Austin Ekeler may be my favorite player in the NFL, or at least he might be my second favorite after his higher priced and higher scoring doppelganger. In 2020, Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey generated win rates of 21% and 31% respectively. They did so with the type of freakish athleticism at smaller sizes that offers make-you-miss ability with transcendent receiving skills.
Given the tenuous nature of elite running back value, it’s disconcerting that both backs face serious threats to their continued dominance. McCaffrey gets a new quarterback and a new coaching staff. Lack of continuity is exactly what we don’t want with a player coming off of an epic season. And yet, McCaffrey’s historic campaign occurred within the context of lackluster QB play, a poor scoring offense, and a mediocre coaching performance.
McCaffrey’s 148 targets may have stemmed, at least in part, from this offensive incompetence, but the benefits of an improved offense could give him the type of profile that Marshall Faulk exploited with the Greatest Show on Turf or that Priest Holmes demonstrated in Dick Vermeil’s juggernaut. It only makes sense to expect a level of decline for McCaffrey in 2020, but even after you factor that in, his upside is so great that it not only allows, it basically requires you to select him whenever you’re lucky enough to have the 1.01.
Even though Ekeler’s mid-second round ADP appears palatable for a back coming off of a 300-point season, the same dynamic may not apply. The Chargers star was targeted 108 times in 2020 on a team that led the NFL in receiving Expected Points (reEP) by a wide margin. Ekeler was also startlingly efficient. His 71 fantasy points over expectation (FPOE) as a receiver doubled the next closest RB. Neither the volume numbers nor the efficiency numbers appear sustainable with a two-headed monster of Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert.
Ekeler generated huge returns as a centerpiece of our Zero RB candidates lists in 2018 and 2019, but as difficult it is to say about a back I own everywhere in dynasty, this probably isn’t the year to own him in redraft.
If we want to buy this type of package – a package that offers big returns on a yearly basis – where should we go in 2020?