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NFL.com “win share” statistic calculates Ezekiel Elliott as adding 1.1 win to Cowboys total in 2019

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An interesting way of looking at value in the NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It certainly does feel like we’re in the eleventh hour when it comes to the Ezekiel Elliott saga, many people believe (perhaps more optimistically than anything) that the running back will be playing for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Whether the Cowboys are victorious against the New York Giants is a whole different matter up for debate. Many around here are confident that America’s Team can get the dub, but it’s football. “Any given Sunday” and all that jazz.

There are plenty of folks who believe that Elliott could significantly contribute to the Cowboys efforts of being the team with the most points on Sunday afternoon. In fact, there are plenty a supporter who believe that this is the case more often than not.

This idea is more philosophical than it is anything else, as it relates to football obviously, and is hard to be measured in calculated fashion; however, that doesn’t mean that people don’t try to do so. Cynthia Frelund, NFL.com’s analytics expert, recently gave calculating how impactful certain players are with regards to producing wins - an idea she called “win share.” It’s not exactly a shock to learn that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the league in the statistic, but where Elliott falls might surprise you.

Frelund’s “win share” statistic says that Zeke will only individually add 1.1 wins to the Cowboys 2019 total

As mentioned there have been many who have tried to assign a value to just how much each football player is worth in the quest of winning a game. To understand Frelund’s logic you should see it in her own words.

Inspired by the idea of wins above replacement in baseball and real plus-minus in basketball, I have created a metric that measures the contribution of each player, position group and side of the ball for every snap in an NFL season. I’m calling it win share. (I had been calling it win contribution, but win share makes more sense, especially because in the NFL, with 11 players working together on the field for each team at any given time, the “share” part is a really big factor -- and the interconnectedness took a lot of time to model out.)

The metric is built around the number of times a player impacts first downs and touchdowns that lead to wins or losses, either by creating such first downs and touchdowns on offense or by preventing them on defense. On-ball impact (as when a wide receiver is targeted directly) and off-ball impact (as when a wide receiver draws coverage away from other players on the field, resulting in a better matchup for a different pass-catcher) are both measured. Win share adds up all of the positive on- and off-ball plays and subtracts the negative ones in order to help attribute a value to each player and phase of the game, as represented by the number of wins each player is responsible for on an individual level in a given season. Personnel on the field, game situations and matchups are all factored in, to the degree that it’s possible.

It’s likely easier for you to understand now why Mahomes leads the league in her projection for 2019 win share, he’s projected to earn the Chiefs 5.5 victories.

It’s also probably not difficult to imagine that running backs don’t exactly have anywhere near the same win share total as quarterbacks do given how much less they touch the football and obviously impact a game. Frelund projected the top five non-quarterback win share earners in 2019 and Elliott comes in fourth, the third running back:

  • Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants................ 1.6
  • Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers........ 1.4
  • DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans.............. 1.3
  • Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys....................... 1.1

There’s no question that Ezekiel Elliott provides a great amount to the Dallas Cowboys, but if you boil it down to the simplicity of considering that he might only individually add 1.1 win it certainly makes you scratch your chin at the idea of offering him something in the neighborhood of $15M per year. Of course, this is generally the problem that people have with paying running backs.

You can stretch this argument a million different ways if you want. Say the one win that Zeke “earned” was on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. That win is inherently more valuable than say a home date against the Miami Dolphins, but it’s not like you can theoretically choose something like that.

While they were obviously first-round draft picks and highly-touted prospect it’s also worth noting that both Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey are on their rookie contracts. This also leans into the idea of repeatedly drafting a running back that can play on a more fiscally-responsible deal than one on a higher price tag.

Debating how much Ezekiel Elliott adds to the Cowboys is something that people have been doing for a long time, but when you consider this potential qualified way to represent what he brings, does that change your opinion?