Austin Ekeler: A Golden Opportunity or Just a Flash

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Coming off of a breakout 2019 season, should you expect Austin Ekeler to lead your fantasy team to greatness for years to come?

Austin Ekeler rose to an incredible level in 2019. Ekeler finished as the ninth highest scoring player in PPR leagues last season. He seized an opportunity created by Melvin Gordon’s holdout to become a huge part of his team’s offense and was rewarded this offseason with a 4-year contract worth $24.5 million. With his breakout season and the long-term commitment from the Los Angeles Chargers, should you make Ekeler a centerpiece of your team? I believe you should be cautious about Ekeler’s future.  

The Chargers chose to resign Ekeler this offseason and let Melvin Gordon leave for free agency. Ekeler received a significant contract and sits atop a shallow depth chart at the RB position. With Gordon leaving this frees up 162 rushing attempts and 55 targets from last season. LA has yet to add another runner to their backfield. If Ekeler can take a large share of the vacated touches he could become a yearly staple upon the RB leader boards. 

So What’s the Problem?

So, with what seems to be a “golden opportunity” why should we stay cautious with Ekeler? The biggest problem with Ekeler is how he produced his fantasy numbers in 2019. Ekeler finished last season with 557 rushing yards and 92 receptions for 993 receiving yards. He scored 3 rushing and 8 receiving touchdowns.  As you can see with these numbers the bulk of his stats came from the passing game. An incredible 76% of his fantasy points came through the air. Throughout his career, 66% of Ekeler’s fantasy production comes from receiving. In comparison Christian McCaffrey only saw 51% of his points from the passing game in his historic 2019 season, he also finished with more receptions and receiving yards than Ekeler. In Todd Gurley’s league-leading 2017 season only 46% of his points came through the air. Both Gurley and McCaffrey in those seasons far outscored Ekeler’s 2019 total.  

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The QB Problem

It’s not that Ekeler can’t continue to find success in the passing game, but how dependent do we want to be on the Chargers passing game for Ekeler’s future. The Chargers chose to move on from Philip Rivers this offseason and currently are expected to start Tyrod Taylor at quarterback this season. Taylor has been a serviceable QB throughout his career but he is certainly not Philip Rivers. Throughout his time as a starting Taylor has never favored RBs in the passing game. With Taylor under center, its likely Ekeler’s receptions and receiving yards will decrease.  It has also been discussed the Chargers could add a QB through the draft. A rookie could be an improvement over Taylor but there will be an acclimation period. With Taylor or a rookie QB, it is hard to see Ekeler’s production remaining unchanged in the coming years.

Incoming competition?

The Chargers are also only currently carrying two RB’s on their roster, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Though this means Ekeler will be the starting back, it also means the Chargers will be looking to add depth through the draft. As deep as this year’s draft is LA could easily add competitive depth in the middle rounds. A rookie could certainly have an impact on Ekeler’s production. Last season Ekeler was only on the field for 56.5% of the team’s offensive snaps. After Melvin Gordon returned to the team in week 5, Ekeler only saw over 10 carries in a game once. In his first 4 games of 2019, Ekeler rushed for over 50 yards 3 times, in his last 12, he only had 2 such games. If the Chargers were to bring in a hard-running power back to compliment Ekeler it could eat into his workload and fantasy potential.  

Austin Ekeler will be a valuable fantasy asset for years to come but it is important to understand his limitations. If Ekeler continues to primarily draw his fantasy points through the air he will not contend with the top backs in fantasy. With the uncertainty surrounding the Quarterback situation in LA, its possible Ekeler could struggle with his current role. 2019 was likely Ekeler’s ceiling rather than his floor.   

 


Thanks for stopping in for my first article. Let me know what you think about Austin Ekeler in the comments.

I’m Dakota Thomas and be sure to check back in for more player analysis and incredible draft coverage on Dynasty Football Digest as well as The IDP Guys. Be sure to follow both on Twitter at @IDPGuys and @DynastyFBDigest and you can follow me at @dmt873.