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Fantasy Football: Should Elliott, Johnson be considered before Gurley, Bell?

August 24, 2018

In this week’s edition of Take 2, Eric Edholm and Arthur Arkush debate whether David Johnson and/or Ezekiel Elliott should be drafted before Todd Gurley and/or Le’Veon Bell.

Edholm: So Arthur, I have the first pick in my fantasy draft. Many experts are saying it’s Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley with the top pick. But is there a case for either Ezekiel Elliott or David Johnson crashing the top-two party at all?

Arkush: For starters, experts or not — what’s a fantasy football expert, really? — we’ve correctly narrowed down the only four reasonable alternatives, unless you’re in a two-QB league. And I for one am thinking long and hard about the two darkhorses for two specific reasons: wear and tear and motivation. Unlike Gurley, the reigning Offensive MVP and now the highest-paid running back in football, and Bell, who just became the second back to eclipse 400 touches in more than a decade and first since DeMarco Murray in 2014, DJ and Elliott are fresh and financially incentivized to put their respective offenses on their backs. How much does that matter?

Edholm: First off, my dude, you’re the expert — which is why I am asking! But yeah, your point is well taken. Backs know that the money isn’t going to be there for long, and yet Gurley’s deal has shown us that big paydays at the position are possible. Johnson has stated his 1,000/1,000 goal (rush and receiving yards in the same season), and I think it’s possible while chasing that green. The Cardinals will be able to pay him — and likely will need to — once Sam Bradford comes off the books and they’re paying Josh Rosen lower QB money the next few seasons. It’s a little different with the Cowboys, Elliott and Dak Prescott, but both teams have to view each back as their A1 playmaker this season. Elliott has averaged just shy of 25 touches a game in 25 NFL games, and Johnson is around 23 per game despite leaving two of those early. Bell has been RB1 or RB2 only twice in his five seasons by year’s end, and Gurley might never be better statistically than he was last season.

Arkush: I don’t envision Gurley resting on his laurels a la Shaun Alexander or Albert Haynesworth after getting paid. But would it be that stunning to see the Rams perhaps protect their new investment, essentially the opposite of how Pittsburgh surely intends to again run its franchise back into the ground? Bell’s significant mileage concerns aside — that odometer is at 2,384 touches and counting dating back to 2010 and his B1G days — it’s possible if not likely that he again needs time early in the year to shake off rust following another summer away from the team. Meanwhile, Elliott returns from his suspension-shortened ’17 in an even bigger role amidst Dallas’ questionable receiving corps, while Johnson, lest we forget, had a wrist injury last year — have you seen his preseason highlights? Yeah, the explosiveness and lower-body strength are unaffected. Any concerns over him in a new offense and/or the health of Elliott’s interior OL require consideration?

Edholm: Your points on Elliott and Johnson are absolutely valid. Their teams absolutely need them, and Elliott taking the preseason off gives me exactly zero worry. He’s clearly in better shape (and a better mental place) than one year ago. Johnson, as you said, looks monstrous. My only fear is the Steelers say, “screw it” and just overfeed Bell. If they know they aren’t getting him at their price, why not just binge-feed him? Gurley will get his work, but his scoring feels unsustainable. Eight backs scored 17-plus TDs the past decade and played in 12-plus games the next season; the average drop-off was 8.9 TDs in Year 2, with none dropping less than four scores. My top four: Johnson, Gurley, Bell, Elliott.

Arkush: Great stat, and little doubt in my mind that Gurley — and the entire Rams offense — are primed for some negative regression. I also believe the Steelers will again binge-feed Bell, similarly to last November-December. Still, here’s how I’m stacking them this year: Zeke, Gurley, DJ and Bell. If he stays out of trouble, Elliott will run away from the pack, like Gurley did a year ago.

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