Austin Ekeler Returns to Chargers, Remains Top-10 Fantasy RB - Roto Street Journal
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Austin Ekeler Returns to Chargers, Remains Top-10 Fantasy RB

Austin Ekeler was scheduled for restricted free agency, but no longer. The Chargers showed just how highly they value their dual-threat dynamo via a monster $24.5 million deal that includes $15 million guaranteed. This would seemingly end Melvin Gordon‘s time in Los Angeles, setting Ekeler up for another Top-10 fantasy campaign in 2020.

Hell, Ekeler already was the Half-PPR RB6 and Full-PPR RB4 in 2019 with Gordon taking half the Ground Pie for 2/3 of the season. Ekeler didn’t top 59% of the snaps following Week 5, and still ate.

Just look at the stats, via Field Yates:

* Led ALL NFL players in catches without a drop (92)

* 993 receiving yards (12th most by a RB ever)

* 10 games with 5+ catches 

* 1 of 5 RB with 1,500+ total yards and 10+ total TD

* Second in the NFL last season in receiving yards after the catch (10.3). 

Imagine what he could do as the featured back all year?

Weeks 1-4 of last year provided a boner-inducing glimpse. In this span, Ekeler trailed only McCaffrey in fantasy points (95 total FPs, 23.8 Half PPG). Ekeler logged 75%, 73%, 65%, and 72% of the teams snaps in these games, with 18, 23, 16, and 23 touches in this span — no other Charger back hit even 10 touches by comparison.

With that volume, Ekeler tallied 39.4 (RB2), 23.3 (RB4), 15.1 (RB18), and 29.2 (RB4) FPs. He’s a dynamite receiver and underrated runner, capable of Christian McCaffrey     lite numbers if he gets the work.

Part of why Ekeler was excited about the new deal was the increased role it implies:

“I can see myself being more of a leader vocally,” Ekeler said. “My role will be bigger than last year with more opportunities.”

Granted, at the 2020 NFL Combine, HC Anthony Lynn professed he prefers Ekeler “in a tandem role… I need him with another guy.”

Still, Lynn’s actions in those first four weeks speak far louder than his words. Unless MGIII returns or is replaced with a similar level talent, Eeler should again hover around 65-70% of the snaps and log 15-20 touches per week.

Even if he’s in an RBBC, Ekeler’s value as a move-all-over pass-catcher can’t be ignored. At the 2020 NFL Combine, GM Tom Telesco suggested as much, gushing:

“He can do so much with the football with the amount of touches he gets. It doesn’t just have to be as a running back. We can put him in the slot. We can put him out wide. He’s a pretty dangerous player for us and a big part of our offense. He’s going to play a lot.”

Certainly, Lynn’s usage of his backs is tailor-made for Ekeler. No one threw to their RBs more than Lynn’s Chargers (182 tgts, 31.6% share), and the HC already gushed: “I like it when he comes in and I can line him up in the slot, outside or out of the backfield.”

But Ekeler’s not just a receiving threat… he’s unstoppably efficient in every facet of the game. Via PFF’s Scott Barrett:

Over the past two seasons, he ranks third in PFF grade (90.4), behind only Nick Chubb and McCaffrey. Among 80 running backs as a receiver, he ranks first in yards per route run (2.53) and second in yards per target (9.38). Among 42 running backs, on the ground, he ranks fifth in yards after contact per attempt (3.41).

The Chargers future backfield moves will determine Ekeler’s ultimate fantasy value. Still, he’s undoubtedly a Top-10 RB, and the only WR who belongs above him is Michael Thomas. If the backfield remains untouched, Ekeler will warrant Top-Five consideration above even Alvin Kamara.

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