By Scott Engel, The Game Day
In 2021, Austin Ekeler was the No. 2 running back in fantasy football in Points Per Reception (PPR) formats. He finished with 343.8 points, and only Jonathan Taylor had more. Even so, he is not being taken second overall in some early 2022 fantasy drafts.
Ekeler’s current fantasy football Average Draft Position (ADP) is third overall, but we have seen him drop to fifth or sixth overall in some drafts. Christian McCaffrey, the ultimate risk/reward fantasy pick, is often being taken second overall.
Perhaps that’s because Austin Ekeler is coming off a career season, and many fantasy analysts and players believe that career years won’t be matched, especially during the next season.
Will Austin Ekeler Regress After A Career Year?
Concerns About Fewer TDs And Touches
Yes, it’s going to be very challenging for Ekeler to total 20 touchdowns from scrimmage again. Rookie Isaiah Spiller also finally gives the Chargers a quality change of pace option that they have been seeking to complement (but not overtake) Ekeler. That said, you can still make a very good case for taking Ekeler second overall.
Spiller may steal a few TD chances here and there, but Ekeler remains a supreme receiving threat who is more durable than McCaffrey. Last season was the first year in which he became LA’s main goal-line runner, and he delivered the best fantasy season of his career. Even if he naturally loses a few overall TDs from his rushing/receiving total, Ekeler still should be one of the very best dual-threat RBs in fantasy football. Only a healthy McCaffrey can be viewed as a better two-way fantasy RB threat over a full season.
Ekeler has annually been a top fantasy RB because of his incredible receiving production, and in 2021 he became a more complete player than ever before. Consider that in 2019, when Ekeler rushed for only three TDs, he still finished as the No. 4 running back in fantasy football thanks to his eight receiving scores. Even If he ends up with an eight/seven rushing/receiving TD line in 2022, he would still have four more TDs than he had in 2019. Ekeler was more productive as a pure pass-catcher in 2019 but was also far less prolific as a runner. Now that he performs at a high level in both departments, he will remain among the elite fantasy options at RB and his statistical floor can still be better than the ceilings of many other players at his position.
For those who will point to Spiller eating into his workload, don’t expect that to be a major factor that will detract from Ekeler’s output enough to knock him out of top-shelf RB status. Many running backs have a complementary player that works with them in the backfield. Taylor loses pass-catching reps to Nyheim Hines, McCaffrey may surrender some goal-line chances to D’Onta Foreman, and Dontrell Hilliard could be a pass-catching complement to Derrick Henry this year.
Who Else Can Challenge Austin Ekeler Around The League?
Outside of McCaffrey, what other RB is going to rival Ekeler in terms of receiving production? Maybe Najee Harris or D’Andre Swift, but both play in far less potent offenses. Leonard Fournette will drop from 69 catches now that Tampa Bay has added Rachaad White. Ultimately, only a handful of RBs will be in Ekeler territory for receiving output.
Ekeler remains a focal point of one of the best offenses in the AFC. Even if we project a slight dip from his 2021 production, Ekeler still projects to be one of the premier RBs in fantasy football and is one of the safest picks off the board at the start of the draft. Letting Ekeler fall out of the top 3 because he may experience some minor regression is too pessimistic given all the positives he brings to the table.
Sometimes when making a first-round pick, some fantasy football players overthink their selections. Don’t do that when Ekeler is available, as he can once again provide the best all-around statistical return at his position. Even if he finishes with fewer TDs and catches overall, Ekeler can still be well worth the high first-round pick you spend on him in 2022.