Fantasy Football: What to expect from Austin Ekeler in 2021

After an injury-shortened 2020, can Austin Ekeler be a high-end RB1 in fantasy football this year?

Austin Ekeler, Fantasy Football, Chargers
Credit: NFL Analysis Network

With a new contract and the departure of Melvin Gordon, the arrow pointed way up for Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler heading into 2020. He was RB4 in fantasy (full PPR) in 2019. So a similar finish was easy to see for last year.

Over the first three games last season, Ekeler had 47 carries for 236 yards and 16 catches for 142 yards. In two games with Justin Herbert under center for the Chargers, he had 15 catches on 15 targets. Ekeler was RB6 in full PPR from Week 1-3. But a quad injury in Week 4 cost him six games, as Ekeler teased his progress on social media.

From his return in Week 12-Week 17, Ekeler was RB6 in full PPR again (67 carries for 282 yards, 37 catches for 259 yards and two touchdowns). Take out that Week 4 game, when he played just three snaps (and had three touches), an he averaged 18.1 full PPR fantasy points per game. Narrow a little more, to eight full games with Herbert, and Ekeler had an 104-catch pace.

Ekeler averaged close to 97 total yards per game in 2019. Last year, he averaged 93 total yards per game. In nine healthy games, which might be a bit of a stretch as his quad issue limited him in practice after he was back, he averaged 102.1 total yards per game.

The biggest ding on Ekeler is a lack of touchdowns, spurred by a lack of goal line work. When Gordon was around, he got priority for those looks. Last year, Anthony Lynn/Shane Steichen gave goal line work to Kalen Ballage and Joshua Kelley over Ekeler. That’s a fireable offense, on the list of such offenses that cost them their jobs. According to Michael F. Florio of NFL.com, Ekeler’s career scoring rate on touches inside-the-5-yard line (37 percent) is not far below league average (45 percent, minimum 10 touches) since 2011. Ekeler is ahead of Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs in scoring rate on those close-in touches. So it’s mostly an issue of volume.

Austin Ekeler 2021 Fantasy Outlook

Joe Lombardi is the new Chargers’ offensive coordinator. He came from the New Orleans Saints, with experience working with a high-end dual threat back in Alvin Kamara. Kamara is heady company to put Ekeler in. But there are no threats to his touches, and he should be used all over the field similarly to Kamara in New Orleans.

Fantasy Football Calculator has Ekeler’s ADP at RB9 (pick 1.10) in 12-team full PPR right now. In 12-team standard, he bumps down to RB12 (pick 2.03). With legit top-5 upside, there’s some value to be had here if you find yourself around the turn in a 12-team draft. Squint a little, and you’ll see potential for Ekeler to be the RB1 in full PPR this year. In standard scoring, yardage output and the promise of more TDs gives Ekeler top-five potential.