NFL Betting: Why Ezekiel Elliott Will Fall Short of His Lofty Props in 2020
Over the last four years, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense has been centered around its star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, who has been one of the NFL’s most prolific and reliable producers since entering the league.
A year ago, Elliott finished second in carries (301) and scrimmage yards (1,777) and fourth in rushing yards (1,357) as the every-down back for a Dallas team that ranked first in the league in total yards.
FanDuel Sportsbook sets Elliott's 2020 props at a lofty 1734.5 combined rushing and receiving yards (-112 on both sides) and 12.5 total touchdowns (-112 as well).
But after hiring Mike McCarthy as head coach and drafting wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, is Dallas going to be more pass-heavy in 2020? Or will the league’s most dependable back have more of the same workload, allowing him to hit these props?
Most Productive Back in the NFL?
Over his first four years in the league, Elliott has recorded 1,169 rushing attempts in 56 games (20.87 per game). He's been a workhorse for the Cowboys, also averaging 47.25 receptions per season to go along with 12 total touchdowns. Elliott is coming off his third season with over 300 carries (301), but did post a career-low in rushing yards per game (84.8) after leading the league in his first three seasons.
Elliott missed five games in 2017, but if he'd played at least 15 games, Elliott would have finished with 1,474 rushing yards on a would-be career-high 363 carries -- that would have given him 300 carries and 1,000 rushing yards in each season. In his four seasons, he's finished second, ninth, eighth, and fourth in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP). Among backs with at least 150 carries, Elliott has placed 1st, 10th, 5th, and 1st in Rushing Success Rate. Not bad.
As is clearly evident, dependability is not the question. The question is, with a new-look offense, can Elliott still post that kind of production?
Focus on the Passing Game
With the arrival of McCarthy and Lamb, Elliott could see a somewhat reduced workload in 2020. The Dallas offensive line will feature Joe Looney and Connor Williams starting at center and left guard, respectively, in addition to the three Pro Bowlers already there. Travis Frederick's retirement left a hole in the middle of the offensive line that finished fourth as a unit, according to Pro Football Focus's rankings.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott attempted the sixth-most passes in 2019 (596) and has seen his attempts increase by at least 30 in each season since entering the league in 2016. After spending their first-round pick on Lamb, that trend could very well continue. Elliott has been one of Prescott's most dependable targets, totaling 987 receiving yards in the past two seasons, but he'll be lower down the pecking order this year.
numberFire's projections peg Elliott at 285 carries, 1,284 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, and 13.19 total touchdowns. Those totals give Elliott the over on total touchdowns and under on total yards.
Elliott has certainly reaped the benefits of being the focal of the offense thus far in his young career, but this year could be different. While he will likely remain a huge part of their offense, the passing game should become more of a focus for McCarthy's Cowboys. Lamb and Michael Gallup are projected to record a combined 196 targets, which could mean that there will be fewer touches to go around this season for Elliott than the past four.
Taking Elliott at -112 odds to go under on 1,734.5 total yards seems like the best bet of the bunch. He can put together enough multi-touchdown games to make the over on 12.5 touchdowns doable, but expecting some regression is not unreasonable.