Ezekiel Elliott took the league by storm last year, leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards (5.1 YPC) and scoring 15 touchdowns on the ground, adding 32 catches, on 40 targets, for an additional 363 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. He finished the season with a rock solid 21 fantasy points per game and played on 71% of the team’s snaps. His usage this year should only increase, assuming he is actually on the field.
A league investigation into a possible domestic violence incident from last year is still ongoing. It's serious enough to the point where ESPN's Adam Schefter said he would be hesitant to draft Elliott in fantasy due to the uncertainty about the NFL's ongoing investigation into the case. While details of the incident remain murky, here is what we do know.
In July of last year, Instagram photos emerged from an account of a woman who was reportedly Elliott's ex-girlfriend that showed images of several bruises on her neck, legs and arms. In the caption part of the photos, she claimed that she had been abused for some time, stating: "it finally got out of control to where I was picked up and thrown across the room by my arms. Thrown into walls. Being choked to where I have to gasp for breath. Bruised everywhere, mentally and physically abused."
The woman, claiming Elliott was her live-in boyfriend at the time, filed a police report with the Columbus Police Department. Elliott denied the charges and also denied ever living with the woman. According to a TMZ report, the police spoke with four witnesses, who all claimed they didn't see any assault, including one witness who was supposedly in a car with Elliott and the woman, when one of the incidents supposidly took place.
After an investigation into the claims, the Columbus City Attorney's Office declined to bring charges due to conflicting and inconsistent information. This is not to say that the claims had no merit, but the City Attorney's office clearly didn’t feel there was sufficient proof to prosecute the case.
Unfortunately for Elliot, the NFL does not need a conviction in order to suspend a player under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. In response to the Ray Rice scandal, the NFL implemented a new domestic violence policy that calls for a six-game suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense. Upon announcing the new policy, the league specifically mentioned, “a player would not necessarily have to be convicted in a court of law” and that “each incident will be judged on its own merits.” The policy also states that the length of the penalty could increase in cases involving choking or repeated striking.”
A lot of people on Twitter have been talking about a 1- to 2-game suspension, but as I just mentioned, under the leagues policy, it is 6 games. That said, the NFL has continued to be inconsistent with its punishment of domestic violence cases since the new rules were laid out. Both Jermaine Cunningham and Rodney Austin were suspended for six games in 2015, while Greg Hardy got ten games, although that was later reduced to four after he essentially missed most of the previous season on the exemption list. Giants kicker Josh Brown had his suspension reduced from six games to one for "mitigating circumstances." Although the league came under a lot of pressure for reducing Brown’s suspension when he admitted he did abuse his wife, which is one reason the league doesn’t want to get Elliot’s case wrong.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with just the domestic violence charge. Since that time, Elliott was seen hanging out in a weed shop in Seattle, he was filmed pulling down a woman's top on St. Patrick's Day - exposing her breasts, involved in two car accidents this year, and then TMZ just reported today that Elliott punched a DJ at Dallas-area bar on Sunday night, with a video showing the guy laid out on the ground, having to go to the hospital.
Even if each incident doesn't rise to the level of misconduct, when taken as a whole, the optics are not good and he has clearly been engaged in conduct detrimental to the league, in addition to conduct that “imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person.” It's just too much negative press. Under the personal conduct policy, Commissioner Goodell has a free hand to discipline as he sees fit. At a minimum you would think Elliot would see some sort of suspension, and if the domestic violence case turns out to be legitimate, it's possible he is suspended for up to ten games, like Hardy was. All of these incidents have also occurred in just Elliott's first season, so Goodell may want to make sure he gets him under control now, and a lengthy, not a nominal suspension, may be the best way to do that. Then again, in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty, if all of these incidents prove to be false, he could also get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. If Elliot is suspended he can then appeal, which could push his suspension to later in the season or even next season. Although, as we saw with Hardy and Andrian Peterson, Goodell could put him on the exempt list, forcing Elliot to miss the games regardless.
At the current moment, Elliott is a risk to draft in the 1.03 spot, especially since the Dallas offensive line is more of a top ten unit this season as opposed to the best line in the league, and since the Cowboys go from having one of the easiest schedules in the league last year, to one of the more difficult ones this season. Suspension aside, I wouldn’t be opposed to drafting Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and perhaps even A.J. Green over Elliot. With a looming suspension, that appears to be an even wiser move. That said, I would certainly not to let him get out of the first round due to his upside, and it's not like you can't cover him for a few games, but there is major risk with him now.
Another player that has recently found himself in trouble with the law is Houston Texan rookie D'Onta Foreman, who was arrested Sunday morning on charges of firearm and marijuana possession. Foreman has since released a statement claiming that the weed was found on one of the passengers, the weed was not his and he was willing to take a drug test to prove that he has not been smoking marijuana. He also claimed that the gun was legally purchased and secured in the car, per Texas law. Being in Texas, where every other person owns a gun, it’s not hard to believe the validity of his assertions. This looks like a case of much ado about nothing and drafters should continue to pick up Foreman where they have been.
If it does turn into something more, an unlawful gun possession incident would fall under the personal conduct policy, probably leading to just a game or two suspension due to the nature of the incident and it being his first violation of the rule. Also, according to the policy, “unless the available facts clearly indicate egregious circumstances, significant bodily harm or risk to third parties, or an immediate and substantial risk to the integrity and reputation of the NFL, a first offense generally will not result in discipline until there has been a disposition of the proceeding,” which could take months if not into next year.
If Foreman does have marijuana in his system, that would fall under the league substance abuse policy, and not lead to any sort of suspension on a first offense. For reference, here is that rule:
- A first offense will put the player into the league's drug program.
- A second offense is a two-game fine.
- A third offense is a four-game fine.
- A fourth offense is a four-game suspension.
- A fifth offense is a 10-game suspension.
- A sixth offense is a one-year suspension.
Lastly, everyone is always keeping tabs on Josh Gordon. His reinstatement was declined earlier this year and his agent also cut ties with him, which is not a good sign. That said, unless he fails another test, I think Commissioner Goodell wants to wait until the season is much closer to starting before giving him another shot. I wouldn’t be surprised for him to be reinstated sometime in late August or September. It remains to be seen if the Browns would welcome him back or cut him loose. I suspect they would let him go at this point, but some team will bite and a change of environment could be good for him, perhaps a team like the Cardinals which have a done a great job with Tyrann Mathieu.
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