• Ben Greb

Why Austin Ekeler Should Be a First-Round Pick

(Photo Credit: Harry How)

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was poised to have a true breakthrough season in 2020. He was coming off a year in which he totaled 1,550 yards from scrimmage, 92 receptions and 11 total touchdowns. These numbers are outstanding, considering that he split the backfield with Melvin Gordon for the majority of the season.

Entering this past season, many knew that Ekeler finally had the backfield to himself. His average draft position was 24, putting him at the end of the second round in 12-team leagues. Ultimately, Ekeler’s season did not match his breakout in 2019.

In Week 4 of 2020, Ekeler suffered an injury. The injury was severe and it was impressive that Ekeler made it back to the field before the end of the season. In the 10 games that he played, he scored 16.5 points per game in points-per-reception format, putting him at the pace of the RB12 on the year.

During your fantasy football drafts in 2021, you need to target Austin Ekeler early. Here is why Austin Ekeler should be drafted in the first round.

First of all, Ekeler was obviously hampered by an injury for the majority of the season. His hamstring tendon was torn off the bone for goodness’ sakes. Even though Ekeler is a beast and made it back on the field in just eight weeks, there is no way he came back 100% healthy. I expect Ekeler to be himself in 2021.

Austin Ekeler was not the only Los Angeles Charger to get injured in 2020. There were several injuries on the defense, including Joey Bosa, which limited the unit as a whole. The Chargers’ defense will be healthy next year and will allow the offense to be on the field more often.

A new coaching staff brings optimism for the Chargers. New head coach Brandon Staley, who served as the defensive coordinator for a dominant Los Angeles Rams team, will look to build another ferocious defense. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also has a great coaching history, more recently with the New Orleans Saints, who had a high-powered offense from 2016-2020.

Despite all of the optimism for the new season, drafting Ekeler early may seem like a stretch. However, what sets Ekeler apart from other running backs is his ability to catch out of the backfield. In order to be a top-five back in fantasy football, receptions are a must in PPR leagues. Ekeler will look to match his 108 targets and 92 receptions he put up in 2019.

There are several running backs that were drafted ahead of Ekeler in 2020 that may be regressing. Injuries to Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon may cause managers to draft them later than in years past. Players like Ezekiel Elliott, Josh Jacobs and Clyde Edwards-Helaire failed to meet expectations. As for Derrick Henry, Father Time comes sooner for running backs — his best seasons could be behind him.

I see Ekeler as a top five back who should be drafted in the first round. You’ll want a piece of an offense that also features Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry if he re-signs. Take a chance on the absolute monster that is Austin Ekeler in 2021.

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