Why Austin Ekeler Will Help Win Your Fantasy Football League in 2021
As a newer writer for The Fantasy Footballers, it was a joy to choose my inaugural “My Guy” this year. When I first started listening to Andy, Mike, and Jason, it was their annual “My Guys” episode that piqued my interest in the show and made me hit the subscribe button. I thought long and hard about my pick this year and landed quite comfortably on Austin Ekeler. Awesome Excellent will help win your league in 2021.
Ekeler also recently joined the show on Tuesday so check out the full interview.
When drafting an RB early on, you are looking for that player who will win you your league. No one wants to finish third, so getting a significant return on these early picks is vital. This being said, pass-catching RBs are gold in fantasy football. As Mike discussed in the Tips and Tricks show, you need RBs that get receptions if you hope to dominate your league. Austin Ekeler has always been a great pass-catching back. His targets have consistently gone up since his first season in the league in 2017 when he had 35 targets. In the next two years, he increased to 53 and 108 targets, respectively. Ekeler had a slight dip in targets in 2020, but he did not play an entire season due to injury that year. He was still on a 16-game pace of 104 targets if he had stayed healthy. And when the ball is thrown his way, Ekeler is quite successful in catching it. In 2020, his pass catch rate was 83% among RBs, the sixth-best among RBs that season. He was more successful at catching the football than Alvin Kamara, Nyheim Hines, and J.D. McKissic – who were all known for their pass-catching prowess in 2020. In all his four years in the league, Ekeler was in the top ten of PFF’s receiving grades among RBs. And in 2019, he was number one. Ekeler has also been in the top 20 among RBs for yards per route ran, according to PFF. This translates to Ekeler being third among RBs last season in yards after the catch. He is very good at catching a football.
Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude
Changes in the Chargers coaching staff also lend to Ekeler having a breakout year. At the end of 2020, after ending the season with a 7-9 record, head coach Anthony Lynn was fired. In January, the Chargers signed Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to become their new head coach. Staley promptly brought in Joe Lombardi the be their new offensive coordinator. Lombardi comes to Los Angeles after multiple years with the New Orleans Saints. You know, that team that leans heavily on a solid pass-catching RB? A guy whose name rhymes with shemara? Exactly. Lombardi has almost a decade in the Sean Payton offensive system, and it should translate over to Southern California quite well. Expect the targets heading the way of the RB.
Offensive Line Improvement
Talent only gets you so far in the NFL; we all know that. After all, it is a team sport, and many things have to come together to spell success. The additional ingredients seem to be there for Ekeler to explode this year. The Charger’s offensive line is poised for a much-improved season. Last year the Chargers had the worst rating from PFF for run blocking and the third-worst for pass blocking. They were dismal. With a combination of injuries and a lack of talent on the offensive line, it gives Ekeler’s 2020 stats even MORE value. The Chargers knew this was an issue and looked to amend it in the off-season. Through draft picks and free agency signings, the team has put together what might end up being the most improved offensive line from one season to the next. Imagine what this improvement will do for Ekeler.
An RB After All
Hopefully, the upgraded offensive line will aid Ekeler in the category that needs the most improvement for him –more carries, especially in the red zone. If he gets the requisite carries in 2021, Ekeler could finish as at least a top-five RB. Looking at numbers from 2019, Ekeler’s last full season; I compared the top ten finishing fantasy RBs. I looked at rushing attempts, rushing attempts in the red zone, and receiving targets. Ekeler finished as the RB6 that season. Of the top ten finishing RBs, Ekeler had the lowest amount of rushing attempts as well as the lowest number of rushing attempts in the red zone with 16. Only 12% of Ekeler’s small number of rushing attempts were in the red zone. Again, the lowest among the top ten. And he was STILL RB6 at the end of the year. As Andy often says, volume is king in fantasy football. Running behind that improved offensive line and playing in less negative game script games where they must rely on Justin Herbert‘s arm, the door is wide open for Ekeler to drastically improve his number of carries in 2021.
|Rush Attempts||Rush Attempts in Red Zone||%||Targets||Fantasy Finish|
Look, with great sacrifice comes great reward. You will not see Austin Ekeler drop to the third round in your draft. You might not even see him drop to the second. You will be paying a pretty penny to acquire this player. Ekeler is currently ranked at UDK consensus ranking as RB12, being drafted at the beginning of the second round. But, I tell ya, in any kind of PPR league, I am going for Ekeler over the likes of Najee (sorry Mike), Aaron Jones, and Jonathan Taylor. I am happily planting my flag on this hill. I hope you do as well. Let’s be excellent together.