1 Vs 1 RB Edition: Ezekiel Elliot Vs Devonta Freeman
In this series I'm going to compare two similarly ranked and drafted running backs putting them up against each other, and comparing them in a variety of categories such as 2016 stats, quality of offensive line, draft pedigree, age, combine results, measurables, teams time of possession, percentage of rushing attempts, snaps played, PFF grades, and depth chart competition. In an attempt to determine which of the two players will be the superior dynasty asset. In this edition I'm going to compare two elite level runningbacks in Ezekiel Elliot and Devonta Freeman. These two talented runningbacks are truly capable of being three down backs as both are not only incredible at rushing between the tackles, but they both excel in the pass game as well, which is really beneficial to their overall PPR value.
These two runningbacks both had themselves incredible 2016 seasons, with Elliot leading the league in rushing as a rookie with a whopping 1631 yards on 322 rushing attempts, for an impressive 5.1 yards per carry average, and adding 15 rushing touchdowns. He was also utilized in the passing game on a regular basis catching 32 passes for 363 yards and 1 touchdown on 40 targets, averaging 11.3 yards per reception, and finishing 2nd in the league in all purpose yards with 1994 total yards. Freeman also had a fantastic 2016 season running the ball 227 times for 1079 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, as well as adding 54 receptions for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns averaging 8.6 yards per reception on his 65 targets. PFF graded Elliot as their 2nd overall runningback with an 88.8 grade, Freeman wasn't too far behind Elliot as PFF's 8th runningback with an 83.3 grade. I have Elliot ranked as my number three dynasty runningback and Freeman as my seventh ranked runningback. Advantage: Elliot
A big part of running back success is tied to the quality of a teams offensive line, as we have seen time and time again a mid level running back with a top tier offensive line can have comparable stats with a much better running back with a questionable offensive line. Fortunately for both Zeke and Freeman they run behind strong offensive lines, in 2016 Dallas graded out as PFF's 2nd best O-line, and are likely to remain as one of the top offensive line in 2017 as they are projected at 9th overall heading into the upcoming season. Dallas possessed the ball an impressive 31:23 per game last season, and rushed on 48.7% of all offensive plays. A lot of Dallas's offensive line success this year will be tied to how well La'el Collins transitions to right tackle, he did play prominently at the tackle position in college but graded out poorly at guard at the NFL level. Atlanta's offensive line finished 2016 graded as the 6th best O-line in the league, and they are projected to be the 6th overall offensive line in 2017 as well, so there is no reason to think that Freeman won't repeat or even improve on his impressive stat line from 2016. Atlanta had the ball for an average of 30:11 per game last season rushing on 42.3% of offensive plays. The only concerns I have regarding the Atlanta offense in relation to Freeman is the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the fact that Tevin Coleman is really good and will likely receive somewhere in the range of 150 carries and 50 targets. Advantage: Elliot
When it comes to age, measurables, combine results, and draft pedigree, these two have a lot of differences. Elliot is just beginning what should be a long successful career and is only 22 years old, which is a full three years younger than Freeman is. Zeke has prototypical three down runningback size being 6'0 225 pounds, whereas Freeman is built more like a traditional change of pace or third down back at 5'8 206 pounds. They had similar combines as Elliot ran a 4.47 40, compared to Freeman's 4.58 40, both players had 118 inch broad jumps, and Zeke had a slight edge in vertical 32.5 inches to Freeman's 31.5 inch vert. Draft pedigree definitely goes to Elliot as he was the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, Freeman was selected as the third pick of the fourth round 103rd overall in 2014. Despite the significant gap in measurables and draft stock, there is only a slight gap in talent and production when it comes to these two talented runningbacks, and if anything were to happen to Tevin Coleman, Freeman could legitimately approach 2000 all purpose yards. Advantage: Elliot
Both players played a similar amount of snaps in 2016, as well as playing a similar amount in pass protection and putting up similar pass protection grades. Freeman played 724 snaps last season, 71 of those snaps he was required to pass protect and posted a 43.5 grade in pass pro. Elliot played 768 snaps as a rookie and was asked to play in pass protection 68 times, grading out as a 39.0 pass protector. As far as their depth charts go, Elliot essentially has the Dallas backfield all to himself with only mediocre veterans Alfred Morris, Darren Mcfadden, and Ronnie Hillman behind him. As I have mentioned several times Freeman has to contend with talented third year back Tevin Coleman, who is the only thing standing between him and a true three down bell cow role. Other than Coleman 2017 fifth round selection Brian Hill is the only other real threat to cut into Freeman's carries as he is a bigger heavier runningback and may be used on goal line carries. Atlanta also has Terron Ward and BJ Daniels on the roster but they are eesntially just depth players. Advantage:Elliot
Although this runningback comparison was a clean sweep for Elliot I honestly believe that the gap between these two talent wise is a small one. Whereas Elliot may be a better between the tackles runner, Freeman is one of the best pass catching runningback in the NFL, and as I previously mentioned if Coleman were to go down for any reason Freeman would likely be a top five fantasy runningback. Freeman was just signed to a long term contract extension and Coleman is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season, so fingers crossed Freeman owners. As far as Zeke goes, the knucklehead factor seems to be high with him. It's been one thing after another with him and the NFL still may suspend him to start the upcoming season, I am actually hoping he does get a one or two game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy and then maybe just maybe that will get the message across to him. That as possibly the leagues most talented runningback perhaps he should surround himself with better people and start making better life decisions. But honestly would any of us made significantly better decisions than Zeke has if we had millions of dollars and rock star fame at 21 years old? Highly unlikely. Winner: Ezekiel Elliot