We're in unprecedented territory here, as we head into the final weekend of Fantasy draft season with two expected first-round running backs still holding out. Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott began their holdouts back in July. Through much of the preseason, neither appeared to have made much progress in getting back to their teams, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel for both this weekend.
Literally hundreds of thousands of Fantasy football drafts are taking place with these significant clouds hanging over them, and Fantasy players are faced with big questions around both of them. Not just, "When should I draft Ezekiel Elliott/Melvin Gordon," but also: "How early do I take their replacements?" These decisions alone may not decide the fate of your Fantasy team, but they could make a big impact.
So, heading into this final weekend of drafts, where do things stand, and how should you approach them?
How to handle Elliott
There's just so much more optimism around Elliott eventually reaching an agreement with the Cowboys that it makes sense he hasn't fallen out of the first round in ADP, and we got even more reason for optimism Saturday:
Here's the news Dallas has wanted: Talks between the Cowboys and RB Ezekiel Elliott are intensifying, with both sides aiming to wrap up a new deal this weekend, league sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 31, 2019
Forget Dallas; This is the news Fantasy players all around the country wanted. Even before this report, I was fine taking Elliott with the fourth overall pick in any draft. Now? Even though he's unsigned, if you pick in the top four and let him slip to the No. 5 spot, you're doing yourself a disservice. Heck, with signs pointing to him being there for Week 1, I wouldn't blame you if you put Elliott back in the top spot on your draft board.
Elliott's holdout is pretty unprecedented, as he was still two full years away from being a free agent, but that's also why it always seemed likely a deal would get done. He had some leverage, in that he could hold out until at least Week 10 and still become a free agent, but it didn't seem in the Cowboys' best interests to let him sit out there that long.
What they're saying
Stephen Jones, Cowboys executive vice president, when asked if the Cowboys are prepared for Elliott missing time: "Yeah, I mean, we've been preparing for that. That's why we brought Alfred in. As we've said, we've been so pleasantly surprised, Pollard has been even better than we expected."
The Cowboys talked about being comfortable without Elliott, but that was a very recent spin; before the last few days, all public statements expressed optimism about him coming back. They may have been "preparing" for life without Elliott, but it's hard to buy that they ever really took it seriously. For example, while Alfred Morris was the first player Jones mentioned here, he didn't see a single snap with Dak Prescott on the field in the preseason; it was all Tony Pollard. Were they really planning on going into the season with Pollard as an every-down back, or with Morris playing a significant role without playing with the first team?
How to approach the backups
Pollard had just two games in his collegiate career with more than nine carries, as he made his mark more in the passing game and as a returner, which is why it was kind of hard to believe they'd really roll with him as an every-down player even for just a few weeks. That's not to say Pollard couldn't be an every-down back, but he was more of a receiver in high school, so this would have been a transition to a role he's never really filled.
Luckily, it seems like we won't have to find out. Assuming nothing goes wrong with the contract negotiations, Elliott should return ready to shoulder a heavy load, with Pollard working as a change-of-pace back. That might limit Elliott's upside, especially in PPR leagues, but we know he can be a contender for the No. 1 overall pick even if he isn't catching a ton of passes. If he gets back to last year's passing game usage, that's just a bonus.
- Elliott: Top-four pick
- Pollard 10th-round plus, as a handcuff only
How to handle Gordon
Let's see … Gordon has already turned down multiple contract offers, expressed support for Le'Veon Bell's season-long holdout, and has already potentially forfeited significant money by missing all of the preseason. Now, game checks are a different thing, but multiple reports have indicated Gordon is prepared to miss regular season games, and it doesn't sound like there has been much progress in negotiations.
What there has been progress on is the possibility of Gordon finding a new home. He requested a trade weeks ago, and multiple reports indicate the Chargers have granted him permission to begin looking for a new team. It's not clear where the right fit may be — Tampa Bay immediately comes to mind; Houston less so after trading for Carlos Hyde — but this does give Gordon another avenue to a potential early-season debut.
The uncertainty has caused Gordon's ADP to tumble to the middle of the third round, but he's gone more like the fifth in a lot of our recent mock drafts. Given that Gordon could very easily sit out until Week 10 and then return to accrue the service time he needs to qualify for free agency at the end of the season, that makes sense. However, with a trade as a more realistic escape hatch now, Gordon starts to look more worthy of the risk you'll be taking on in investing a pick in the third to fifth rounds.
While we still very much don't know if or when we'll see Gordon on a field in 2019, you have to be a bit more optimistic as of Saturday afternoon than you were even in the morning. We know how good Gordon has been with the Chargers; if he lands somewhere else as an every-down, featured back, he'd return to being a first-round value yet again.
What they're saying
Lol 6th round you debating 😂😂😂 I’m offended.— F L ⚡️ S H (@Melvingordon25) August 28, 2019
Well, Melvin certainly seems to think you shouldn't let him slide too far in your draft...
Neither side has had much else to say so far, which makes it harder to read the tea leaves. However, with Gordon's agent presumably working to either secure a new deal in L.A. or pursue a new home, we've finally got some forward momentum.
How to approach the replacements
Austin Ekeler started three games without Gordon last season and averaged 17 touches, so that's where you start. He's worth a look in the sixth or seventh round — we actually had a recent mock draft where someone drafting on a turn took both Gordon and Ekeler back to back. That's one way to lock in the Chargers' lead back all season long.
However, the Bills' release of LeSean McCoy may complicate matters just a bit:
It's hard to imagine the Chargers acquiring McCoy to be an every-down back, and Ekeler was still a viable Fantasy option as a low-end starting running back when Gordon was active last season, so even if McCoy signs, it shouldn't change things much. But, it does potentially put a roadblock for Ekeler being the kind of must-start option you might be hoping he could be with a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
And it would be devastating for Justin Jackson's value. His ADP never really rose above the 12th-round range, and if the Chargers sign McCoy, it shouldn't go any higher than that. He's a fine late-round flier, but McCoy would be more of a priority as the second Chargers running back to draft if he does end up there — likely in the ninth round range.
- Gordon: Round 5 or later
- Ekeler: Round 6
- *LeSean McCoy: Round 9-10
- Jackson: Round 10-12
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