Chargers Rebuild Pathetic Offensive Line, Austin Ekeler Locked In for Monster 2021 Fantasy Season - Roto Street Journal
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Chargers Rebuild Pathetic Offensive Line, Austin Ekeler Locked In for Monster 2021 Fantasy Season

Over the past two seasons, Austin Ekeler has been the sixth most productive RB in fantasy leagues, averaging 18.4 fantasy points per game. Given he was been able to put up those numbers behind the league’s worst offensive line, it makes those numbers even more eye-popping. After bolstering the offensive line in free agency and selecting a franchise left tackle in the draft, expect RB1 value and top-five RB upside out of a player that’ll likely be there in the early-to-mid second round.

Outside of Anthony Lynn and a handful of injuries, the Chargers’ pathetic offensive line was a major reason why the team did not make the playoffs despite having the Rookie of the Year under center. After firing Lynn and hiring former Rams’ DC Brandon Staley, he knew his first priority was to bolster Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked offensive line.

“Our goal going into this offseason was to become a line of scrimmage team,” Staley said.

Staley and GM Tom Telesco wasted no time. They went out in free agency and immediately signed All-Pro and PFF’s third-best run-blocking center, Corey Linsley. They also added guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi to boost those two spots.

Their mission was completed on draft day, when they selected Northwestern tackle, Rashawn Slater, at No. 13 overall. Slater, who some draft pundits said was the No. 1 overall OL, is a franchise-altering left tackle who will not only protect Herbert’s blindside but will also maul in the run game. Slater showed off his elite football intelligence, NFL-ready technique, and athleticism throughout his collegiate career, highlighted by his matchup against Chase Young.

“We just felt like Rashawn fits all of the characteristics of a player that we’re looking for, and then all the position critical factors for being a tackle in this league,” Staley said.

“On the left side of the line for Northwestern, this guy was as good of an offensive tackle as there was in college football. We feel like this guy is an outstanding athlete, a guy that is really strong, has outstanding balance and body control. And then when you think about just the way he plays the game — understands angles, understands the front structures that he’s playing against, and you can just see that this guy can really process. And then he has the physicality to play the position at a high level. He’s a pretty balanced player,” Telesco said.

With Slater, Feiler, Linsley, and Aboushi set to start next to right tackle Bryan Bulaga, Herbert and Ekeler will be protected by an elite offensive line and the most talented group that the Chargers have had in quite some time.

In eight healthy games with Herbert under center last year, Ekeler averaged 11.9 carries and 7.9 targets per game. In half-PPR, that would have been good for the overall RB4 in weighted opportunity. A full season with that number of touches behind a vastly improved offensive line should only do wonders for the three-down back.

Not to mention Ekeler will also benefit from Lynn no longer calling the shots on offense. Joe Lombardi will now be calling the plays and he’s basing the offense on Sean Payton’s scheme in New Orleans, where Lombardi was the QB coach.

Lombardi said he wants to utilize Ekeler as an Alvin Kamaraesque weapon and he said the dynamic runner has similar capabilities to Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, and Kamara.

“I know that Ekeler has some of the skillset that I’m used to seeing in New Orleans with Reggie or Darren Sproles, or A.K,” Lombardi said. “That’s exciting, to have someone with that skillset. It’s very exciting to come in knowing that those pieces are in place and that we have a good chance to hit the ground running.”

The Athletic’s Daniel Popper had this to say about Ekeler’s fit in Joe Lombardi’s offense:

The top of the depth chart is set in stone, and I am fascinated to see what kind of year Austin Ekeler has in Joe Lombardi’s offense. He is a perfect fit for the Saints scheme Lombardi will be running. Sean Payton loves players with position flexibility, those he can move all over the formation to create pre-snap confusion. Alvin Kamara is just the most recent example of that. And Ekeler is one of the most versatile offensive players in football. Lombardi should have a field day with Ekeler, lining him up out wide, in the slot and in the backfield. Also, expect Ekeler to be in motion quite a bit, another hallmark of the Payton offense. If Ekeler can stay healthy, he is going to put up huge numbers, both in the running and passing game.

Even though he missed six games last season, Ekeler still put up 933 yards from scrimmage after racking up 1,550 yards from scrimmage during his healthy 2019 campaign. If he can stay on the field with an improved Herbert and offensive line next season, reaching that number again should be well within his reach.

Following the offensive line improvement, The Wolf penciled in Ekeler at RB9 (+2 vs ECR) on his 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings & Big Board. Ekeler drips in top-five RB upside as a second-round fantasy pick.

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