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Barkley & Elliott: Changing Tides

The New York Giants week one match-up with the Dallas Cowboys may have been far from competitive, but the game remained a Fantasy match-up decider for many owners in highly competitive leagues. Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott have been fantasy’s most consistent contributors of recent, easily reaching 18-22 points on a weekly basis. Despite their highly anticipated production this season, Sunday’s match-up proved that their respective roles may be carried out in different directions through 2019.

Sep 8, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates his third quarter touchdown with quarterback Dak Prescott (4) against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley, widely expected to be Fantasy’s RB1 again this season, contributed a below average performance of 14 points Sunday afternoon.However, this was not what fantasy owners would consider "failure to produce." Given that the Giants were playing from behind in the first quarter, it’s expected for his volume of carries to drop off as his teams offense needed quick scores to counter the fact that their defense was in a free fall. On only 11 carries and 4 receptions, Barkeley did manage an astounding 139 total yards, with a long of 59 rushing. His contributions may be futile in this classic rivalry match-up, but Fantasy owners at least can be left optimistic. The Giants head to Buffalo in their Week 2 match-up. The game will be a great opportunity for Barkley to bounce back. Although Buffalo ranked 1st in passing defense last season, they were middle of the pack (16th) against the run.

Sep 8, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs with the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL's more competitive games will be Fantasy owner’s best friend this season, as Barkley looks to be the star in New York for the next decade. Following WR Odell Beckham’s departure, the Giant’s offense has accrued several talented offensive linemen in the off-season to ensure the offense succeeds as a whole. QB Eli Manning looks to be nearing the end of his career, and his passing game has become far more reliant than ever on the short game. In 2018, Barkley was Manning’s third ranked receiver in yards(721), first in catches(91), a considerable margin of his 2018 all-purpose yards. With an entire off-season to game plan around Barkley, owners can only expect those numbers to be consistent and reliable.

Even with defenses stacking the box, Barkley contributed 24 points on average through his first 16 games, ranking #1 in 2018. This reflects how situational football is the only crutch to Barkley, as his volume of touches have relied on the game being competitive to this point. His below average points on Sunday should remain an outlier this season, and will be quickly forgotten in coming match-ups. Meanwhile, in Dallas, Barkley’s counterpart Ezekiel Elliott’s Fantasy production may be taking a different direction in Fantasy.

The Cowboys showed out in Sunday’s match-up, with a nearly perfect offensive game. Their entire unit executed early and often, with consistent red zone production and plays of 20+ yards. But it didn’t come by way of the expected ground and pound attack with Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott contributed an underwhelming 63 total yards of offense with a touchdown. On only 14 touches, these numbers look pedestrian to Elliott’s seasons of old. This came as a surprise to most Fantasy owners following his widely anticipated return from holdout, and expected high volume of carries in classic Dallas ground and pound. Cabo may have treated Elliott’s contract well, his holdout leading to a six year extension and $90 million, but does it overshadow a more major scheme shift away from Elliott?

Dak Prescott executed on a whole different level this Sunday. If this performance is indicative even remotely of the season ahead, it could be his most impressive and complete season yet. Even more impressive and shocking than his early games of the underdog rookie campaign . His statline reflected the perfect passer rating he earned, with 405 passing yards, and 4TDs/0INTs. The dynamic young receiving core blasted all expectations out of the water, with Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper leading the way. When including Randall Cobb, Dallas’s most recent receiver acquisition, all three had more points than Elliott. The Giants’ defense remains weaker against the pass, but this shift in passing volume may not be the outlier Elliott’s fantasy owners believe it to be.

The future is bright for Fantasy owners of Barkley, but left uncertain for Elliott. It’s unlikely that Elliott’s numbers will drop dramatically, but touchdowns at the least could become harder to come by for the red zone dominator with Prescott’s elevated passing attack. Expect to see Elliott's Fantasy value to shift a great deal this season, and rising stars Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Dak Prescott, to boost dramatically.

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