What to Expect From Austin Ekeler In 2022 (Fantasy Football)

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In the Seinfeld episode “The Burning”, George bemoans his stagnant career explaining to Jerry that he’s only good for one good idea per meeting before he instantly puts his foot in his mouth, thereby blowing his good reputation among his peers. To combat his own self-destruction, he decides that anytime he receives positive feedback, he will just leave and “Go Out On A High Note”. His plan works perfectly at first.

Of course, like every one of his cockamamie schemes, this idea blows up in George’s face. At the next meeting, he finds the conference room almost empty as his boss, Mr. Kruger, tells him that the rest of the team isn’t necessary to complete this major project – George is his main man. George is given a huge work responsibility, expectations are too high, and he’s ill-prepared to deliver on the expectations he created for himself by “Going Out On a High Note”. As you can imagine, it doesn’t go well for George.

Austin Ekeler‘s High Note

There was perhaps no higher note than Austin Ekeler‘s 2021 season. Ekeler was highly drafted, but not too high (usually in the second round), and yet he finished the year RB2 behind only Jonathan Taylor. His 2021 season had everything you could want, 90+ targets, 70 catches, and 20(!!!!) touchdowns. Plus, Austin Ekeler did something none of us expected, he undertook an incredibly strong red-zone workload. Our own Kyle Borgognoni wrote an entire article on just how amazing and unexpected this red-zone workload was – Kyle’s research found that Ekeler’s red zone workload was not just a dramatic increase over previous years, and it was insanely efficient. Austin Ekeler scored 20 touchdowns on 65 red zone opportunities (carries + targets), while Jonathan Taylor scored 20 touchdowns on 93. Of further note, all of Ekeler’s touchdowns were scored from the red zone, whereas only 12 of Taylor’s 20 touchdowns were scored from the red zone, further demonstrating Ekeler’s extreme efficiency.

Ekeler’s 2021 season was George Costanza’s Ichabod Crane joke. Austin had the entire community roaring with applause and appreciation. He left us all “wanting more.”

Ekeler Is Now Overvalued

As a result, the Fantasy Community has pulled a Mr. Kruger. It has loaded poor Austin Ekeler with a responsibility he is ill-prepared to deliver upon. Said differently, Ekeler’s ADP is 1.03. I will not be drafting Austin Ekeler in the top 3, and I think his value is somewhere closer to where he was drafted last year.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Austin Ekeler the player. I was all over him last year – I even drafted him in the Fantasy Footballer’s Writers League at the end of the second round. But Top 3? That’s drafting with the expectation that he can and will repeat his 2022 performance, and he won’t.

As I alluded to above, Ekeler was insanely efficient in the red zone last year. I think we all expect touchdown regression for 2022. Kyle’s article Austin Ekeler’s mentioned it; the Ballers discussed it during the RB TRUTH Episode. However, it seems everyone believes that regression will be minimal. Kyle suggested, as a whim, that 15 touchdowns were reasonable. But 15 touchdowns is actually a pretty big regression. Do you want to know someone who had 15 touchdowns last year? Damien Harris – last year’s RB13. Moreover, Ekeler’s previous record for touchdowns scored in a season was 11 in 2019 – a magical year in its own right for Ekeler, who did his damage despite his limited workload while in a timeshare with Melvin Gordon. 11 Touchdowns seems like the most likely outcome for Ekeler in 2022.

Plus, Ekeler is 27 years old. According to Marvin Elequin’s Lifecycle of a Dynasty RB piece, “running backs tend to decline beyond the age of 27.” The RB version of a Biological Clock is ticking against Ekeler. Now, it could be argued that Ekeler is not the typical 27-year-old running back because his workloads were light compared to the typical 27-year-old workhorse. You can certainly buy that argument, but I’d err on the side of probability, and probability says he’s likely to start declining this year.

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Also, Ekeler played in 16 games last year, only missing one game, but he dealt with four reported injuries – to his hip, his ankle, and his hamstring. His risk rating in the Ultimate Draft Kit rates him as a “high risk” player from an injury standpoint. I’d have to agree with those odds; he’s likely to miss a few games dealing with something fairly significant.

And then there is Isaiah Spiller. The Chargers drafted Spiller in the 4th round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and Spiller profiles more as a Melvin Gordon replacement. The Chargers never really had anyone they could trust in that role in 2021, so they leaned hard on Ekeler. Coach Brandon Staley didn’t trust either of the previous regime’s backups (Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley). The Chargers did draft Larry Roundtree III after Staley was hired, but Roundtree was a 6th-round draft pick and failed to make an impact. The Chargers tried to involve Roundtree, but most of his 36 carries came before a toe injury in November. All this to say, the Chargers are likely to involve Isaiah Spiller more heavily than the fantasy community seems to believe. One NFL insider, Ian Wharton from Bleacher Report, tabbed Spiller as a rookie who could surprise and challenge Ekeler for snaps. I agree. Spiller is likely to eat into Ekeler’s workload, rendering last year an outliner, not the norm.

Conclusion

Without that strong workload and guaranteed red-zone touches, Ekeler has no business being drafted in the top-3. All told, Ekeler is overdrafted at RB3. I believe there are at least 10 running backs I would rather draft over Ekeler right now: Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, D’Andre Swift, Javonte Williams, and Aaron Jones. A case could also be made for Saquon Barkley or even Leonard Fournette. That list doesn’t even mention the big upside WRs like Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, and Ja’Marr Chase. Placing that many players above Ekeler may be a “hot take” but the point I am trying to make is that I wouldn’t consider drafting Ekeler until the second round, but he will almost never make it there.

I am going to Go Out On A High Note myself as I drafted Ekeler in 2021, but not again in 2022. At least not at this price.

That it for me! Goodnight everybody!

Comments

Ryan says:

How do you know he won’t repeat ? You guys are analyst ! Not physics ! STFU. You don’t know shit ! That’s all.

Nick says:

Damien Harris was the RB13 last year with 15 TDs and virtually no involvement in the passing game. If Ekeler gets to a similar threshold of TDs with his normal passing work, he’s going to comfortably slide into the top 5.

Also, that timeshare season with Melvin Gordon? Ekeler ended the season as the overall RB4 in PPR. If Spiller gets say, 60% of the work Gordon got in 2019 (which seems reasonable for a 4th round rookie), I’m not sure how you have Ekeler sliding down to borderline top-12 status.

As for the age argument, Kamara, Cook, Chubb, and Aaron Jones — who you all have ranked over Ekeler — are either the same age or older, and have had a larger career workload. Not sure how you can drop Ekeler based on those concerns but not predict a similar dip for the guys with more tread on their tires.

davidberlinic says:

So you would draft Joe Mixon twice over Ekeler but not Jonathan Taylor.

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