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My colleague Chris Towers recently made an excellent argument about why it’s a risk to draft Ezekiel Elliott in the second round of any Fantasy league. As we’re all aware, Elliott is suspended for the first six games of the season, barring an appeal, and won’t be eligible to return until Week 8 because Dallas has a bye in Week 7.
You can agree with Chris and pass on Elliott to avoid the headache, which is fine. Or you can play to win. I prefer the latter, and having Elliott on your team increases your chances at a championship.
I took that chance with this team at No. 4 overall in a standard league in our pick-by-pick series. I want Elliott on my roster when it makes sense, and I look for him starting at No. 20 overall when I can potentially pair him with David Johnson , Le’Veon Bell , Antonio Brown , Julio Jones or Odell Beckham , who are likely the top-five overall picks.
Brown was my first-round pick, and now I have two studs, barring injury, when it matters most, which is the Fantasy playoffs. And that’s assuming Elliott does miss all six games.
We did this draft prior to Week 3 of the preseason, and Elliott will have his appeal heard on Aug. 29. The suspension could be reduced, possibly to four games, which means you’ll have Elliott for 12 games this season. If that happens, he’s a borderline first-round pick given his upside.
Go back to last year and think about where you would have drafted Jordan Howard knowing then what you know now about him. He didn’t get his first start until Week 4 and was dominant from that point on. Or Jay Ajayi , who didn’t start until Week 5 and then had a standout season the rest of the way.
Elliott might not get on the field until Week 8, but he’s also a better talent than those other running backs and can still do plenty of damage. You just have to know how to approach Elliott on Draft Day, and I have two easy rules.
The first is finding replacement-level talent for Elliott, which I did on this team. I took two other running backs through Round 5, and they could be great with Lamar Miller and Marshawn Lynch . I also made sure to draft Darren McFadden in Round 7, which isn’t a priority, but it does help.
Now, do I have enough talent at running back to cover myself for the first seven games? I would say yes, but you tell me. And while I might not have the best No. 2 receiver with DeVante Parker , Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin vying for that role, I did draft Drew Brees in Round 4, which gives me another stud.
Replace Brees with Tyreek Hill , Martavis Bryant or Sammy Watkins if you want and get another quarterback later if you’d like to solidify your receiving corps, but I like this start. I expect to be competitive until Elliott returns, which brings me to rule No. 2 — keep your expectations in check early in the year.
Your goal to start the season should be to have a record of 3-4 or better without Elliott. That’s it. Because now, in Week 8, I get a first-round talent dropped in my lineup, and you can see the total picture.
Here is my team at No. 4 overall:
1.4 Antonio Brown, WR, PIT
2.9 Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
3.4 Lamar Miller, RB, HOU
4.9 Drew Brees, QB, NO
5.4 Marshawn Lynch, RB, OAK
6.9 DeVante Parker, WR, MIA
7.4 Darren McFadden, RB, DAL
8.9 Eric Decker, WR, TEN
9.4 Jeremy Maclin, WR, BAL
10.9 Delanie Walker , TE, TEN
11.4 D’Onta Foreman , RB, HOU
12.9 Jalen Richard , RB, OAK
13.4 Rishard Matthews , WR, TEN
14.9 New York Giants DST
We know the team you draft isn’t always the team you end up starting most weeks, but I could have a lineup from Week 8 on with Brees at quarterback, Elliott and Miller at running back, Brown and Parker/Decker/Maclin at receiver, Walker at tight end and Lynch at the flex. And that’s assuming I don’t add anyone of worth off the waiver wire before then.
Barring injury, the only hole I see with this team is No. 2 receiver, but it could be a moot point if any of those three guys has a big season, which could easily happen. This looks like a championship roster to me, mainly because I can pair the potential No. 1 receiver in Brown to a running back who could be No. 1 on a per game basis once he steps on the field in Elliott.
Give me Elliott in Round 2 when it makes sense. And it made sense here, which gives me an excellent chance to win.
Favorite pick: Darren McFadden
Darren McFadden RB / Cowboys (2016 stats in 3 games)
ATT: 24 YDS: 87 TD: 0 YPC: 3.6 REC: 3 REC YDS: 17
The answer to all of these questions could be Elliott, because he’s my favorite pick, the pick I might regret and could be the player to make or break my team. I put McFadden in this category because he gives me an insurance policy until Elliott is active, and it’s great to bank on the Dallas offensive line coming through. Since 2014, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has helped produce two amazing seasons for running backs with DeMarco Murray and Elliott. In between them, in 2015, was McFadden, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and was the No. 14 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. He is a serviceable starter until Elliott is active.
Pick I might regret: Drew Brees
Drew Brees QB / Saints (2016 stats)
CMP %: 70.0 YDS: 5,208 TD: 37 INT: 15 RUSH YDS: 20 RUSH TD: 2
The only reason I put Brees in this category is because it might have been smarter to draft a receiver in Round 4 instead of a quarterback. For example, if I drafted Hill in Round 4 and then Marcus Mariota in Round 6 instead of Parker, does this make my team better? I take a hit at quarterback, but my roster might be more complete because of a better receiving corps. I’m not going to complain given Brees’ track record and expectation for this year, but it is something to consider, especially if Parker, Decker and Maclin all fail and I can’t replace them with anyone off waivers who is better.
Player who could make or break my team: DeVante Parker
DeVante Parker WR / Dolphins (2016 stats)
TAR: 87 REC: 56 YDS: 744 TD: 4
I’m excited about Parker entering his third season, and he should do well with new quarterback Jay Cutler . But he’s clearly a risky starting option in this format. I do also have high expectations for Decker coming back from last year’s shoulder injury and playing in Tennessee and Maclin going to Baltimore to play with Joe Flacco . But Parker has the highest ceiling of this trio, and if he’s good then the move to draft Elliott paid off since I won’t have a glaring hole in my roster. Instead, I’ll have plenty of Fantasy points.
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