The Lede: Can Cowboys Win Without Zeke?

By Keith Allison (flickr) CC License

Don’t have time to read through 1,000 words, but need some informed betting tips? Here’s a quick rundown on today’s biggest sports story (as adjudged by me) and how it impacts the way you should bet.

Ezekiel Elliott Receives a Six-Game Suspension

While many have been eagerly anticipating the preseason debuts of the league’s top rookies, many others have been anxiously awaiting the NFL to make a decision on the Ezekiel Elliott case. Last year’s rushing champ had a very noisy offseason, but the biggest concern was a domestic abuse incident dating back to July of 2016 that the league has been investigating.

The league announced today that Ezekiel Elliott will be suspended for the first six games of the 2017 season. Of course, Zeke has the opportunity to appeal the suspension, and it is commonly believed he will do so. Though it’s very unlikely the suspension completely disappears, it could be reduced. (Odds the six-game suspension sticks: 1/1)

How will the Cowboys fare without their prized workhorse? What are the fantasy football implications?

Without Elliott on the field last season, the Cowboys averaged 0.8 less yards per play, 1.3 less yards per carry, and had to rely a lot more on Dak Prescott’s arm. While the latter may not seem terrible, since Dak was the OROY, his play suffered without his rookie pal on the field with him. Dak’s passer rating dropped from 112.7 with Zeke to 92.6 without him on the field. Making matters worse, Dallas is the only team in the league who opens the season with four consecutive games against top-ten total defenses: vs. Giants, at Broncos, at Cardinals, vs. Rams.

Takeaway: It’s very unlikely this suspension gets reduced to less than four games. With Dallas’ offensive line already losing a bit of muscle, losing a dynamic play-maker like Elliott is a serious blow. Darren McFadden is not nearly as explosive as Zeke, and Dallas’ ground game will not be as dominant. Don’t expect Dak to be able to put the offense on his shoulders against those brutally tough defenses over the first four weeks, making a 1-3 start very realistic. And with both Washington and Philadelphia improving in the offseason, the Cowboys can’t afford a slow start. Go ahead and crumple this NFC East preview up, because Dallas will miss the playoffs if Zeke is suspended for more than three games this season.

Looking at fantasy, it’s awfully tough to make any concrete decisions yet with an appeal looming. But I wouldn’t expect to have Elliott for at least the first four games, meaning I certainly wouldn’t draft him third-overall, likely waiting until at least the second-round to even consider him. McFadden’s ADP is going to skyrocket, and I’d be willing to take him as early as the sixth-round in standard drafts.