Absurdity Check: Is it Time to Panic About Ezekiel Elliott?

Ezekiel Elliott Dallas Cowboys

“I’M LOSING IT!!! WHAT THE HECK IS GOIN’ ON?!”

Jeezaloo! Count slooowly backward from 20, find your comfy sweatpants/pajama pants/what have you and fix up a cup of tea. You might really need it. To be frank, the sense of frustration is understandable this week. For the specific target demographic of fantasy managers affected by this, it is important to know from the jump the following assessment probably will not assuage your concerns. Doom-and-gloom is likely a bit of an overstatement but by no means will you walk away from this feeling over the moon.

Given that premise, this is Herms’ 2021 Week 2 Absurdity Check:

“EZEKIEL ELLIOTT WAS SUPPOSED TO BOUNCE BACK THIS SEASON!!! WHAT’S UP WITH THIS TONY POLLARD NONSENSE?! SOOO… ZEKE IS SCREWED?!”

Alright, so let us do the “good news/bad news” exercise. That should probably help. Per 4for4, here is the good news about Ezekiel Elliott when it comes to Tony Pollard through the first two weeks: offensive snaps. We like snaps because a player can’t do anything if he isn’t on the field. So, more snaps mean more opportunities, which means more chances for your fantasy football guy to do the fantasy football things you got him to do.

  • Ezekiel Elliott: 114-of-145 snaps (79%)
  • Tony Pollard: 41-of-145 snaps (28%)

See? By no stretch of the imagination is this the worst news in the world! Elliott was on the field on about 80% of the Dallas Cowboys offensive plays! That is a good thing. The old adage of “the best ability is availability” rings true in this aspect. At least we can look at these numbers and think, “hey he’s out there!” and make ourselves feel better. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this. How about we take a look at the Zeke versus Pollard touch distribution through two weeks?

  • Elliott: 31 touches (15.5 per game) // 27.2% touch rate
  • Pollard: 23 touches (11.5 per game) // 56.1% touch rate

Yikes! While it is factual that Elliott sees the field more than his counterpart, the Cowboys’ distribution of tangible work between the two players skews far closer. To further highlight why Pollard is such a nuisance, it is vital to mention that as things stand presently, the aforementioned player who is not the affectionately nicknamed Zeke is RB12 overall in PPR scoring while Elliott finds himself at RB26 per FantasyData[Editor Note: Herms went so far out of his way to not say “Tony Pollard” in that sentence that I’m letting it ride.]

So how concerned am I about what we have seen out of the Dallas backfield as it relates to the future prospects of Ezekiel Elliott? Is he screwed?

ABSURDITY CHECK: 4/5, NOT RIDICULOUS, TONY POLLARD IS KIND OF A PROBLEM

On a scale of 1-5 with 1 being “you’re being paranoid” and 5 being “everything we thought we knew is a lie and we all need a hug”,  this feels like a 4. Through the help of loosey-goosey math and the help of Pro Football Reference, a 17-game extrapolation of QB Dak Prescott’s passing attempts over his previous seven starts between 2020-2021 gives us a cool 745 pass attempts (43.9 per game). Why does this matter exactly? Well, the more a team throws the football, the less that team runs. Given Ezekiel Elliott is a running back and his primary responsibility for fantasy purposes is earning points by rushing, this is not good.

Additionally, by way of FantasyData and The Football Database, I performed a dive into the correlation between Elliott’s year-end points per game totals and the Dallas Cowboys team passing attempts over the duration of his career:

  • 2016: 15 games played, RB2 overall (21.7 PPR PPG) // 483 team pass attempts (30th in NFL)
  • 2017: 10 games played, RB10 overall (20.3 PPR PPG) // 493 team pass attempts (29th in NFL)
  • 2018: 15 games played, RB5 overall (21.9 PPR PPG) // 527 team pass attempts (21st in NFL)
  • 2019: 15 games played, RB3 overall (19.5 PPR PPG) // 597 team pass attempts (10th in NFL)
  • 2020: 15 games played, RB9 overall (14.9 PPR PPG) // 639 team pass attempts (2nd in NFL)

Despite consistently finishing as a top-ten running back, it’s worth noting Elliott’s points per game decrease as the Cowboys’ offense trends toward the pass. Granted, certain mitigating factors (i.e. Prescott’s health last season, the offensive line’s injury woes, etc.) complicate this as being a perfect exercise, but the dropoff is notable. Dallas added wide receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb over the last few years, signaling that Dallas’ desire to ramp up the passing game. Reality matched intention, as the pass attempts increased from 483 in 2016 to 639 in 2020.

In essence, Zeke losing his passing game involvement due to supposed shifts in the team’s overall offensive philosophy coupled with being replaced in that limited capacity by RB Tony Pollard, it would seem there is reason to sound the proverbial alarm relative to his effectiveness in fantasy football for the remaining duration of the 2021 NFL season.

Do you want more 2021 NFL discussion? Then check out these links!

Discord!
Podcast!
Patreon!
Twitch!

quarterback Beersheets Arizona Cardinals Seattle Seahawks Los Angeles Rams San Francisco 49ers New England Patriots

[Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/32/Ezekiel_Elliott_%2838027138731%29.jpg]