Ekeler’s Historic Brilliance and Jefferson’s Historic Dud – Week 17 Heroes Leave a Lasting Mark in Fantasy
Image Credit: Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Austin Ekeler.

Shawn Siegele places Austin Ekeler’s accomplishments in perspective after another star turn. And what about Justin Jefferson? Is his title-game dud the worst ever from star wide receiver? 

I hope everyone’s New Year is off to a great start, ideally with a fantasy title or two now resting comfortably on your mantle. Week 17 offering the jarring contrast between a running back ascending to greatness and a wide receiver crashing to earth – and everything in between.

For one analyst familiar to folks at RotoViz, the 24 hours between the conclusion of last night’s contests and the final snap of Bills/Bengals may seem like 24 years. (And such a whirlwind that it’ll feel more like 24 minutes.) Patrick Kerrane currently leads Underdog’s Best Ball Mania and although there’s a lot that could still happen, he’s got a great shot at the $2 million grand prize. This is just about the coolest thing ever.

Quite a few OT listeners on the verge of big things tonight. Colm and I wish you all the best of luck. Let’s get those titles!

Austin Ekeler Etches His Name in History

Austin Ekeler was fantastic in 2021, finishing as the overall RB2 behind Jonathan Taylor, and third in points per game behind Derrick Henry’s epic half-season. Although his overall volume fell just short of elite status, he brought the coveted balance with over 8.0 ruEP and reEP. Then he crushed that workload with 4.9 fantasy points over expectation per game. Those are wild efficiency numbers – a greatness that spread across both facets. Ekeler scored 12 rushing touchdowns and got in eight times through the air.

The Chargers star failed to reach RB1 status only once in his final seven appearances last season, but a Week 16 absence dealt a mortal blow to many managers. If they’d gotten his 29-point game from Week 18 instead, we’d be talking about him as a back-to-back world beater.

The 2021 season ended up being one for the underdogs. Zero RB options crushed the fantasy playoffs, delivering league titles and tournament championships. Taylor was still solid down the stretch with 17.4 PPG during the crucial weeks, but after nine consecutive RB1 finishes to close the regular season and help in the quarters, he wasn’t among the twelve best scorers in either the semis or the finals.

Taylor’s 2022 was derailed by injury, but Ekeler returned to those heights again. After a down first three weeks, he averaged 24.4 PPG across the next 12, putting managers in position to take advantage of his massive Week 17 performance. His ruEP had dropped ever so slightly, but through the first 16 weeks, his 12.3 reEP/G ranked No. 5 this century (Christian McCaffrey, 2019; Darren Sproles, 2012; Brian Westbrook, 2007; Marshall Faulk, 2000).

Everything set up perfectly for Ekeler to become a fantasy legend, but Week 17 is critical. An RB1 performance in the finals adds an exclamation point to the season, allows fantasy managers to win their league finals, and helps tournament participants to take down massive prizes.

And that’s what happened.

The 72-yard run was the perfect distillation of everything Ekeler.

With exceptional vision, he finds the hole, slices through almost untouched, allowing him to build speed and knife through a crevice at the second level. From there it’s a footrace and Ekeler outruns the defense, running the perfect angle and failing to slow even at the last moment. Even the smallest mistake would have put him down inside the 5, but Ekeler is simply too good.

The final line with only 10 carries for 122 yards, two rushing scores, and an additional four catches for 39 yards is prototypical Ekeler in that it demonstrates his brilliance through flexibility. It didn’t require a chasing game script that resulted in seven plus catches (as he’s had eight times this season). It wasn’t built on an avalanche of high-value touches (his other score came from 10 yards out; he had one carry from the 6-yard line). He can do all of those things, of course, but this 32-point game was predicated on pure talent.

With his performance, Ekeler joins the Mount Rushmore of fantasy, becoming the 20th back this century to score 350 points for the season, and at least 60 points in the fantasy playoffs with an RB1 performance in the finals.

RB Performances That Will Live Forever

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Shawn Siegele

Author of the original Zero RB article and 2013 NFFC Primetime Grand Champion. 11-time main event league winner. 2015, 2017, 2018 titles in MFL10 of Death.

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