Fantasy Football: How to Value Austin Ekeler in 2020
One of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season was the emergence of Austin Ekeler. Through Week 4, Ekeler was the RB2 in half-PPR formats, posting an average of 122.5 total yards, 6.0 receptions, and 1.5 touchdowns during that period.
Despite Melvin Gordon returning in Week 5 -- which put a significant dent in his usage -- Ekeler still managed to post RB1 production for the remainder of the season, as he was the RB8 for the proceeding 12 weeks. All in all, the 24-year-old finished as the RB5 on the season. Not too shabby.
Let's take a look at how we should value the Los Angeles Chargers' running back in 2020.
In the three-ish months between the Super Bowl and the draft, Ekeler had an ADP of 15.83 in Best Ball leagues on BestBall10s -- the 11th back off the board. In the one week since the draft, his ADP has climbed to 13.57 -- 9th at the position.
Though the sample size is small, a two-spot jump is significant and especially when we're talking about a mid-second-round player. It can be explained by the fact that the Chargers waited until the fourth round to draft another back, UCLA's Joshua Kelley.
Though Kelley has the potential to slide in and fill the Melvin Gordon-role for Los Angeles, the odds of him getting a 17-touch per game workload as a rookie -- which is what Gordon averaged in 2019 -- are slim. Kelley projects to be their immediate short-yardage back, which was never Ekeler's forte to begin with. The two complement each other's games more than they hurt each other's fantasy values. Kelley's battle for playing time will most likely be with Justin Jackson.
All in all, Ekeler's touches should fall somewhere in between the 20 he was seeing without Gordon in the lineup and the 12 he averaged once Gordon returned.
Consistency is Key
Consistency, one of the more undervalued aspects of season-long fantasy, was Ekeler's métier last season. The soon-to-be 25-year-old totaled double-digit fantasy points in half-PPR leagues on 13 occasions, and he posted at least 14 points in seven of those.
He accomplished all that despite seeing more than 60 percent of the snaps just five times last year. That should change.
Let's get one thing out of the way -- Ekeler will miss Philip Rivers and his dump-offs. Tyrod Taylor isn't exactly known as a volume passer, and Justin Herbert wasn't very keen on targeting backs in Oregon. However... chances are, whoever ends up starting behind center will not ignore Ekeler and his 10.8 yards per reception.
Our Editor-in-Chief, JJ Zachariason, projects Ekeler for 1,223.04 total yards, 65.19 receptions, and 6.59 scores -- which would've amounted to RB15 last season. While it may be on the conservative side, as most projections usually are, it does take into account that the Chargers aren't likely to be as pass-heavy as they had been in previous seasons. That's something that doesn't align with his rising ADP.
I'm perfectly comfortable taking Ekeler in the mid- to late-second, but I'd feel a bit uneasy taking him near the turn, which is where he's currently being drafted. He'd need a sizable bump in rushing share for that to pay off -- possible, but not something I'd bet on.