team, learning a new offense, and has never
handled a full workload.
If you made Elliott the first running back on your draft board,
how could I fault you? His concerns are only more worrisome than
those of the other backs if you decide them to be. Zeke is obviously
unproven at this juncture, but he has both the talent and situation
to succeed immediately. Injury is always a concern, especially for
running backs, and would be the most likely scenario preventing
Zeke from finishing in the top 8 at the position. Over 16 games,
I see no reason he canít total 1200-1400 yards and flirt with 12
touchdowns. Do not be afraid to draft the Cowboys rookie running
back early and with confidence.