Fantasy owners should be quite weary of Ezekiel Elliott’s murky situation. But Dak Prescott is poised for a breakout sophomore season., along with his TE.
The Cowboys and turmoil go together like macaroni and cheese, like Siegfried and Roy, like assault and battery.
Ezekiel Elliott has received a six-game suspension for an alleged domestic violence incident in 2016. He’s appealing the decision, so it’s possible that his punishment could be reduced or delayed. Elliott is cultivating a reputation as something of an enfant terrible. In addition to the assault accusation, he was videotaped exposing a woman’s breast earlier this year during a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dallas, and he was allegedly involved in a Dallas bar fight in July.
Elliott won the NFL rushing title in a cakewalk last year, outrushing second-place finisher Jordan Howard by 318 yards. Elliott had a league high 322 carries and averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 108.7 yards per game. His 16 total touchdowns ranked third behind only David Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. Zeke had 32 catches for 363 yards and a touchdown, and it seems as if there’s room for growth in that area since he was targeted only 40 times last year (although he might be hard-pressed to match his 9.1 yards per target from last year).
With the Cowboys unlikely to repeat their 13-3 record and their +115 scoring margin, the game scripts won’t be as favorable for Elliott. It’s also slightly troubling that the Cowboys have lost two starters from their terrific offensive line: Doug Free and Ronald Leary. And, oh yeah, the suspension. Before the prospect of a suspension arose, I ranked Elliott third overall, behind Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson. With Zeke now due to miss half the fantasy season, I rank him RB16. And really, that’s mostly a reflection of the uncertainty at the position. I’m not eager to hamstring myself by spending an early-round pick on a player who probably won’t contribute until the second half of the fantasy season.
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When blackjack dealers draw a face-up ace, they’re required to offer players insurance. Dealers are also required to offer insurance when they draw a face-up Ezekiel Elliott football card, and players who accept are given a Darren McFadden card. McFadden’s ADP has soared to RB32, and he’s being considered a must-have for Elliott owners. There are those who think that the combined Elliott-McFadden price (a second-rounder and a seventh-rounder) isn’t exorbitant to lock up high-RB1 production. But is that really a lock, considering that McFadden will soon turn 30, played only three games last season, has had a star-crossed career, and might lose some carries to Alfred Morris? Generally, I engage in handcuffing as often as I take insurance at the blackjack table, which is to say never. In this case, I don’t disagree that Zeke buyers should feel compelled to buy McFadden as well … but I don’t like the value proposition of buying that combination.
I find it sort of curious that some fantasy writers are slightly down on Dak Prescott because they think he won’t be as efficient as he was in 2016. Well, duh. Prescott ranked third in the league in passer rating, ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. He ranked fourth in both completion percentage and yardage per attempt. He threw 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. And he did all of that as a rookie. There’s no way in holy hell he’s going to be that efficient again.
But I think there’s an excellent chance that Prescott attempts more passes than he attempted in 2016 – possibly a lot more. He finished 23rd in pass attempts last season and would have finished several spots lower if some of his peers hadn’t lost games to injury or suspension. Prescott averaged just 28.7 pass attempts per game last season. For sake of comparison, Roger Staubach averaged 28.8 pass attempts per game in 1979, his final season as the Cowboys’ starter. Dallas was the run-heaviest team in the league last year, which is a luxury that comes with going 13-3. If things don’t go as well in 2017, Prescott could be forced to take to the air far more often, and the bump in volume could offset the inevitable decrease in efficiency. Dak’s running ability is a nice bonus, too. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to match the six TD runs he had last season, but it’s worth noting that he ran for 37 touchdowns over his final three seasons at Mississippi State.
I’m going to do most of my quarterback shopping in the middle-class QB tier this year, targeting the best values in the QB8-QB18 range. Dak is going to be one of my favorite targets.
Dez Bryant didn’t fully click with Prescott last September, then missed three games in October due to a knee injury. In the first nine games after his return, Bryant had seven TD catches and seven games with 70 or more receiving yards. Bryant’s bona fides are beyond question. Based on talent alone, he’s one of the five or six best receivers in the game. But even if the Cowboys pass more this season, they still aren’t going to be pass-heavy, so Bryant isn’t going to get as many targets as he was getting three or four years ago. And like some of the other top receivers in the NFC East, Bryant’s schedule is laden with shutdown cornerbacks.
As run-centric as the Cowboys were last season, slot man Cole Beasley still managed to catch 75 passes. Beasley has a career average of 10.5 yards per catch and has limited TD potential, but he’s a quality asset in PPR leagues and is at least rosterable in standard leagues. It was sort of weird that the Cowboys took a Beasley knockoff, Oklahoma’s Ryan Switzer, in the fourth round of this year’s draft. But Switzer isn’t a threat to Beasley’s job. The Switzer selection was more of an acknowledgement of the importance of Beasley’s role in the Dallas offense and a move to cover the team’s backside in case Beasley were to go down.
Terrance Williams is the rare starting NFL wide receiver whose fantasy value is virtually nil. Even when Dez Bryant has missed time due to injuries over the last two years, Williams hasn’t increased his production enough to become a desirable asset in fantasy leagues. But, uh … he’s a heck of a blocker.
God bless Jason Witten. His 90-catch, 1,000-yard seasons are in the rearview mirror, but he’s 35 and still grinding out 70-catch, 700-yard seasons. The big plays just aren’t there anymore: Witten has scored three touchdowns and averaged under 10.0 yards per catch in each of the last two seasons. But somehow, he’s still getting open. Witten’s 95 targets last year ranked seventh among tight ends.
With an ADP of TE17, Witten is being passed over by drafters looking for the next big thing at tight end. In drafts where I punt the TE position, Witten is going to be my late-round target, since I know he can provide decent reception and yardage volume and will be available in the latter rounds, allowing me to plow draft capital into other positions.
|Ezekiel Elliott||RB9||RB16||Be Careful|
|Darren McFadden||RB32||RB34||Insurance, anyone?|
|Dez Bryant||WR8||WR7||Don’t reach|
|Cole Beasley||WR60||WR55||Consider in PPR|
|Jason Witten||TE 17||TE 14||Buy on the cheap|