Ezekiel Elliott
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Can Ezekiel Elliott Return to Elite Fantasy Status in 2021?

What happened to Ezekiel Elliott last year? While he finished as a top-12 running back, he had a pretty disappointing season considering he was a top-five pick in many leagues. Zeke had a significant drop-off in production when Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending leg injury. Can Zeke return to elite running back status in 2021?

In 2020 Ezekiel Elliott had 244 attempts, 979 yards, and six touchdowns. While his attempts ranked fifth, his rushing yards were tenth among running backs. This was by far Zeke’s worst statistical year as a pro. He put up nearly identical numbers in 2017 with 242 carries, 983 yards, and seven touchdowns. The only problem was that he put up those 2017 numbers while only playing in ten games. The biggest letdown for Zeke was his average yards per game. From 2016 to 2019, Zeke was averaging 96.85 yards per game. In 2020, he put a mere 65.3 yards per game, easily the worst of his career.

The biggest problem for Zeke and really the Cowboys’ downfall in 2020 was their offensive line. I know that Dak got injured for the whole season, but this offensive line was considered elite and one of the NFL’s best, and in 2020 they were decimated by injuries. Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cam Erving, and Zach Martin all missed significant time in 2020. Your play call becomes very limited when four of your five starters on the offensive line miss games due to injuries. However, the worst hit this offensive line took was the retirement of Travis Frederick before the season. Frederick had been an all-pro lineman and, in my eyes, was the best center in the league, so when he called it quits in March of 2020, that was a huge hole to fill for Dallas.

Another huge piece that should help Zeke return to elite fantasy status is the newest member of Jordan Brand, Dak Prescott. Every year Zeke and Dak have been in the league, they have had their best and worst seasons at the same time. In 2020, before Dak went down with the injury, Zeke put up four straight weeks of double-digit points. And in 2018 and 2019, both Zeke and Dak had great statistical years. After week five when Andy Dalton became the full-time starter, Zeke only had two double-digit games twice and in those final ten games only had one rushing touchdown. Finally, I don’t have the stats for this, but when it comes to the Max Murphy eye test, Tony Pollard looked like a more explosive running back than Zeke in 2020. I don’t know if that is going to give Zeke more motivation or kill his confidence. That is something to look out for.

With a healthy offensive line and Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot should have a bounce-back year, but I don’t think he’ll ever return to what he was his rookie year. While I would still draft Zeke fairly high, I think he should be the seventh running back taken. Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara should all be taken ahead of Zeke. I would have to do some thinking when it comes to drafting Zeke over Saquon Barkley or even Jonathan Taylor.

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