It is time to make that early decision on who would you rather have on your fantasy team, Cam Akers or Austin Ekeler? Maybe it depends on whether you are in a PPR Fantasy league or a Traditional Fantasy league?
In a PPR, it is no contest, right? You are picking Ekeler, or why else are you playing? Well, buckle up because Akers may be a better PPR option than you thought?
PPR FANTASY FOOTBALL LEAGUES
PPR stands for points per reception. Just like it says, you get points depending on the scoring scheme for every reception your player gets. So, you will accrue “extra” points on your running back if he catches passes.
Both Akers and Ekeler played with injuries last season. Akers played in 13 games (including post-season), starting in five. Ekeler played in 10 games.
Akers will be playing with a different quarterback. Ekeler will be playing with a different head coach and offensive coordinator.
Ekeler 2020 receiving stats: 65 targets, 54 receptions, 403 receiving yards, 17 slot snaps, 17.3% target share, 7.5 yards per reception.
Akers 2020 receiving stats: 14 targets, 11 receptions, 123 receiving yards, four-slot snaps, 3.6% target share, 11.2 yards per reception.
New Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has compared Ekeler’s skillset to Alvin Kamara. Last season Kamara was on the receiving end of 107 targets, 756 receiving yards, 35 slot snaps, 22.3% target share, and 330 routes run.
Those stats are closer to Ekeler’s 2019 production, where he was on the receiving end of 108 targets, 92 receptions, 993 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns.
Akers was injured for most of the season but showed his potential in the last four weeks. According to Pro Football Focus, Akers ran 120 routes in his final six games while facing the second-most stacked fronts (52%). He was also fourth on the team in yards per reception with 11.2.
While head coach Sean McVay has expressed Akers as “an every-down back, playing with Matthew Stafford under center and newly acquired burners, DeSean Jackson and Tutu Atwell suggest the Rams desire to play the vertical game more aggressively.
Stafford attempted 61 deep balls last season with a 42.6% completion percentage. Jared Goff attempted 48 deep balls with a 27.1% completion percentage. Stafford averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, while Goff averaged 7.1 (stats from playerprofiler.com).
Akers slips further in the PPR draft with an offense designed to go vertical in the passing game than Ekeler.
According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Akers is currently the 15th player off the board in PPR formats, while Ekeler is the 13th.
STANDARD FANTASY FORMATS
In standard fantasy formats, the positions of the players change. In this format, scoring is generally head-to-head points. There are no extra points for receptions.
Akers is currently the 14th player off the board, and Ekeler is the 16th.
Akers led the Rams in rushing attempts (145) and rushing yards (625), even though he missed four games and did not see a snap share above 27%. Akers averaged 4.3 yards per carry and led the Rams’ offense in touches with 156.
When McVay had Todd Gurley (2017-2019), Gurley played on at least 60% of the offensive snaps. And although the Rams predict to be a pass-first offense, in the last three seasons, they have ranked seventh (2020), 17th (2019), and sixth (2018) in rushing attempts per game.
This correlates with McVay’s offenses that usually employ three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back on the field. With Stafford under center and Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Jackson, and Tyler Higbee on the field with Akers, it would be ill-advised for defenses to stack the box. Akers, who managed 4.3 yards per attempt playing against the second-most stacked fronts, will surely excel when defenses are no longer able to disregard the passing game.
Ekeler’s value has always been his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. In the last three seasons, he has not rushed for more than 560 yards. In 2020 he had one goal-line carry while Joshua Kelley and Kalen Ballage had nine total. This could be attributed to coaching, and Ekeler could see carries closer to his 2019 campaign, where he had six goal-line carries. But unlike 2019, he is now playing with a more mobile quarterback. Justin Herbert had 20 red zone carries and five rushing touchdowns last season.
But even in the 2019 season, Ekeler had 132 rushing attempts for only 557 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He was formidable in (PPR) fantasy because he also had 92 receptions for 993 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns.
WHO WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
The most important thing is to know your scoring system and what format you are playing.
The Rams will become more vertical, but Akers will still be viable in the running back position. It is unlikely that it will be an even running back by committee format, but Darrell Henderson will be utilized to ‘rest’ Akers. Akers will get the majority of the touches, and if he continues the surge we saw at the end of the season, he is a legitimate RB1 with no lower RB2 status in standard formats.
In the explosive Chargers offense, Ekeler is RB1 in PPR formats. Last season, even with his injuries and misuse, he finished RB26 in PPR formats. There is little threat that Kelley or Justin Jackson will surpass him on the depth chart.
Vote below on which running back you would rather have in fantasy!