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Countdown to 2021 fantasy football drafts: Ezekiel Elliott No. 15

Coming off the worst season of his NFL career, Ezekiel Elliott needs to re-establish himself as a premier all-around running back, one that can lift the Cowboys offense rather than hold it back.

Aug 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) looks on against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of a preseason game at State Farm Stadium. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With a (mostly) clean bill of health at the most important positions on the roster and a more traditional offseason to prepare, the Dallas Cowboys have understandably high hopes for the 2021 season. Ezekiel Elliott, the team’s franchise running back, looks to bounce back from a subpar campaign in Year 2 of the Mike McCarthy era.

To commemorate the 2021 NFL season, we will count down the 75 best fantasy players in the NFL. Picking a Top 75 requires subjective analysis — especially when projecting a whole season of accumulated fantasy points — but therein lies the fun. We will assume an average league, which is 12 teams, .5 PPR scoring, and a roster of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, & 1RB/WR/TE. Kickers and defenses need not apply.

Change is the nature of the NFL beast, so trades and injuries will likely impact this list as it unfolds. But, of course, this isn’t rocket science. We’re here to have a little fun and build up some much-needed anticipation for a league cast in the shadow by baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. Sarcasm aside, the NFL is addictive and we’re here to give your daily fix as we close in on the season.

Check out the official fantasy football drafting tiers here.

No. 15, Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, RB

While not the flashiest running back in fantasy terms, Elliott offers a fairly straightforward value proposition. He rarely misses time — just two games over the past three seasons — and seems a near-lock for 350-plus touches. However, his per-game efficiency has trended down since entering the NFL in 2016. A healthier offensive line and the return of Dak Prescott could buck that trend, but it presents some concern for fantasy managers.

Competition for touches

The Cowboys’ contractual investment in Elliott and the dearth of viable alternatives — Tony Pollard has performed fine in a reserve role but hasn’t yet demonstrated the ability to handle more — effectively means Elliott will see more touches than all but a few running backs in the NFL.

Offensive expectations

The Cowboys offense went incredibly pass-heavy during the five games before Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury, but that run-pass ratio doesn’t seem likely to extend into 2021. Though the aerial attack will still dominate, Elliott and the ground game should see more action, especially near the goal line.

Player’s upside

If the offensive line can stay relatively healthy and the Cowboys move closer to the middle in terms of the run-pass balance, Elliott could see a boost in both touch volume and quality of touches. In turn, that could push the veteran running back to his best season since 2018.

Player’s downside

Elliott’s decline might just signal the normal wear and tear of running backs in the NFL, something which the improved blocking and Prescott’s return might not offset. Elliott will probably still improve on 2020’s volume numbers if he stays healthy, but last year’s inefficiency might remain.

Projection

1,250 rushing yards, 50 receptions, 400 receiving yards, 12 total touchdowns