2014 Fantasy Football: Is Andre Ellington Being Undervalued?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinals second-year running back is one of the most talked about players heading into the 2014 fantasy football season. At least, he should be.

This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankingsor theFantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for moreNFL Fantasy Football Projections and Rankings, visit Fantasy Football Overdose.

Arizona Cardinals second-year running back Andre Ellington is one of the most talked about players heading into the 2014 fantasy football season. At least, he should be.

His only main competition in Arizona’s backfield is the plodding Jonathan Dwyer, the coaching staff appears enamored with him and his explosive athleticism offers loads of upside.

The writing appears to be very much on the wall for the dynamic threat to bust out and take over the fantasy scene, but his ADP (Average Draft Position) leads fantasy owners to believe otherwise. In fact, with a third round ADP, Ellington is drafted as the 17th fantasy back off the board on average, projecting him as more of a true RB2 than a high upside RB1.

Are fantasy owners getting it wrong? Is Ellington being vastly undervalued?

It’s entirely possible. It’s true that Ellington is a smaller back at just 5’9" and 199 pounds, but his numbers from his rookie season lead to a promising future. He only ran the ball 118 times, but his gaudy 5.5 yards per carry average and 652 rushing yards at least encourage the notion that he’d still be highly effective if his rushing load were increased.

Add in his extreme versatility as a receiver out of the backfield, and Ellington’s upside in fantasy football could potentially be off the charts. After all, even as a rookie, Ellington was a huge factor in the passing game, hauling in 39 receptions for 371 receiving yards and one of his four total touchdowns.

Offseason coachspeak has the buzz around Ellington rising, as head coach Bruce Arians thwarted off speculation that Ellington couldn’t be a true feature back. In fact, Arians suggested the Cards will aim to get their prized runner 25-30 total touches per game.

That’s clearly encouraging and shows Arizona values him as a key offensive weapon, but it needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Not only would that accrue to an insane 400+ touches, but it’s worth wondering if Ellington’s tiny frame could handle that kind of a pounding.

A much more realistic projection might be closer to 300 total touches, which should put his rushing attempts around 230-240 and his receptions around 60-70. Both projections are fairly high, but as the clear top talent in Arizona’s backfield, there is little reason to speculate a healthy Ellington wouldn’t be in line for this type of role.

With the talent and role in place, Ellington’s main remaining obstacles would be the tough NFC West division schedule, as well as the amount the Cardinals actually plan on running the ball in 2014.

Given Arians’ vertical scheme, it’s likely Arizona will still defer to the passing game more than the running game. The good news there, though, is that Ellington is still a vital part of the passing game and will help keep defenses honest at all times.

Ellington is clearly in for a mammoth role one way or another, but it’s obvious this is uncharted territory for the would-be scat back. After all, Ellington never ran the ball more than 15 times as a rookie in 2013 and never even had more than 17 total touches.

Suddenly jumping to even 20+ total touches on a weekly basis could bring about a boom or bust projection. With his elite speed and versatility, it could easily mean Ellington vaults into top-10 production. But with his lack of experience, tough schedule and slight frame, it could also mean he’s not as effective as he was in a lesser role. That, and/or he breaks in half and doesn’t even last half the year.

But all of that can happen to anyone. C.J. Spiller was amazing in a big but managed role in 2012. When the Bills tried to run him into the ground the next season, his efficiency dropped and he struggled with his health.

If Arizona wants Ellington to be effective at a high level on a consistent basis, they’ll probably want to aim for Spiller’s type of role in 2012, where he carried the ball 207 times and also caught 43 passes. Ideally, Ellington would see about that many carries (maybe a few more) and then be heavily involved in the passing game.

It’s anyone’s guess if a larger role will have Ellington still being an explosive fantasy weapon on a consistent basis, but there’s no doubt the guy is going to have a ton of value from week to week when you give him the ball more.

Ultimately, it’s obviously possible Ellington is a star in the making and that fantasy owners are reflecting too much on 2013 and not projecting to 2014 enough. Based on his pure upside, he absolutely could easily finish the year ranking ahead of inferior talents like Alfred Morris and Zac Stacy. But can you safely and confidently draft Ellington ahead of those guys? Based on production, durability and role, probably not.

So, no, Ellington isn’t really being undervalued. He’s being drafted at his appropriate target value and merely has loads of upside. That doesn’t mean he can’t exceed expectations by leaps and bounds, though.

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