Austin Ekeler: The Safest Tier 2 RB for 2020
The Draft Director / @ChrisMiles1017
Everyone is always chasing the workhorse RB in redraft fantasy right? After the top 4 guys there is a large second tier of RBs and their order feels very muddled among analysts. I personally have an 8 player tier consisting of Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Nick Chubb, and my favorite, Austin Ekeler. All of these guys have questions except for one that rises above the rest, Austin Ekeler. In this article I will be telling you why Austin Ekeler is in my opinion the safest RB of this group and my RB6 for 2020.
First, let’s look at how Ekeler performed in 2018 and 2019. There were two different versions of Ekeler, one that was hampered by Melvin Gordon and another that was unimpeded and handling the full workload. First, let's talk about the Ekeler that was affected by Gordon. Over the course of the past 2 seasons, Ekeler played 23 games with Melvin Gordon. In these games Ekeler averaged 5 targets, 4 receptions, 6 rushes, and 14.62 PPR points. This average would’ve placed him as the RB17 in 2019, not too bad for a guy averaging 10 touches a game. In these same games, Melvin Gordon averaged 14 carries, and 4 receptions which is an average of 18 touches per game. So as you can see, Ekeler’s upside was severely capped and he still was a mid tier RB2.
Now, let's look at what Austin Ekeler could do when he wasn’t being inhibited by Melvin Gordon’s presence. Through 2018-2019, Ekeler played 7 games without Gordon. In these games Ekeler averaged 6.5 targets, 5 receptions, 14 carries, and a whopping 21.07 fantasy points. Ekeler was receiving 19 touches a game, and that 21.07 PPG would’ve made him the overall RB2 last season. Austin Ekeler now enters 2020 with no real immediate competition for carries, or targets, so his volume should be around 16-22 touches per game.
Next, let’s look at Ekeler’s efficiency and try to get together some projections for him in 2020. He had a YPC of 4.2, a YPR of 10.8, and a catch rate of 85.2%.With this info let’s do some regression to the mean for Ekeler and give him averages of 4.3 YPC, 9.0 YPR, and a 75% catch rate. Ekeler also received 108 targets and 132 rushes; while Gordon received 162 carries and 55 targets. Ekeler should take about 65% of Gordon’s carries and receptions while the rest of the leftover workload goes to Justin Jackson and Josh Kelley. This would’ve resulted in Ekeler receiving 237 carries, and 144 targets. I do not see any reason why Austin Ekeler would not be able to hit 200 carries, with 100 targets in 2020.
With all of these stats, let’s put together his projections. Austin Ekeler stats out to 200/860 rushing, and 100/75/675 receiving. Last season, Gordon and Ekeler combined for 20 TDs. Let’s assume 5 of these TDs go to Kelley and Jackson, and 3 more of them disappear to regression. That’s 12 total TDs for Ekeler, which happens to only be 1 more than he scored in 2019. When you add all of this together that would give Austin Ekeler 300.5 PPR fantasy points or 18.78 PPG. This would’ve made Ekeler RB8 in 2019, behind the likes of; CMC, Dalvin, Aaron Jones, Henry, Zeke, Ekeler (lol), and Saquon. Now let’s remember, that was with me removing 37 carries, 44 targets, and 5 TDs from Ekeler’s projections. I think it’s very safe to say that Ekeler’s floor in 2020 is RB10.
Let’s backtrack, and remember what the purpose of this article was. Why is Ekeler the safest RB in that 2nd tier? Well, Ekeler’s main concern is how his QBs will treat him. Tyrod Taylor doesn't mind throwing to his RBs. He threw to LeSean McCoy an average of 4.5 times per game, in the rest of McCoy’s career he was only targeted on average 3.5 times per game. The other QB is Herbert, and generally rookie or new QBs like to dump the ball off to their security blanket RBs.
With that out of the way, time to look at the other RBs and their concerns. Joe Mixon should see a high volume, but he’s on a struggling offense in a tough division. He’ll have many negative game scripts, and will have many stalled drives. Dalvin Cook not only has injury concerns, but he also has holdout concerns. Plus, he has Mattison behind him who is very capable and the Vikings may look to ease Cook’s workload a bit to keep him healthy. Henry is due for some huge regression. The Titans were very efficient, very run heavy, and great at scoring in the red zone. These things will all most likely regress to the mean, plus he’s not involved in the passing game at all. I want my top tier RBs to be involved in all aspects of the game. Josh Jacobs is also capped in the receiving game, the Raiders kept Richard and added Bowden so I don’t see that changing. Miles Sanders I am probably most optimistic about, and I truly do not believe he will be put into a committee. However, that concern is always there with Pederson at Head Coach. Lastly, Nick Chubb, he is severely restricted in the passing game because of Hunt. Plus he was very efficient, and had high volume rushing in 2019 so these things may regress a bit. I also see the Browns being a bit more pass heavy in 2020.
Austin Ekeler to me, has the fewest questions of all of these running backs. He also has legitimate top 5 upside, and I cannot see a world in which he finishes lower than RB10. I’ll be drafting Austin Ekeler in the 2nd of every single one of my redraft leagues, and I suggest you do as well. You don’t want to miss on your early round picks, and I can assure you that Ekeler will not miss in 2020.