Fantasy 5: Ezekiel Elliott shows why he’s worth a first-round pick

Why Dallas' rookie RB should go early, what to make of Seattle's crowded backfield, and how to value Miami RB Arian Foster.

| 10 months ago
(Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

(Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

Fantasy 5: Ezekiel Elliott shows why he’s worth a first-round pick

T-minus roughly 24 hours until the biggest fantasy football draft day of the year. There’s still time for some last-minute adjustments to your draft board, and don’t forget that our projections are updated multiple times each day so you can draft with the must up-to-the-second information.

Speaking of which, here are five things to know from Thursday’s Week 3 preseason contests:

1. Ezekiel Elliott shows why he is worth a first-round pick in fantasy

After months of speculation, we got our first glimpse of how Elliott will look in the Cowboys’ offense on Thursday night. And it was good. Very good. Elliott played just 14 snaps, but he racked up 48 yards on seven carries. His hard and physical running style was on full display, as was his abilities as a blocker. He picked up Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright on the play Tony Romo tweaked his back. Alfred Morris has had a strong preseason, but he was the clear No. 2 last night, with Elliott playing an every-down role in his reps.

[Which players should you consider with your first-round pick? Get custom mock-draft and live-draft recommendations in the PFF Draft Master tool.]

Elliott’s performance is verification for some, but it’s likely others will continue to stick to the “he’s unproven” narrative that has been a consistent rebuttal to Elliott as a first-round fantasy pick. To say that a player who rushed for 3,699 and 41 scores over the last two seasons at the highest level of college football is “unproven” seems a bit short-sighted. He proved last night that he can certainly run with the big boys. Just ask Kam Chancellor.

For fantasy purposes, Elliott remains locked in as a top-tier running back. That means he’s likely to go in the tail end of the first round. While it may seem crazy to select a rookie that early, Elliott is in a position where he could easily top 300 touches.

2. Devonta Freeman out-touches Tevin Coleman

Freeman, last year’s No. 1 fantasy running back, has been somewhat up and down in the preseason, but that’s a good way to describe the Falcons offense as a whole so far in 2016. The more important matter for fantasy purposes is the touch distribution between Coleman and Freeman. In Thursday night’s game, Freeman and Coleman both worked with the ones, and Freeman saw seven touches to four for Coleman.

While the gap isn’t huge, the most important takeaway is that Freeman saw three targets to just one for Coleman and clearly looked like the better player. Concerns about Coleman cutting into Freeman’s workload have caused Freeman to slide down to the second round in ADP. While Coleman will certainly get some early-down work, Freeman’s ability as a receiver makes him a nice value in that spot.

3. What should we make of Seattle’s backfield?

With Thomas Rawls not slated to suit up until Week 1, we’ve gotten a long look at Christine Michael this preseason. The fourth-year man has seemingly revived his career with a strong preseason that continued on Thursday night. In his best performance of the preseason, Michael posted 58 yards on seven carries. That brings his preseason total to 157 yards at a clip of 6.5 yards per carry.

The Seahawks have maintained all along that Rawls will be the starter when he returns to action, but Michael’s play has already stirred up talk of a one-two attack in the Seattle backfield. At this point, it’s going to be hard to keep Michael off the field. Rawls is still likely to get the bulk of carries, but he remains overvalued as a third-round fantasy pick.

We also saw Prosise on the field for the first time this preseason, and the rookie was immediately working with the first-team offense as the third-down back. He also got some work as a runner with four carries for 23 yards. It’s a great sign that he’s already with the ones. Prosise is likely to open the season as the passing down back, with Rawls and Michael getting a majority of the early-down work. Prosise remains a late-round flier, especially in PPR formats.

4. Arian Foster finds the end zone, but don’t overvalue him in drafts

All eyes were on the running back position last night, and Foster looked like his old self in his Miami debut. While the veteran only managed 10 yards on five carries, he did find the end zone and also caught two balls for 20 yards. Foster actually didn’t get the start, but he looked clearly better than Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins also worked Isaiah Pead and Damion Williams with the first-team offense.

[Drafting this weekend? Come prepared with PFF’s Ultimate Fantasy Cheat Sheet, which includes a printable PDF.]

He’s an injury risk for sure, but Foster appears to have an edge to be the leading fantasy scorer out of the Miami backfield. With the Dolphins pushing the pace, there’s the potential for a lot of volume out of this offense. That being said, Foster’s ADP has crept up into the fifth round. He’s now going as the 24th running back off the board. It’s a case of balancing risk and reward, but that price might be a little bit too much to pay given Foster’s recent injury history.

5. Kenny Stills is working ahead of DeVante Parker

Much of the fantasy focus this offseason has on Parker, but Stills has quietly emerged and played ahead of Parker in two-wide receiver sets on Thursday night. Stills caught 4-of-6 targets for 46 yards, while Parker managed just two catches for eight yards. Through three preseason games, Stills has eight catches for a team-high 124 yards and two scores.

The rise of Stills has a ripple effect on the fantasy landscape in Miami. His play all but assures we won’t be seeing much of rookie Leonte Carroo, especially in the early-goings of the season. Carroo has fallen off draft boards in redraft leagues. This also has an impact on Parker, who is currently going 36th among wide receivers with an ADP in the eighth round. The Dolphins run a ton of three-wide sets, so Parker is going to be on the field a lot. However, the fantasy community may have to pump the breaks on the hopes that he emerges as a breakout player this season.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

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