2017 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Still want to draft Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott? Here's your championship plan

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Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson. Ezekiel Elliott and Le'Veon Bell. Ezekiel Elliott and Antonio Brown. Ezekiel Elliott and Julio Jones. Ezekiel Elliott and Odell Beckham.

Imagine starting your Fantasy team with one of those five combos.

Before Elliott was suspended six games by the NFL for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy, these combinations were daydreams. You had no shot of getting any of these duos in snake drafts and would have to use up more than half of your budget to land them in auctions.

Not anymore.

At this moment, Elliott's suspension will wipe him out for the first seven weeks of the NFL season. Why seven? Because the Cowboys have a bye (Week 6) before they play the six games Elliott's out for. But starting in Week 8, he's back and expected to be just as dominant as he was when he averaged 18.7 Fantasy points (20.8 in PPR) as a rookie.

The chance to have him with another top-tier player on your roster should get the blood flowing. But it also works specifically in snake drafts because those who pick early in Round 1 also pick early in Round 3. Knowing that you'll get that top-five player, then Elliott, then another top-30 player should get you excited.  

It's worlds better, by comparison, than having a late first-round pick, then taking Elliott, then waiting until late Round 3 to effectively get your second-best player for half of the season.

See for yourself. Which of these scenarios, based on current ADP, do you like best?

Round 1 David Johnson Julio Jones Mike Evans Jordy Nelson
Round 2 Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott
Round 3 Lamar Miller DeAndre Hopkins Christian McCaffrey Demaryius Thomas

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- if you consider Evans or A.J. Green or LeSean McCoy or Melvin Gordon to be among the cream of the crop at their positions, then you can probably talk yourself into spending an early pick in Round 2 on Elliott. But it's just so much sweeter when you can get him later knowing you're picking so much sooner in snake drafts.

It's even better in auctions. Before the suspension, Elliott would have taken upwards of 30 percent of your spending budget. Now? It should be under 20 percent of your budget ... maybe even 15 percent. It's an incredible discount!

Look, all of this sounds amazeballs, but the harsh reality of Elliott hogging a bench spot for nearly two months isn't something to look forward to.

That's where the other half of the equation comes into play -- and it's an important half.

There are enough running backs you can find in Round 4 or later who fit the bill as a good placeholder for Elliott and have ...

  • a starter's role
  • a chance at 15 touches per week
  • a late-season bye week

You don't need a stud (though it would help), you just need a guy to fill the void until Elliott comes back and makes your team a championship contender.

If you can get Hyde in Round 4, you're winning. He's got a grip on the starting job after he got himself in great shape this offseason. The first four weeks of his schedule -- Panthers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals -- is about as bad as it gets, but it lightens up from there. New playcaller Kyle Shanahan should put him in good situations week after week.

Cook's worth the hype in Round 4 or 5. He'll lead the Vikings run game and should also be a factor in the pass attack (which is one way to work around his sub-standard offensive line). The Vikings' schedule through the first half of the season should help the rookie out a lot, too. 

The last thing you want to do is take a risky rusher to replace Elliott, but Gillislee has some potential IF he earns the lead role for the Patriots. Being the key rusher in that offense typically nets some quality Fantasy points most weeks. One idea: Take Gillislee in Round 5 or so, then add Rex Burkhead in Round 10.

You can consider Powell in Round 6 or 7, depending on whether or not catches count. The bad news is that he's on the Jets. The good news is that they're forced to lean on Powell as not just their primary back but also their best offensive weapon. He should be a garbage time king in matchups that are mostly decent.

The excitement over Montgomery has simmered down after a fumblicious preseason start and a leg injury days later. But he's still the most experienced running back the Packers have. He should begin the season as Green Bay's every-down back and, at worst, will stick as a fixture in their hurry-up offense. You could play it safe and grab him in Round 4 and follow up with rookie Jamaal Williams in Round 7 or 8.

Either West (Round 8) or Woodhead (Round 6 or 8 depending on scoring) would suffice as early-season starting options. The Ravens' schedule isn't half-bad, but the worry over the team trailing in a bunch of games could hurt West's stats -- and help make Woodhead a factor.

It turns out that Ware is a polarizing Fantasy player. Some people see him as the unquestioned starter of the Chiefs and want to get him as soon as Round 5. Others think he's nothing special and would rather get Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt in Round 7 or 8. If you're targeting one of these guys to hold down the fort until Elliott gets back, you might be better off getting both.

Well, duh.

This is who we expect the Cowboys to lean on while Elliott is suspended. He was featured in the Cowboys' preseason game at the Rams and looked spry. He also was the exclusive running back for well into the second quarter of that game. We've seen McFadden do well in Dallas before, so the sight of him taking most of the work in that offense conjures up thoughts of big stats. That's what we're looking for. Round 8 is the time to start checking in on McFadden.

*  *  *

You might hate taking two or three running backs to cover one spot in your lineup, but when one of those players is Elliott and the other one (or two) carry potential to be more than just a Band-Aid for your lineup, it shouldn't be viewed as a negative. Besides, it's never a bad idea for Fantasy owners to draft a bunch of running backs anyway. The more you have, the more chances to land a stud who contributes in a big way toward your league's championship.

Which is exactly what drafting Elliott is all about.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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