Roundtable Week 1

Our panelists share their thoughts on Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, the Colts' offense, the Chiefs' backfield, and their bold predictions for 2019. 

Let's examine what we think of players with the preseason over and the season ahead.

Let's roll...

Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon III, and Holdout Advice

Matt Waldman: What are you advising fantasy players about Melvin Gordon III and Ezekiel Elliott in the following situations?

  • For those drafting prior to Thursday night.
  • For those who drafted Elliott and/or Gordon.
  • For those who are curious about what acquiring either player.
As someone who had Elliott 1.01 throughout the month of August, I know I took the extreme point of view. On the other hand, I dropped Gordon progressively down my rankings to the point that he was barely draftable for me by mid-August. Where do you stand with these runners now that Elliott has signed, Gordon is still holding out, and in Week 1 of the NFL season?

Jason Wood: My position on Ezekiel Elliott has been unwavering. I've seen nothing — even with the latest flurry of new reports — to suggest this isn't progressing like any high-stakes negotiation. Rarely easy, negotiations of this sort are usually contentious and don't get settled until the deadline.

In this case, both sides seem to agree the deadline was this week. Jerry and Stephen Jones continued to say they wanted Elliott aboard and were willing to give him a big extension. Elliott continued saying he wanted to be a Cowboy for life.

And as I thought, this deal got done. He MAY not play a typical snap count the first week, but that does nothing to dissuade anyone from drafting him 1.04 in either standard or PPR formats if you still have a draft between reading this and the Thursday opener.

If you've already drafted Elliott, have no fear. There's nothing to do other than monitor the developments to see if you have to start someone else in Week 1. If you have Tony Pollard, the decision is easy. If you don't have the handcuff, you'll have to throw out your RB3 or RB4 (if you also have a flex position), which shouldn't be a problem unless you went for Elliott and then punted running back for other positions.

In terms of acquiring Elliott, I just don't see anyone selling at a discount. If you were brave enough to draft him, you aren't going to risk letting him go right before a deal is signed. The best-case scenario here is if the contract talks take another public setback, and Elliott misses a week or two. I would THEN approach that owner and see about buying Elliott after panic has set in.

Jeff Pasquino: Treat Elliott like a star with possibly a warm-up workload during the first two weeks and draft accordingly. Taking him at 1.04 or later should be strong value, and if you decide to pass on him early in Round 1, he might not come back to you. At any point in Round 2 (if he slides) he is a steal.

My advice has been to take him at 1.05 and draft 4-5 running backs at a minimum in addition to Elliott, with the plans to start your RB2 and RB3 until Elliott returns to action.

For those who already drafted, some of the prior answers still apply: Use your depth to cover until Elliott or Gordon return to action. That should be a short while for Elliott but could be way longer (and possibly all year) for Gordon, so hopefully, you secured strong depth on your roster.

The only player of the two I would consider trading for is Elliott, but it is very early in the year for his owner to get antsy about the situation. Of course, it never hurts to ask, but do not expect Elliott to come cheap before the first weekend of NFL action.

Andy Hicks: Elliott's upside is so high however that he remained a first-round pick to me, no matter what. Most people with Elliott on their roster will not give him up.

Jeff Haseley: My gut says to stay away from Elliott. I don't feel like he's poorly conditioned, but there is an off-chance that he gets hurt simply due to being in non-football shape. Plus, I don't like Dallas' schedule for the playoffs (at CHI, LAR, @PHI). I believe he will be ready to play Week 1, but I'm not super-glad to have him on my team. You also have to contend with another off-field incident which would surely lead to a suspension. Let someone else have the heartache. Elliott is a good player, but he's not among my top picks this season.

My plan is to trade Elliott after Week 4 or 5. Hopefully, the easier schedule to begin the year results in a Top 5 ranking. Wait for the opportune moment— after a 2-touchdown game or a 150-yard performance, then trade him for two players you can start every week.

Mark Schofield: If you believe the reports out of his camp, he is in "game shape" and ready to play week one. From the Cowboys' side, they are anticipating getting him 20-25 touches in Week 1, so those who either drafted or are anticipating drafting Elliott should rest easy.

And as someone who drafted Elliott early and often— including with the 1.02 in my Scott Fish Bowl draft—I'm resting a bit easier today as well.

Drew Davenport: Elliott always been my favorite target in a standard league, and has an argument for anywhere in the top three in a PPR format. With the offensive line healthier than at this point last year, and a defense that is also on the upswing, Elliott is locked in for a big year. Be cautious about your approach in Week 1, but unless I have a very good option at running back he would be in my lineups. If he comes through with no conditioning injuries after Week 1 he'll largely be out of the woods. At that point, backup Tony Pollard can be sent to the waiver wire absent an indication that his role will be anything other than a handcuff.

Chad Parsons: I would have no problem with Elliott as one of the top two picks in drafts, along with Saquon Barkley. Elliott would be an auto-start in Week 1 if active, which I would expect.

Waldman: I'll close with something Wood broached during an offline discussion that I agree with about projecting schedules. The predictability of schedules at the end of the year is much lower than it is in four-week increments during the year.

