Chargers running back Austin Ekeler finished as the fantasy RB2 in both Full/Half PPR formats last season. His ability to contribute in a variety of facets crowns him as the ultimate hedge against one-dimensional backs and the risks they inherit. What does this mean for Ekeler's 2022 campaign?
Last season, Ekeler and Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor were the only backs with 300+ half PPR points. The overall production Ekeler put up was pretty absurd, given the relatively minimal amount of ground game it took to get there.
Versatile ball carriers often make up for rushing volume through reps in the passing game.
Austin Ekeler is as versatile as it gets, but ironically, that notion hasn't applied.
From 2019-20, he averaged 5.6 receptions/game, along with a 14.5% team target share. Last season, Ekeler had 4.4 and 14%, respectively (data via PFF). Under those same time splits, he exhibited an increase in carries/game from 9.5 to 12.9.
Considering his 2021 career fantasy year, has Ekeler reached an "equilibrium" in the run/pass game? It's crucial to understand that not all touches are created equal before drawing any conclusions.
Carries inside an opponent's five-yard line are the gold standard of fantasy touches. Opportunities are scarce, but they're a gateway for scoring points. According to PFF fantasy data, Ekeler had 0.42 carries/game inside the five from '19-20.
In 2021, he recorded a total of 16 (16 games played). Among all the Bolts' inside five rushes from '19-20, Ekeler accounted for 22% of them. That share skyrocketed to 57.1% this past season, where 9 of his 12 total rushing touchdowns came inside the five.
Austin Ekeler undoubtedly took advantage of the situational touches. Likewise, team aggressiveness and red-zone frequency deserve some credit, as they provided a fair share of those opportunities. Considering his somewhat unprecedented health and workload in 2021, along with rookie Isaiah Spiller fresh on the scene, there's now a bit of uncertainty regarding Ekeler's piece of the pie.
But it's not a coincidence that the Bolts' swiss army knife found himself in an exclusive club with Jonathan Taylor. Ekeler has an imprint within every data point of this offense, and it's been that way ever since he first suited up as a Charger.
Ekeler's skillset continues to compensate for external factors that pose a risk on his overall production. Under a scenario of good health and plentiful opportunities, fading Austin Ekeler within Los Angeles' fantasy-friendly environment would truly be a head-scratcher come the first round of your drafts.