When to Draft Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon

The Footballguys staff gives thoughts on when to draft these two top running backs

As of press time, neither running back Ezekiel Elliott nor running back Melvin Gordon III has reported to training camp. There seems to be more worry about Gordon missing game action than Elliott, but we do not have a definitive word on when (or if) either player will report.

First, we wondered how much concern there was in the community about Elliott and Gordon not being on the field when the season begins.

Then, we asked our staff for their thoughts on these two players.

August is drafting season, so how do you approach these two backs in your drafts? Are you worried about them missing games? What round is a good spot for each one of them? Are there dates in August where your concern will increase? If you are drafting right now, what are you doing with these two backs?

Dan Hindery

I want to focus in on what I am doing in actual best ball drafts that have been taking place during this time of uncertainty. Here is what I am doing on DRAFT, which has 0.5 PPR scoring.

I dropped Ezekiel Elliott from No. 4 to No. 5 overall, behind David Johnson. I'm operating on the assumption there's something like an 80% chance he misses minimal or no time at all. Elliott is such a big weekly scorer there is a decent gap between him and No. 6 (DeAndre Hopkins or Davante Adams) in .5 PPR when on the field, so I'm willing to take the risk for now. But it's getting close between Elliott and the top WRs and if you start bumping the odds from 20% up to a 30% chance the holdout drags fairly deep into the season, then he would fall pretty far, pretty fast because I don't see a big gap between Elliott (given the holdout risk) and the guys going at the top of the 2nd as it is. Any more negative reports about the negotiations and I will hit a tipping point where I would drop Elliott to the mid-2nd round behind the top tier of wide receivers and a few other running backs like Le'Veon Bell and James Conner.

I've been all over Tony Pollard in the late rounds for a couple of months now. In fact, he is my highest-owned running back in best ball and on nearly half of my rosters. Even if Elliott signs soon, Pollard should he put up Giovani Bernard numbers in a reserve role because Dallas seems set on getting him touches as the third-down back. At Pollard’s current ADP (190) you are getting any "2018 James Conner" holdout upside completely free. Basically, zero risks plus a small chance of hitting a home run.

I'm passing on Gordon in the third-round because I am of the view there's something like a 60 or 70% chance the holdout drags into the regular season, probably all the way to mid-year. The other 3rd-round RB options are too attractive to take the risk. Backs like Kerryon Johnson have a good shot to put up numbers within 1 or 2 PPG of Gordon, so why take the risk selecting Gordon ahead of them? If Gordon’s ADP ever falls to the 4th (I think it will), I would start buying because he could be a big difference-maker with fresh legs in the fantasy playoffs. For me, the reward would outweigh the risk when comparing Gordon to the tier of running backs that includes Mark Ingram II, David Montgomery, and Phillip Lindsay. At that point, I would turn into a buyer.

Austin Ekeler (7th round) and Justin Jackson (12th round) are fairly priced at their current ADPs. I prefer guys like Miles Sanders and Curtis Samuel over Ekeler so I'm not drafting him often but I do think he's worth taking there. Ekeler should have solid value no matter the starter but it is hard to see him posting RB1 numbers in any scenario. Jackson has a shot at RB2 numbers while Gordon is out but I'm assuming he'll be mostly a non-factor by the fantasy playoffs if Gordon returns, so the 12th-round seems fair.

Ryan Hester

Even setting contractual situations and seasons accrued towards free agency aside for a moment, there are still a couple of reasons that I'm more worried about Gordon missing games than Elliott. First, the Chargers have shown a propensity for being stingier with money than Dallas, making an extension offer likely less attractive. Second, the Chargers have better running backs depth than Dallas does. Philip Rivers has already acknowledged as much by saying, "we love Melvin, but we’re going to go with what we’ve got. It’s a pretty dang good group.”

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