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What to do with Kalen Ballage, Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley in Week 12 fantasy football

Will Austin Ekeler return from his hamstring injury this week to give a boost to a muddled Chargers backfield rotation?

Los Angeles Chargers running back Kalen Ballage (31) runs against New York Jets linebacker Neville Hewitt (46) during the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium.  Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Game day update: The Chargers could be without Kalen Ballage, per Adam Schefter. That would leave Ekeler splitting work with Troymaine Pope and Joshua Kelley. Ian Rapoport tweeted that Ekeler “won’t be the bell cow just yet.”

Saturday update: The Chargers have activated Austin Ekeler from injured reserve, which likely means we will see him active for Week 12 against the Buffalo Bills.

Injuries have defined the Los Angeles Chargers’ 2020 season, and nowhere has that proven more evident than at running back. Lead back Austin Ekeler hasn’t played since September due to a troublesome hamstring and his primary backup entering the season, third-year pro Justin Jackson, landed on injured reserve after hurting his knee. That left rookie Joshua Kelley and, more recently, free-agent addition Kalen Ballage to share backfield duties.

The situation only grows more complicated as Sunday’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills approaches. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn left the door open for Ekeler to return this week after the running back practiced for the first time since his injury. Still, whether Ekeler suits up remains wholly unclear as does his role should he play.

Fantasy Football analysis: Chargers RBs Kalen Ballage, Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley

If Ekeler doesn’t return this week, Ballage becomes the primary beneficiary. That assumes that the former Miami Dolphins running back plays, as the Chargers officially list Ballage as questionable to play due to ankle and calf injures. Ballage has delivered decent (albeit inefficient) numbers as the starter the past two weeks and will likely end up with similar production should he start in Buffalo.

However, if Ekeler can play, he merits fantasy consideration even if the Chargers put him on a snap count. Ekeler can play from anywhere on the field, including as a slot or boundary receiver. That means he can produce even if the Chargers intend to use Ballage as the lead rusher. Ekeler might see less action near the goal line than he normally might, but he can also score on plays that begin outside the red zone.

Regardless of Ekeler’s availability, Kelley’s workload has diminished considerably since the start of November. Not only have the Chargers limited him to single-digit carries in each of their four games this month, but his work as a pass catcher has dried up at times as well. Kelley might eventually carve out a more reliable role in the offense, but he will have to improve his efficiency and ball security first.

Fantasy Start/Sit Recommendation

Start Ballage as an RB2 if Ekeler does not play (FLEX if both play).

Start Ekeler as a FLEX if he plays.

Sit Kelley.