Ezekiel Elliott Signs with Patriots, Fantasy Reaction
Another running back free agency domino finally fell Monday with the news that longtime Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the New England Patriots.
The 28-year-old Elliott heads to New England after spending his first seven years with the Cowboys, during which he had four 1,000-yard seasons (including leading the league in carries and yards in 2016 and 2018) and three Pro Bowls. His production has dropped in recent seasons, though — he’s averaged 4.0 yards per carry the last three years (including a career-low 3.8 in 2022) after 4.6 in his first four seasons. His yards after contact per attempt dropped to a career-low 1.5 in 2022 as well. This past season was his first finishing outside the RB1 ranks, coming in at RB22 in PPR and slipping behind Tony Pollard in the Dallas backfield.
Fantasy Impact of Ezekiel Elliott in New England
The Patriots have Rhamondre Stevenson locked in as the starter, but the rest of the backfield has been a mishmash. The team has Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong, Kevin Harris and J.J. Taylor, signed and then released James Robinson this offseason, and has brought in names like Elliott, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook at times this offseason to look at potential fits. Of the existing backups, only Montgomery has ever had a game with more than 11 carries, and he’s a 30-year-old converted wide receiver who missed almost all of last season to injury.
In other words, there’s ample room for Elliott — who has the lead for most carries since he entered the league by more than 100 over second-place Derrick Henry (1,881 to 1,750) and almost 500 more than third-place Melvin Gordon (1,383) — to get backup work.
Meanwhile, this news probably takes a little of Stevenson’s ceiling away. Elliott no longer has the burst he showed earlier in his career, but he’s still an excellent goal-line weapon and a strong blocker as a running back, two skills that could get him heavy usage in New England in situations that could be very valuable, especially the goal-line work. Elliott is little more than a handcuff/bench play in fantasy, but his presence probably knocks Stevenson from “low-end RB1 with upside” to “mid-range RB2 with less upside.”
Finally, the signing slams the door on an Elliott/Cowboys reunion. The team didn’t bring in any obvious Elliott replacement this offseason, rolling with Pollard as the starter and Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, Ronald Jones (who is suspended) and the diminutive Deuce Vaughn as the backups. There was always a logical connection with Elliott and the Cowboys, but with that door closed, the team could turn to a Fournette or a Kareem Hunt, or it could roll with the current backups, which would give Pollard an absolutely elite fantasy ceiling in 2023.