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Ezekiel Elliott

Cowboys bring back veteran runner

So Dallas signed Ezekiel Elliott to a one-day contract yesterday so he can retire as a Cowboy -- hold on, I'm being told it's a one-year deal for 2024. I kid, but Elliott turns 29 years old this summer, and there's a lot of tread on his tires. Seems like a committee backfield coming up.

On the decline or no, Elliott has been a useful fantasy back the past couple of seasons. In 2022, his last year in Dallas, he put up close to 1,000 total yards and scored 12 touchdowns. And in 2023, he caught 51 passes for the Patriots, with another 955 total yards. Thirty-one of those catches came in the final six games of the season, after Rhamondre Stevenson got hurt. Ezekiel Elliott, PPR league-winning running back last year.

For 2024? Well, there's good and bad to consider.

As running backs go, Elliott has been remarkably durable. The last six seasons, he's missed a total of four games (one of which was Week 17 rest). He's 29, but seems less likely to miss time due to injury than a lot of starters.

Though Dallas has other running backs, it doesn't seem likely the team will do anything but put Elliott right back into the starting lineup. Rico Dowdle hasn't shown much with his chances. Deuce Vaughn is tiny and averaged 1.7 yards per attempt with his carries last year; it's not going to happen. Malik Davis has lived on the practice squad. The team signed Royce Freeman a few weeks back, and Freeman did some nice things for the Rams last year. I had been thinking he might be a better option to start than Dowdle. But Elliott's addition probably -- probably -- means Freeman will just be battling for a roster spot in August.

Would be easier to get behind Elliott as Dallas' best running back had he not been the least effective runner on each of his last two rosters.

Table shows numbers from New England running backs last year and Dallas running backs the previous year, sorted by yards per attempt. That's not always an ideal metric, reliant on offensive line play and such, but notable that Elliott was well behind his teammates in each of the last two seasons.

RUSHING EFFICIENCY, ZEKE TEAMS 2022-2023
YearPlayerAttYardsAvgTD
2022Tony Pollard, Dal.19310075.29
2022Malik Davis, Dal.381614.21
2023Kevin Harris, N.E.16654.11
2023Rhamondre Stevenson, N.E.1566194.04
2022Ezekiel Elliott, Dal.2318763.812
2023Ezekiel Elliott, N.E.1846423.53

Given the in-house options and Elliott's inefficiency, it almost looks like the Cowboys should have used a decent pick on a running back. Jerry Jones expressed a strong interest in Jonathon Brooks prior to him being drafted, a tipping of the hand usually considered a no-no in draft circles, NFL, fantasy, or otherwise. But Jerry's not as young as he used to be.

Instead it looks like we'll be getting some kind of a Zeke-Dowdle and maybe Freeman committee. When the ball winds up inside the 5-yard line, Elliott seems like the favorite to get 3-4 chances to punch it in, so I'll make him the back to spend a late pick on, if he falls far enough. But hard to see any Dallas back being featured, or having a ton of fantasy appeal.

--Andy Richardson

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