Fantasy Football: The Ezekiel Elliott Suspension Changes Everything

Elliott has been given a six-game suspension. Just how much does that change the fantasy football landscape?

One of the biggest looming questions regarding the 2017 NFL season had been the status of a possible suspension for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

After weeks and weeks of indecision, the league finally made a decision this morning.

Six games is the standard suspension for domestic violence, and Elliott has three business days to file an appeal, which he plans to do, per ESPN's Todd Archer.

I'm not here to speculate on anything about the incident, the suspension, or the likelihood that the six-game ban gets reduced. So I won't do that.

What matters is that, as of now, Elliott is facing a six-game suspension, which would put him off of the field until Week 8 (Dallas has a Week 6 bye). If your league's championship is Week 16 (like it should be), that gives us just nine games of Elliott in terms of fantasy football.

Here's how that changes fantasy football in 2017.

Projecting Elliott

Prior to the suspension news, our algorithms projected Elliott for the RB3 season in half-PPR fantasy football formats.

We projected him for 305 carries, 1,457 rushing yards, 11.7 touchdowns, 50.2 catches, 473 receiving yards, and 2.1 receiving touchdowns, good for 300.5 half-PPR fantasy points.

After adjusting for the suspension, those go down drastically -- of course.

Elliott Suspension RB Rank Rush Yards TD Rec Yards TD Half-PPR
Before 3 305 1,457 11.7 50 473 2.1 300.5
After 11 191 916 7.3 32 302 1.4 189.2

That's a big hit for the only running back who had a case to be in the same tier as Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson in the fantasy football realm. Elliott drops from our 3rd-ranked player in half-PPR formats to 20th overall, as well.

Of course, you aren't taking a zero in your running back slot by drafting Elliott, and you're theoretically getting an elite back with fresh legs midway through the season if you roster him. Plus, you can find a replacement, but at best, you're getting nine games from him if you make it to a Week 16 championship.

Once Elliott returns, the Cowboys do face the 22nd-toughest rush defense schedule, as measured by projected opponent Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP), our way of measuring team efficiency (you can read more about it in our glossary).

But unless his draft cost drops dramatically (into the middle of drafts, which it won't), it's a tough pick to justify.

Replacing Elliott

Soooo, we can get into how much Elliott brings to the table compared to a replacement-level running back another time, but just know that the Cowboys owned the same rank in adjusted rushing efficiency by our metrics in 2014 (when they were 12-4) as they did in 2015 (4-12).

In 2016, they finished first.

But as a team in 2016, the Cowboys' running backs ranked second in Success Rate (46.23%), the percentage of carries that improve their chances of scoring as measured by NEP, if you exclude fumbles. The Buffalo Bills edged them at 46.84%. Just two other teams had a team rate better than 44.00%.

What this means is that pretty much every back in the offense had success last year. Elliott was the best of the bunch at 47.19%, but Alfred Morris posted a mark of 42.03% on 69 non-fumble carries, and Darren McFadden's rate was 41.67% on 24 carries. The NFL average rate for running backs was 40.06%, so all three were a cut above the average, thanks to a stellar offensive line.

Here is how we project the other Cowboys backs with the suspension news.

Post-Suspension RB Rank Rush Yards TD Rec Yards TD Half-PPR
Ezekiel Elliott 11 191 916 7.3 32 302 1.4 189.2
Darren McFadden 51 109 439 3.4 20 152 0.9 94.4
Alfred Morris 63 96 420 3.0 7 29 0.0 65.0

Of course, you aren't going to take McFadden or Morris with the intent of playing them for the entire season. Here are our projections for each from Week 1 through Week 6.

Weeks 1-6RushYardsTDRecYardsTDHalf-PPRRank
Darren McFadden562231.811820.539.930
Alfred Morris381621.23110.019.464

Not super great by any means, but if you combined them, they'd rank as the RB12 in this span. If one of these two guys -- or Ronnie Hillman, Rod Smith, or Keith Smith -- get around 75% of the carries -- which is about typical for a Cowboys lead back in the past two years, that dude would be around RB24 until Elliott returned.

A low-end second running back probably isn't worth whatever McFadden's ADP is going to skyrocket to in the wake of this news.


This gives more value to Bell and Johnson at the top of the fantasy player pool. That much shouldn't get lost in the shuffle.

It also makes Elliott difficult to justify even at a discount because of the opportunity cost of burning a still-valuable pick and sitting him on your bench until the middle of the fantasy season. We do have Elliott projected at the same level as Bell and Johnson once he returns, as his schedule is significantly softer than theirs.

As for McFadden, Morris, or the replacements, you're probably going to need one guy to emerge and take over the full workload (around 75% of the carries) to be an RB2 value in fantasy formats. And then the value falls off a cliff once Elliott returns. There are better alternatives for that type of production for such a limited set of games.

Overall, this situation looks like one to avoid for fantasy owners unless McFadden's average draft position stays low (it won't) or Elliott falls more than expected in your particular draft. The upside of Elliott as the RB1 during the second half of the season is enticing if he falls into the late third or fourth round, but it's hard to imagine he lasts that long.