NFC West Questions: ARIZONA CARDINALS: Who is the real Andre Ellington?
After a surprising rookie season in 2013, Andre Ellington rocketed up draft boards as word from Cardinals camp said he would get upwards of 25 touches a game. Ellington finished the preseason as a late 2nd, early 3rd round pick in most fantasy drafts. Ellington didn’t quite reach 25 carries a game, but he was close, with more than 21 touches a game until week 13 when he went down with a hip pointer, whatever that means… Nonetheless, Ellington missed the final 4 weeks of the season along with the playoffs with the hip injury. Ellington showed us a few things throughout this process, but most of all, that he can’t handle a 20 touch workload. In 2014, he posted yards per carry average of 3.3, which was 2.2 less than the 5.5 he averaged in 2013. This is incredibly perplexing, as the Cardinals offensive line improved by most standards from the year before. So, what changed? The only obvious answer to this question, in my opinion, is the workload. In 2013, Ellington owners cried for more carries, as Rashard Mendenhall (3.2 YPC in 2013) held down the top of the depth chart despite Ellington (5.5 YPC in 2013) being far more effective. In 2014, those cries were heard, but Ellington actually became Rashard Mendenhall in an Andre Ellington suit. Don’t believe me? Check out the numbers.
Rashard Mendenhall 2013: 15 games, 217 carries, 687 yards, 8 total TDs.
Andre Ellington 2014: 12 games, 201 carries, 660 yards, 5 total TDs.
We seem to have a catch 22 here. Andre Ellington cannot become elite without getting a larger workload. When given that workload, Andre Ellington cannot handle it, therefore not becoming elite.
Andre Ellington is likely better suited in a complimentary role, where he splits carries with a bigger, bruiser type back, a la…. David Johnson? The Cardinals drafted Johnson this year in the 3rd round, and have high expectations for him in his first year. David Johnson is actually bigger and taller than Rashard Mendenhall, at 6’ 1’’, 225 lbs. In my opinion, David Johnson is exactly what Andre Ellington needs. However, that means that Ellington likely will have a workload of 13-15 touches per game. I would expect for Ellington to look like a version somewhere between his 2013 and 2014 self, where he puts up a mid-4 YPC, with 150 or so carries with another 40 receptions on top of it. Put that all together, and his stat line should fall somewhere around 1000 total yards, with 5 or 6 TDs. This can be useful in a bench/flex role with high RB2 upside. However, I think that any expectations of Ellington as a bell cow that can carry a fantasy team are far too optimistic.