It's Week 10 of the NFL season, and after a tumultuous roller coaster of court rulings leading to injunctions and reinstatements of the Ezekiel Elliot suspension, the talented Cowboys running back is finally set to begin serving his suspension on Sunday.
The news is a huge blow to fantasy owners who drafted Elliot in hopes that they would have him throughout the playoffs. Should the suspension stand, "Zeke" is set to sit out weeks 10-15. That would render him unavailable to start in the early rounds of the fantasy playoffs. Without Elliot, his owners will have a difficult time making it to the finals when they can finally use him again. Furthermore, he'll take up a spot on the bench for six weeks. Depending on how deep the benches are in your league, having dead weight on your roster for that long could hurt you.
It's worth mentioning right off the bat that Zeke is only guaranteed to miss the next four games. The oral arguments for the next step in his case will take place on December 1st. At that point, there's at least some chance the suspension could be delayed or overturned. However, this advice is given under the assumption that Elliot missing the next six weeks is the far more likely scenario.
Well, I'm a Zeke owner. What the heck should I do?
It all depends on 1) your record and 2) your position in the standings. If you're 6-3 or better, and you feel your roster still looks reasonably strong without Zeke, your best option is probably to ride it out. In that scenario you'll probably be able to win half of your remaining games and sneak into the playoffs; you'll just have to hope you're not eliminated before Week 16. If you survive, you'll have a powerful weapon for your fantasy championship matchup.
If you're 5-4 or 4-5, or you have a better record but your running back depth is a complete disaster, you might want to start exploring potential trade scenarios. Check in with the guys in first and second place in your league. If someone is 8-1, for instance, they could already be comfortable looking ahead to the playoffs. Trading for Elliot could be a very attractive option for them. If there are two owners who are 7-2 or better, you might be in luck; one person might be willing to pay more so Zeke doesn't go to the other. If an owner is looking ahead to the playoffs, the thought of facing Zeke will probably make that person cringe. Remember that fantasy is random, and although you're in a bind, Zeke is a sort of lottery ticket at this point. If you can get good value for him, great. But there's also value in keeping him, since you still have a shot at making it to the finals.
If you're 3-6 or worse, or you're hovering close to .500 but your roster has a gaping hole at some position, it's time to trade Zeke for whatever you can get in return. At this point, you're fighting for a playoff spot, and the odds are against you the rest of the way. It's almost certain that some owner in your league will be willing to give up a player who would be an improvement to your current roster. You have to take it. It would be nice to have Zeke in the finals, but right now you need to worry about getting there. That means doing whatever it takes to win every single week; you can't afford to lose in Week 10 and Zeke won't help prevent that.
I don't own Zeke. But my roster and record look good!
Great! Elliot could be a great asset to your championship hopes. But don't give up too much for him. Check to see what your remaining schedule looks like first; the strength of your upcoming opponents could be a deterrent to depleting the assets you have. If you think you can trade for Zeke and still land the top seed, you can probably afford to give up more value. This is especially true if the number one seed in your division gets a bye in the first round of the playoffs. If these factors look to be heavily in your favor overall, you can pretty safely trade any player on your bench. You could even an RB2 or WR2 if you're confident you have someone else who isn't too much of a downgrade.
If you don't have a fairly certain path to the playoffs, or if you're not confident in your depth, be careful. Remember, you still need to make it to the finals to get any value out of Zeke. You'll be kicking yourself if you lose in the early rounds by just a few points because you gave up a good player whose production you couldn't replace. Remember that injuries could still happen as well, so don't think you can just automatically trade your entire bench. There's value in every roster spot, and Zeke will be dead weight on yours for weeks.
Help! I need a running back now!
Alternate Dallas running backs Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith are probably already owned in your league, but check to make sure. If you can't get any of them, Bilal Powell, Alex Collins, Orleans Darkwa, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake are solid plays this week who might be available to add for Sunday's games. Thomas Rawls and Danny Woodhead could be great long-term pickups to help fill in for Zeke; check to see if they're available as well.