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Countdown to 2021 fantasy football drafts: Austin Ekeler No. 19

Austin Ekeler comes in at No. 19 in our fantasy football rankings countdown to the 2021 NFL season.

Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers rushes after a pass reception during the second half of a game against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Inglewood, California.
Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers rushes after a pass reception during the second half of a game against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Inglewood, California.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Chargers thrust Austin Ekeler into a workhorse role with the departure of Melvin Gordon. Ekeler looked good early in the season, but ultimately suffered some injuries and couldn’t find his form late in the year. Can Ekeler prove he’s a true workhorse running back while maintaining his effectiveness as a receiving option?

To commemorate the 2021 NFL season, we’ll be counting down the 75 best fantasy football players in the league. Picking a Top 75 is subjective, especially when you are projecting a whole season of accumulated fantasy points, but that’s part of the fun. We’ll assume what I see as an average league, which is 12 teams, .5 PPR scoring and a roster of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, & 1RB/WR/TE. Kickers and defenses need not apply.

Change is the nature of the NFL beast, so trades and injuries will likely impact this list as we go along, but hey, this isn’t rocket science. We’re here to have a little fun and build up some much needed anticipation for a league cast in the shadow by baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. Sarcasm aside, the NFL is addictive and we’re here to give your daily fix as we close in on the season.

The official fantasy football drafting tiers can be found here.

No. 19, Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers, RB

Ekeler is the top running back in the Chargers’ backfield, but he’s also a big receiving threat and should be a major fantasy football asset with Justin Herbert taking over at quarterback. Ekeler’s season was cut short last year due to leg injuries, but he still played in 10 games. Expect him to get a lot of touches in what should be a high-scoring offense.

Competition for touches

Ekeler will face competition from Keenan Allen and Mike Williams when it comes to aerial targets, but he shouldn’t face much resistance running the ball. The Chargers did use Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley as change-of-pace backs, but Ekeler is the top dog for a reason. Los Angeles wants to get him the ball in space as much as possible.

Team offensive expectations

The Chargers took a leap when Herbert took over from Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. That should translate well to this year, especially with a full offseason of first-team reps for the rising sophomore QB. Allen and Ekeler headline an excellent skill positions group. The Chargers are also notorious for being involved in close games; that means the possibility of some overtime contests as well as the potential for late scoring drives.

What’s his upside?

If he stays healthy, Ekeler is going to get a lot of touches offensively. The Chargers will occasionally use Jackson and Kelley, but Ekeler is going to be on the field a lot. If he stays on for short yardage and goal line situations, Ekeler’s upside is huge. The volume should be there; the question is whether the efficiency will remain over the course of a whole season.

What’s his downside?

The Chargers could determine, after last season’s injury, that Ekeler simply isn’t cut out for a true workhorse role. He was highly effective in a platoon with Melvin Gordon, so that might be the best situation for him. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, that probably means his touches take a hit.

Projection

185 carries, 850 yards, 6 touchdowns
60 receptions, 530 yards, 5 touchdowns