I’ve been finding myself drafting Ezekiel Elliott in most of my leagues around the 2-3 turn. My preference would be to have two very solid picks before taking the risk on Zeke, but if I have a feeling he’s not going to get back to me, I end up taking him in the 2nd round because of all the names that are on the board who I don’t like as much. I’m never worried when I draft Zeke though, because I have a plan, and that plan has been working out for the most part. I also drafted Le’veon Bell in almost all of my leagues last year when he had a four game suspension to start the year, and I wasn’t worried then either. These two are both league winners and clear differentiators that I’m just not willing to avoid for guys in the 2nd of 3rd round who also might not work out. The risk might pay off even more if Zeke’s suspension is reduced, but we also don’t want this looming on us and come to find out Zeke is suspended for the fantasy playoffs. I’m going for the win, so I’ll take my chances. The Cowboys are the favorites to win the NFC East, and they’re going to need Zeke to do it; I would expect them to advise him to take the suspension early on so they don’t have the distractions in the primetime of the season. Just to note, if I drafted a high-end, three-down workhorse in the 1st round, I’m not going after Zeke as hard unless he falls into the third. Here is the strategy I think will help if you want Zeke on your team.
- Don’t draft on tilt. Don’t be afraid of drafting wide receivers, and don’t only draft a RB because you think you need to overcompensate. Let the draft come to you, and pick the best value.
- Target Darren McFadden. The preseason has shown us that he’s the clear lead back on all three downs, that he’s very capable behind this offensive line, and that he is going to be involved in the passing game. He should be a low-end RB1 with upside on most weeks, and that’s plenty to get you by. Not only will you use him during the weeks Zeke is out, but you have a solid handcuff in case of a Zeke injury. McFadden is going in the middle of the 6th round in PPR leagues, and I’ll pay that price. Remember, a lot of us (not including me) were willing to give up a 5th or 6th round pick for Derrick Henry and Tevin Coleman, who aren’t even going to be starting RBs and won’t get nearly the type of opportunity McFadden will get unless there’s an injury to their respective starters. Those guys are still going at the end of the 6th and early 7th round. You might have to give up on a WR you like that that point, but there are plenty of WRs later in the draft that should make up for it.
- Target Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah is being drafted after Joe Mixon, Doug Martin, CJ Anderson, and Bilal Powell and right ahead of Danny Woodhead, Mike Gillislee, and Mark Ingram. In PPR leagues, Abdullah can be started every week with confidence, and I don’t see that with any of these guys. Woodhead is the only guy we can be confident in on a weekly basis in PPR, and Doug Martin should be fine when he comes back, but Abdullah can give you excellent depth and a guy who you can throw in your RB2 slot or your flex and feel great. He’s very involved in the offense and will get at least 15 carries a game along with 4-5 catches. The reason why I like considering Abdullah when drafting Zeke is because he’s a guy you can get a little later while not needing to overextend the round after you draft Zeke for a guy like Lamar Miller, Marshawn Lynch, or anyone else you don’t like so much but you feel inclined to draft because you drafted Zeke.
- Target Kareem Hunt. To be safe, you should be able to draft Hunt in the third rounds of most leagues. I’m personally very happy drafting him once Todd Gurley is off the board. Gurley’s workload is going to be so big this year that it’s hard to pass up on. The price is good and he’ll be a RB2 at worse. After that, if you’re in the 3rd or 4th round and you have Zeke on your roster and Kareem Hunt is sitting there, I wouldn’t be able to leave a 3-down back on the draft board at that point. He can be a RB1 this year with the opportunity he should receive in that Chiefs offense, and once Zeke comes back, you have yourself a great 1-2 punch at RB.
- Get RB depth later in your draft. Here are a few names to keep an eye on:
- Rob Kelley (7.04)
- Theo Riddick (PPR only, 7.10)
- Frank Gore (8.04)
- Terrance West (8.06)
- Duke Johnson (PPR only, 8.09)
- Thomas Rawls (8.12)
- Jacquizz Rodgers (for first 3 games, 9.01)
- Jonathan Stewart (9.06)
- Matt Forte (11.06)
- Jeremy Hill (11.10)
- Gio Bernard (13.12)
- Get a quality WR1 on your team. I don’t want to draft a RB in the first round, then draft Zeke in the second, then draft Hunt in the third or any version of this scenario. If you end up doing that, you might end up with someone like TY Hilton, Terrelle Pryor, or Demaryius Thomas as your WR1. Now that could turn out just fine, but these guys are way better as WR2s, and in PPR you want to try to get that upside WR1. This strategy usually works the best when you drafted a high-end WR1 in the first round, and your first or second back off the board is Zeke. Again, if I end up with a great 3-down workhorse in the first round, I don’t know if I’m targeting Zeke as hard.
- Get quality depth. This is a general rule of thumb, but in this case, you want to make sure you have at least two startable RBs that you feel comfortable throwing in your lineup while Zeke is out, and a couple more in a pinch. Since you had to go a little harder at RB, you can find quality depth at WR in those middle to later rounds to go in your WR2, WR3, and flex spots. I usually have my WR2 by the middle rounds and fill that WR3 spot a little later. There are some PPR gems later in the draft like Pierre Garcon, Emmanuel Sanders, Jeremy Maclin, Corey Coleman, and Adam Thielen.
Really hope this helps bring some clarity to the Zeke situation. Don’t be afraid to draft him, but you have to go into the draft with a strategy before you do. Hopefully his suspension gets reduced and doesn’t fall into the fantasy playoffs so we can get the most value out of him this season.