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Ezekiel Elliott ready to be an NFL, fantasy workhorse

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Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, each day NFL Fantasy will profile a prospect who could make a splash in fantasy next season. Today's subject is former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.

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Following his showing at the combine, Ezekiel Elliott is a lock to be selected as the first running back off the board in the 2016 NFL draft and likely won't last past pick 25 (some mocks have him going as a top five pick). He's already been referred to as an "elite" player by scouts and appears ready-made to make an immediate impact wherever he lands. Elliott led Ohio State to the national championship title in 2014 and he collected more than 4,100 yards from scrimmage and 41 touchdowns in 28 games over the last two seasons as the workhorse back. He's already been compared to the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell and former Colts' back Edgerrin James by draft experts. But what kind of fantasy value will this first-round prospect bring to the table in 2016? Let's explore how early you might have to reach for Elliott to secure him on your fantasy squad this coming season.

Elliott's NFL.com draft profile

Strengths


» Ready to be a three-down, NFL starter
» Outstanding vision & patience
» World-class acceleration/burst
» Ball security

Some backs aren't all-systems-go when they enter the NFL. But Elliott has shouldered the load for Ohio State over the last two seasons and has put on tape proof that he's qualified to be a featured back at the professional level. In 2014 and 2015, he registered more than 600 touches and had great success in nearly every aspect of the game. His ability to break tackles, keep his legs churning and fight for extra yardage with powerful north-south running makes him a great early-down back. Plus, his burst, explosiveness and quickness moving laterally helps him stretch the field, which is an indicator that he is also a candidate to play third downs in the NFL. And as you may have heard, the more opportunities a player has to touch the football translates to more opportunities for fantasy points. When Elliott does have the ball in his hands, he has displayed excellent vision as well as patience. Elliott's stop-on-a-dime agility helps him find gaps at the line as well as locate openings at the second level which fans have seen lead to some memorable home run plays in college.

Weaknesses


» Can be a violent runner/absorbs big blows
» Over 600 touches last two seasons
» Route running
» Possible maturity issues

In a way, Elliot's running style is both a strength and a weakness. He needs to learn, and will rather quickly, that NFL defenders hit harder than what he was used to from Big Ten defenders. If he continues to willingly put his body through the ringer the way he did with Ohio State, he may find that remaining durable and fresh is not so easy. He has taken some big blows over the last two years. His heavy workload the past two seasons may be discussed as a concern but it shouldn't deter you from considering him in fantasy drafts whatsoever.

As stated above, Elliott had success in nearly every aspect of the game in college. But with a combined 55 receptions the last two seasons, there's a chance that if he lands in a committee situation (and every NFL team uses some kind of backfield rotation), he could cede some third-down work to a more specialized pass-catching back. His route running isn't completely refined yet, but he makes things happen once the ball is in his possession. To be extremely nit-picky, another knock on Elliott is his maturity level. He responded negatively to the press following a November loss to Michigan State last year, but that one incident should not be considered a deal-breaker.

Ideal fantasy fits


» Dallas Cowboys
» Houston Texans
» New York Giants

All three teams listed are in dire need of a bell-cow type of back who can carry an offense on his shoulders. Simply put, Elliott fits the bill. Dallas made due with Darren McFadden during a lost 2015 campaign, but the team's offensive line is still one of the best in the league and any rookie running back would jump at the chance to run behind it. In Houston, Arian Foster's days are numbered, if not completely over. He's coming off a torn Achilles and entering his age 30 season. The Texans, who ranked among the worst in the NFL in yards per carry last season, could use a talent like Elliott to spark the run game. The Giants are an interesting option as well. Four different backs split an ugly 380 carries for New York's endless committee last season. The one worry there would be that Elliott could be spelled by Shane Vereen on passing downs.

Early fantasy draft projection


A first-round talent like Elliott will be the primary option out of the backfield for whichever team he lands with, which is great news for fantasy managers. If he can prove that his pass-blocking is up to par at the professional level, he'll likely be on the field as a three-down back and, barring some sort of committee approach, the former Buckeye has potential to put up top 15 fantasy numbers at his position as a rookie. He's already being drafted at the top of Round 4 in MFL10s and if he lands in an ideal situation (Dallas) and puts on a show in the preseason, expect his ADP to rise even higher come August. Whether you play in an auction, re-draft or dynasty league, you'll be paying a premium for this rookie running back in 2016.

-- Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy editor at NFL.com. Hit Matt up on Twitter @MattFranchise for music recommendations and fantasy advice.

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