Ezekiel Elliott had a tough year in 2020. Zeke’s numbers were the epitome of the Dallas Cowboys offense last season. Started off the year red hot and then fell off a cliff when Dak Prescott got injured. Elliott tied his career-high in fumbles and tied his career-low in touchdowns last season. The issue with those numbers is the fact that he scored all but 1 touchdown when he was playing with Dak and was a fumble machine throughout the season. Zeke is far from the top 10 fantasy running back we are used to expecting him to be and he will look to have a bounce-back season in 2021.
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Elliott had one of his worst statistical seasons ever last season. He had his lowest total touchdown season ever and had his lowest rushing yard total ever as well. There was a clear divide in Elliott’s numbers before and after Dak Prescott was injured. In the 5 games before Dak Prescott suffered his gruesome ankle injury, Elliott averaged 72.8 rushing yards per game, 19.6 fantasy points per game, and scored 6 total touchdowns. In the 10 games after Prescott was injured, Elliot averaged 61.5 rushing yards per game, 9.8 fantasy points per game, and scored 2 total touchdowns. It is clear that there is a correlation between when Prescott is playing and Elliott’s production. Elliott looked disinterested and like he didn’t want to play throughout the season. Hopefully, with a recovered Prescott playing as the quarterback in 2021, Zeke can return to the dominant top 5 fantasy running back we expect him to be.
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I think last season was more of a lost cause throw-out-the-tape season for Zeke rather than his new normal. Zeke has one of the worst contracts in football, a 6-year $90 million headache, meaning Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are stuck with him. But there is still time for the contract to be worth it as Elliott is only 25 years old and had his second-fewest rushing attempts last season. Zeke looked terrible last season, but he still showed flashes of his dynamic running ability and quick feet. Zeke will be fresh coming into this upcoming season and will to his return to his glory days in 2021.
ADP & Auction Value
ADP: 9, Round 1, RB8
Auction Value: $41
Zeke had a down year in 2020, but that didn’t stop the fantasy draft experts from putting him as one of the top 10 backs in the game. Right now, Zeke is behind fantasy staples like Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook. Instead, he has settled into a new crowd where he is more comparable to backs like Jonathon Taylor and Nick Chubb. I think that Zeke is at the top of his group. While all of these backs are worthy of being the #1 back on your fantasy team, Zeke gets the edge over some of the other guys because of how he is used in the passing game. Zeke is heavily utilized in the passing attack as a guy who catches a lot of screens, angle routes, and check-downs from a pass-happy Dallas offense which racks up major points in any PPR or half-PPR leagues you are involved in.
Elliott has unfortunately created a new floor for himself last season. The new floor now involves a lot of fumbles and not a lot of touchdowns to make up for it. Tony Pollard has also emerged as a good complimentary back to Zeke which limits his touches. I am not expecting Dak Prescott to get injured again, but if Dak does not play the full season then Elliot fantasy owners are in trouble. Elliott is not effective when the defense is focused on stopping him, so the Dallas passing attack needs to as deadly as it was in the early parts of last season if Zeke wants to have a great year.
While there was a lot of negative for Zeke last season, there is still a lot more positive to take away. Considering that the offense crumbled when Dak went down, Elliott still averaged 15.4 fantasy points per game which any fantasy owner will gladly take. What I like most about Elliott coming into 2021 is the way that Dallas likes to feed him the ball. “Feed Zeke” is a real thing in Dallas as averaged 16.3 rushing attempts per game and 4.7 targets per game. Those 21 attempted touches per game are more than enough to produce points in fantasy. I expect Zeke to earn his top 10 running back fantasy spot and maybe climb into the top 5 in 2021.
Dallas Cowboys Offense
This offense is loaded when all of their pieces are healthy. That was really the only issue with the Cowboys’ offense. Besides the giant domino of Dak Prescott shattering his ankle in Week 5, other key offensive starters like Zack Martin also missed time in 2020. This offense was lethal with Prescott at the helm and the only reason they were in games at all as they averaged 34.8 points per game when Prescott was the starter. This was because they had a plethora of weapons to throw to. They had a triple threat on the outside between Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Micheal Gallup as well as a great combo at running back between the bell cow Ezekiel Elliot and the shifty Tony Pollard. Dallas was great on offense when all of their starters are healthy, it’s just that their defense couldn’t stop a nose bleed last season. Expect another explosive year from the Cowboys’ offense in 2021.
Strength of Schedule
By playing in the notoriously bad NFC East last season, the Cowboys have set up a relatively easy schedule for themselves in 2021. In fact, they have the 31st hardest or 2nd easiest schedule in 2021 with only their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, having an easier schedule. Looking at their upcoming season, we can see that they are playing the NFC South and AFC West as well as the Vikings, Cardinals, and Patriots. Their harder games are their games against the Chiefs and Buccaneers. The Cowboys also have to play sneaky hard games against the Chargers, Vikings, Cardinals, Patriots, Saints, and Raiders. These games are winnable if you’re Dallas, but these games require elite execution as well as getting a little lucky.
Then they have some of the easier games against the Panthers, Broncos, Falcons, and the other teams in the NFC East. These games are ones that you definitely need to win if you’re Dallas and ones that you should win if you’re the Cowboys because of the fact that Dallas is the more talented team in each of these games. After a disappointing year derailed by injuries in 2020, the Cowboys have a great chance of reclaiming their title as the best team in the NFC East in 2021 thanks to their easy schedule.
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