I've also looked at Elliott's two years of work against top-12 fantasy defenses against running backs when Elliott had a fully-stocked offensive line and Jason Witten. Elliott faced 11 units with this year-end ranking as top-12 running back stoppers in 2016-17 and only the 2017 Denver Broncos held Elliott to a subpar, non-starter effort.

Last year, the Cowboys lacked Pro-Bowl talent Travis Frederick at center and Witten at tight end and Elliott still produced against the Rams and Eagles. The Eagles were 10th in the league against running backs and Elliott earned 19 carries, 151 rushing yards, 6 catches, 36 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns during the first matchup and followed up with 28 carries for 113 rushing yards and 12 catches for 79 receiving yards in the rematch.

By the way, the Eagles gave up big totals to Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, and Mark Ingram II last year—despite the statistical appearance that they were a formidable defense against runners. Even the big, bad Bears were vulnerable to smart and athletic runners. Barkley earned 24 attempts, 125 yards, and 3 catches for 21 yards against Chicago last year. And even the old man, Frank Gore earned 101 yards on 15 attempts.

Elliott is also a smart and athletic runner. I would not be concerned about a schedule point with a low probability of accurate prediction at this point of the year. Elliott is an excellent talent behind an excellent line with superior passing weapons that opponents must take into account. I will live the fear that, in theory, his body hasn't been properly weaponized to play football through practice and raises the possibility of injury.

What do you think about Gordon?

Parsons: I am leery of Melvin Gordon III. The odds-on outcome is Gordon waits until later in the season to report and accrue his active-year eligibility, which is a long time to sit on the roster spot, especially in more shallow formats.

Davenport: Gordon remains an altogether different situation. Nothing that has been reported in recent days gives me any hope that this situation has an end in sight. It feels far more likely that Gordon is traded than him ever playing another down for the Chargers. Drafting him is a risky proposition and even when he feels like he's fallen way too far to pass up, I'd still pass. Leave that headache to someone else.

The window to acquire Elliott has obviously passed, but if you are thinking about getting Gordon on your team, do so with the understanding that you need to have other solid options so that Gordon is a luxury. Trading any essential parts of your team, or relying on him as a starter sometime down the road is an ultra-risky play and one I would avoid.

Schofield: Gordon is a much trickier question. In a few drafts, I considered biting as he slid deeper and deeper into the mid-rounds, but even then I passed on him. This seems like a tougher situation without a potential quick ending, so I'd advise players in most leagues to stay away from him this season.

Haseley: Unless he's no more than your fantasy RB3, I'd stay away. The Chargers have a Week 12 bye. If he waits until Week 10 to return to the Chargers (if he returns), you'll basically only have him for the playoff run. I'm not sure we'll see Gordon in a Chargers uniform again. The only value I see is if the Chargers trade him fairly early in the season, preferably before Week 5.

Hicks: Gordon will not get a new deal. His most likely outcome is a return later in the season to get his accrued year and then depart the Chargers at the end of it. He drops significantly down draft boards into the flex territory. If you have smaller rosters, you cannot leave a space open for that long.

Austin Ekeler has a higher trade value than would be reasonably be expected otherwise. Most people with Elliott on their roster will not give him up. Gordon can be acquired, however. If you have deeper rosters and the price is reasonable, sure, take a chance on Melvin Gordon III. By Week 9 there isn’t likely to be a better option on the waiver wire.

Pasquino: Gordon's situation looks about as bad as can be. I would advise you remove him from your draft list (if somehow still have a draft before the Thursday night opener), as he could sit out 9-10 weeks or more. That's too risky to draft in the first eight rounds, and someone else will hop on him instead.

Let them take on that risk while you can target Austin Ekeler if you truly like the Charger backfield. Personally I am avoiding the situation entirely, as both Ekeler and Justin Jackson could disappoint and I am not trying to make a deal for Gordon. The smarter play is to focus on Phillip Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Hunter Henry.

Wood: The situation is much different for Gordon than Elliott, and has been for months. Gordon and the team haven't talked for months, as far as we've been led to believe. The team allegedly offered him $10 million per season, and he balked.

Neither side has indicated a willingness to move off their stance. And the body language is far more pessimistic. Ownership hasn't publicly indicated they want him back. The GM hasn't sung his praises. Even Philip Rivers said he's comfortable with the guys on the roster.

Contractually, Gordon's situation is clearer; he can attain free agency next year by showing up for the final six games of the year. At this point, it seems Gordon will hold out until he has to report, and then become an unrestricted free agent.

Since your goal is winning your league, Gordon isn't undraftable because he should be healthy and the workhorse in the final weeks of the season. But many leagues have thin benches that make holding onto Gordon -- and his zero contribution -- difficult. If you're drafting in a league with a deeper bench, I think Gordon as your RB4 (or later) is justifiable.

Waldman: Ezekiel Elliott looks into the mirror every morning and sees one of the best running backs in football. Melvin Gordon III is just a notch below, at best, but he also thinks he sees Elliott when he looks in the mirror. Because Gordon is a good talent, it's understandable why he thinks he's in the same range, but he's mistaken and it's going to make this a long holdout.

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