Fantasy football affords us few opportunities to take a player out for a test drive before purchasing the real thing. Damien Williams was taken as a running back who could hold up to the rigors of three-down work and profit from sharing the field with Patrick Mahomes. He didn’t hold up until you were out of the playoff race and the Chiefs were in theirs. Baker Mayfield was billed as the next Russel Wilson but it turns out the tendrils of dysfunction never truly left Cleveland.
A Changing of the Guard
Austin Ekeler represents one of the few times that a player gets to show off what they’re made of, and then return to a palatable ADP. Draft position is rather fungible right now but Ekeler is definitely beyond the first three rounds. He’s a restricted free agent and the Chargers are far more likely to bring him back than Melvin Gordon, who they refused to pay last year.
The Chargers played their first four games without Melvin Gordon giving Ekeler a chance to show his chops as a lead-back. He averaged 14 carries for 55 yards (3.9 YPC) while running behind PFF’s 29th-ranked offensive line. To put that in context, Gordon ran for 3.8 yards per carry in 12 games for the rest of the season. As the Charger’s lead back, Ekeler did exactly as well as Gordon did and LA gave the latter 13.5 carries per game. If Ekeler returns, he won’t be a 20 carry per game back but he will get more than a healthy amount of totes without Gordon around.
The Power of the Catch
Carries are nice but it’s 2020. We’re in the future receptions are where most backs will separate themselves as fantasy scorers. Ekeler lived in Christian McCaffrey’s historic shadow as a receiving-back but the Charger was quietly setting records of his own.
Ekeler’s 993 receiving yards and eight scores through the air were both fifth all-time for a running back. He put up these gaudy numbers on 108 targets. That mark is just 19th for a running back since targets started being tracked in 1992.
the target era, 178 backs have been thrown 75 targets in a season. Ekeler’s 9.2 yards per target are the third-most. Ekeler was one of the best pure receivers to ever take the field listed as a running back and he was kind enough to let Gordon take snaps at running back.
All signs point to Ekeler being the leader of his own backfield this year. Last season, he was ranked as a flex option because of how little experience he had as a lead-back and the presence of Gordon. Both roadblocks are gone now. Don’t sleep on Ekeler again this year.
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