Ezekiel Elliott has first-round fantasy credentials

"Ezekiel Elliott is worth a first-round pick in fantasy football drafts."

That statement has drawn a whole lot of attention in the fantasy world. Countless fans believe it's too soon to draft a rookie running back because he's never done anything at the NFL level. Well, that's true. Owners can also bring up the utter disappointment of runners picked in the first round of the NFL Draft over the last decade. During that time, 23 backs have been picked in Round 1. Of those 23, three (Todd Gurley - 2015, Doug Martin - 2012, Adrian Peterson - 2007) finished in the top five.

Overall a mere four of the 23 backs ranked in the top 10 at the position as rookies. Furthermore, 61 percent of those runners finished 21st of worse.

So maybe I am nuts and yes, I am a diehard fan of the Dallas Cowboys. But I'd have to be blind not to see this situation as being a positive one for Elliott.

In 2014, DeMarco Murray led the league in fantasy points among running backs. He set a franchise record for rushing yards (1,845), which is quite a feat on a team that has seen Tony Dorsett and the league's all-time leader rusher in Emmitt Smith put on the blue-starred helmet. Murray also scored 13 touchdowns behind one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the National Football League.

Once Murray left for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys were forced to lean on a mish-mash of runners last season. Still, those runners produced fantasy points. Joseph Randle averaged better than 12 points in his first five games. When he was benched and then released for off-field issues, Darren McFadden averaged 11.5 points in the next 11 contests. He would finish 13th among fantasy backs, despite the fact that Run DMC carried the rock a combined 37 times in his first five games.

If we combined the total points of both Randle and McFadden for the 2015 campaign, it comes out to 219.8 ... that's more than all but two runners (Devonta Freeman, Peterson) scored in 2015.

Now for some perspective. Randle had a decent level of talent on the gridiron, but he was best known for being a knucklehead off of it. McFadden was and still is in the latter stages of his career and had rushed for 1,000 yards once in his previous seven NFL seasons. That's what the Cowboys offensive system and their dominant line can do for even the most mediocre of running backs.

Now let's talk about Elliott. Some have called him the best running back prospect to come out of college since Peterson. He's an impressive runner and pass catcher, not to mention a potential workhorse as a rookie.

"Elliott can play on all three downs," NFL Media draft guru Daniel Jeremiah told me. "The biggest obstacle for a rookie running back is pass protection, and he's well ahead of the curve in that department."

Jeremiah is one of the most respected draft analysts in the business, but countless fans are still skeptical of Elliott as a fantasy first-rounder. D.J. didn't play at the pro level, so how can he really know what to expect? And I'm just a nerdy fantasy analyst who couldn't pass for a fourth-string punter in the CFL. So, I decided to use my phone-a-friend (actually, it was three friends that you might have heard of ... LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis and Maurice Jones-Drew). If you've been playing fantasy football as long as I have, you know that all three were studs during their careers.

Heck, Tomlinson is the greatest fantasy running back of all time not named Marshall Faulk. All three didn't just praise Elliott ... this trio gushed over him.

"Elliott is a runner who gets better with every carry he gets," said Tomlinson. "He's excellent between the tackles and has enough burst to turn the corner. Behind the Dallas offensive line and in their run scheme, he should flourish early."

"I think Elliott with have an immediate impact," Davis told me. "He's the complete package."

"We saw the Cowboys use other backs [last season] and they played OK," Jones-Drew said. "This young man can do it all. He has the tools and the drive to be great. I think they got a runner who is better than what Murray was in this system."

Aside from his complete skill set and the elite offensive line in front of him, Elliott's fantasy value is also skyrocketing because of his position. Running back is paper thin, and it's getting harder and harder to find true featured options. Heck, Peterson was the lone back to rush the football more than 288 times last season. He was also one of just seven backs to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

Elliott is in a position to blast through that mark and add production as a pass catcher and touchdown scorer, too. Forget about Alfred Morris and McFadden. NFL teams don't draft a runner fourth overall (especially in this day and age) and stick him into a committee. Elliott would have to be an enormous bust for that to happen, and there's not one person I've talked to in this business that has used the dreaded "b" word to describe him.

Not one.

Is there risk involved in picking Elliott in the first round? Of course, because the NFL is nothing if not unpredictable. Jamaal Charles and Eddie Lacy were considered two of the "safest" first-round picks in 2015 fantasy drafts, right? But the former Buckeye couldn't have landed in a better spot to produce impressive totals next season, both in the real world and in fantasy football.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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