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Duke Ellington famously said 'it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.' For fans of Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, drafting the Clemson product doesn't mean a thing if it's just a fling.
That's right. Ellington has long teased fantasy football owners who've drafted him expecting a feature back who can deliver consistent production throughout an entire season. While Ellington is no doubt a talented receiver and runner to the outside, his lack of size and durability throughout his early career leaves questions regarding his status as a true RB1 in fantasy football.
The biggest knock on Ellington isn't so much his talent, but his struggle to remain on the field and at 100 percent. Ellington's name frequented the injury reports last season after pulling a muscle in his lower leg known as the peroneous longus, which is a muscle that controls movement in the foot. The injury was enough to keep Ellington operating at less than 100 percent for the entire 2014 season until a hip pointer in Week 13 finally sealed his fate and landed him on the I.R. for the rest of the year.
When it comes to predicting injuries, it's always important to notice the trends rather than a few chance occurrences. Anybody can get hurt on any play in a contact sport, but noticing players with a consistent injury history can be a good indicator of future issues, and Ellington's injury history is definitely cause for concern.
Since college, Ellington suffered a torn ligament in his foot which required surgery in 2010 to go along with a sprained ankle that required surgery in 2011. Since entering the NFL, he's dealt with a concussion and a pulled hamstring in 2013 which kept him out of one game during the regular season and also caused him to miss the 2013 Combine. When you factor this was a player drafted as an RB1 in 2014, you're officially taking a big risk.
How he was used in 2014
A true feature back, Ellington saw his snap count go from 51 percent in Week 1 to 86 percent by Week 5. Only Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray were on the field more in Week 5. Ellington saw 74 percent of the snaps the following week, which ranked among the Top 10, 64 percent in Week 7, 76 percent in Week 8, 67 percent in Week 9, 80 percent in Week 10, 74 percent in Week 11, and 72 percent in Week 12, which was the last week he was able to play before suffering a hip pointer in Week 13 against Atlanta. He had been struggling in the Atlanta game prior to injury as well, as he also racked up 12 yards on five rushing attempts against arguably the worst run defense in the league.
Ellington totaled 201 rushing attempts in 2014, nearly double his 118 during his rookie year. But despite his high usage at times, Ellington's snap count didn't translate to great fantasy production. He finished with 122 points in standard rule leagues, which ranked him 20th overall. Even if you extrapolate his 7.4 point average over the last four weeks of the season to make up for his injury, he still only finishes with 150 points which would put him at 16th overall. Not the best sign for a running back used so much in an offense.
The team around him
Ellington's value could've been helped by a better quarterback situation. The Cardinals lost Carson Palmer to an ACL tear last season. Keep in mind, Palmer's injury occurred in Week 10, which wasn't too far off from Ellington's Week 13 injury that ended his season. So for those who think the loss of Palmer was a huge detriment to Ellington's value are probably exaggerating just a little bit.
Still, in Ellington's numbers were abysmal in his last three games without Palmer under center. He averaged 2.3 yards per carry in that span, but two of his three opponents featured the Detroit Lions, a team that ranked in the top 5 in rushing yards allowed, and the Seattle Seahawks, a defense that struggled early but found their groove late.
With Palmer back, expect Ellington's value to increase slightly but not overly so. Palmer is an accurate passer who's deep ball has slowly become less effective as his career enters its twilight stage.
In terms of other offseason additions, guard Mike Iupati revamps the offensive line and gives it more of a run-edge. There's a lot to like about the move, but Ellington struggled as an inside runner last season, even though his line last season wasn't so bad either.
What to watch for when you want to see Ellington do well
if you invest in Ellington as a fantasy option this season, you should know his core traits and which of those traits are the good ones. Ellington played a big role in the Arizona offense last season. The Cardinals used him in a variety of ways, including on inside runs, stretch plays to the edge, passes over the middle, passes down the sideline via the wheel route and occasionally split him out wide. He excelled the most after the catch, as he's one of the best in the league at catching the ball in traffic and turning upfield as you'll see here.
Ellington also excelled at runs to the edge of the field. He's one of the better straight-line rushers in the league and his speed toward the sideline causes defenders to take shorter angles which leads to a lot of missed tackles. His ability to run the outside is what makes him an effective running back, as you'll see in the video below.
Where he struggles
Ellington's 3.3 yards per carry average last season was the result of a lot of stuffed inside runs. He struggles to break tackles due to lack of size and he hasn't figured out how to consistently gain positive yardage after contact. He also struggles to cut up field on inside runs, often taking too many skip steps before he makes his transition.
His pass blocking remains one of the biggest weaknesses in his game, as he often lacks the mental processing to diagnose where the blitz is coming from and hasn't shown enough desire to engage bigger defenders. His lack of size hurts him in this area as well, as he often gets knocked back by bigger defenders rushing at him. These are all causes for concern if you're considering Ellington be an RB1 in redraft leagues this season.
David Johnson stand up
Another potential problem for Ellington's value is the addition of running back Dustin Johnson. Drafted out of Northern Iowa in the third round, Johnson is a big (6'1, 224 lbs) running back who shows just as impressive a pass catcher as Ellington. He also has the same inside running problems as Ellington does due to lack of breakaway speed and an inability to create yards after contact. In short, he's projecting to be a bigger version of Ellington.
But unlike Ellington, Johnson hasn't had any significant injuries while in college. So, if I had to put my money on one guy, I'd go with Johnson primarily because of his size and the greater potential he's not a huge injury risk. Johnson will likely see a third-down role early on, so it's best to not draft him in redraft leagues but keep an eye on him throughout the season and get ready to snag him a week or two early in Ellington hits the injury report list again.