Fantasy, in Theory: Elliott Will Play (And That's Probably Bad)

Unfortunately for Ezekiel Elliott owners, Ezekiel Elliott will play this week.

Halloween is over; Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddie Kruger have all been once again killed, (for really really real this time, we promise). But the legal battles over Ezekiel Elliott's pending suspension continue to rise from the grave.

How we got here: after exhausting every other recourse, Elliott's legal team threw one final Hail Mary, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted what was viewed as a long-shot emergency injunction. As a result, Elliott gets at least one more week on the field before his case is finally decided. (For really really real this time, we promise.)

And it's about the worst thing that could possibly happen for Ezekiel Elliott owners in fantasy football.

Why Is More Games A Bad Thing?

To start with, I'm operating under the assumptions of Footballguys' resident legal expert, Ari Ingel. While there was great uncertainty surrounding how this legal maneuver or that would play out, Ingel has always expected that given the weight of precedent on the NFL's side, they would eventually prevail. If Elliott eventually serves his 6-game suspension, then this isn't "more games" so much as it's "different games".

That distinction is kind of an important one. I wrote about Elliott before the season, and I highlighted that in terms of impact on your championship odds, performance in the fantasy playoffs was more valuable than performance in the entire fantasy regular season combined.

At the time, I believed Elliott would serve his suspension early in the year and be back in time to carry some teams to titles. (Oh, to be so young and naive again.) Instead, Elliott's lawyers have managed to drag the appeals process out to the point where if the suspension starts next week, Elliott will miss weeks 14 and 15. If they delay it even one more week, he'll miss the playoffs entirely.

Using my “back of the napkin” math from that article, Week 14 is 2.5 times as valuable as a regular-season game in terms of contributions to your title chances, while weeks 15 and 16 are both 5 times as valuable.

We could say that the amount of value one regular season game contributes to your title chances is one “unit” of value. This means that the 13-game regular season has 12 units of value (one unit per game, but players only play 12 games because of their bye). The playoffs, on the other hand, have 12.5 units of value. And this is true even if you don't know whether you will make the playoffs or not.

A 6-game suspension results in Elliott losing 6 out of his 15 games, (most leagues don't play in week 17, which would be Dallas' 16th game of the season). Naively, that looks like he loses 40% of his value. But if we look at it in terms of units of value instead of games played, a 6-game suspension during weeks 1-13 results in 6 out of 24.5 units of lost value, or about a 25% reduction. So Elliott with a 6-game suspension is worth about 75% as much as Elliott with no suspension.

At least, that was the rationale for drafting him high before the season. If his suspension gets handed down next week, however, and Elliott misses weeks 14 and 15 (in addition to four regular-season games), he's losing 11.5 units of value. That's about 47% of his value, so suddenly Elliott with a 6-game suspension is worth roughly half of Elliott with no suspension.

If the case gets dragged out another week so Elliott misses the entire playoffs, he's losing 15.5 units of value. Suddenly, Elliott with a 6-game suspension is worth around a third as much as Elliott with no suspension. That's a dramatic blow to his team's title chances.

The simplest way to put it, I suppose, is this: if Elliott is the difference between winning and losing for your team, would you rather lose in week 9, or in week 15? Plenty of teams survive a loss in week 9. Nobody survives a loss in week 15.

Before the season, it was impossible to make anything other than an educated guess about how the legal process would play out. Obviously, our best-educated guesses were wrong. Given the number of twists and turns Elliott's case has taken, I don't know if anyone could have predicted we'd find ourselves here today, with the suspension neither vacated, nor postponed until next season, nor already started.

But nevertheless, this is where we've found ourselves. Given what we knew at the time, Elliott was a good bet for fantasy football, but as we see every year, sometimes even good bets go bad.

Unless, of course, Elliott's legal case has one more return from the grave left in it. The writing of this script might have been a bit bumpy and uneven to this point, but never let it be said it's been predictable.

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