Dynasty Value Study: Austin Ekeler, RB LAC

Tom Burroughs

In this series, the writers here at Dynasty League Football will be diving deep into the current dynasty value of a specific player. This can actually be quite a challenge considering player value in a dynasty league can be impacted by everything from weekly production during the season to decisions players make off the field in the spring and summer months.

Luckily for you, we offer a number of valuable tools here at Dynasty League Football to measure a player’s value and we’ll be taking you all through many of them throughout this Dynasty Value Study series. Let’s dig in!

Austin Ekeler may be in for an interesting dynasty off-season. His value arguably has the potential to change more than any other individual player. He could vault into the first several rounds of startups if the stars happen to align, or fall into the triple digits as a one-hit wonder running back.

Elite production

Ekeler has sat firmly behind Melvin Gordon on the Chargers depth chart since being brought on as an undrafted free agent before the 2017 season. Despite his limited opportunity, he carved out a role in the passing attack, tallying 39 receptions (19th) on 53  targets (20th) for 404 yards (16th) in 2018. He was labeled as a “change-of-pace” back who could spell Gordon when needed. His limited starting opportunities were in 2018 were disappointing and cited as a reason he would never be a lead back. His ADP reflected this in the 2019 off-season, steadily dropping from January to July.

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But news out of Chargers training camp changed this suddenly. Gordon’s planned hold out created great intrigue about who may step in to fill the lead role with speculation between Ekeler, Justin Jackson, or a potential trade. It is fair to say Ekeler blew away the competition and all expectations.

In the first month of the season before Gordon returned, Ekeler was the RB2 and averaged 26.8 PPR points per game (PPG), only 1.2 points shy of Christian McCaffrey’s league-leading pace. Even with Gordon returning to primary duties, Ekeler finished the season as the RB4 (19.4 PPG) with an impressive stat line:

  • 108 targets, 92 receptions, 993 receiving yards, eight receiving TDs
  • 132 rushes, 552 rushing yards, three rushing TDs

Despite this elite performance, his ADP still comfortably resides outside of the top 70 and has been trending downwards since November.

Regression candidate?

Digging into his numbers, the main outliers that stick out as due for regression is his receiving TDs (eight) and possibly his catch percentage (85% is high but not eye-popping). But even if this were in line with expectations (four to five), he would remain firmly in the top ten of RBs. His yards/reception were consistent with other pass catching RBs, including David Johnson and Miles Sanders, Dalvin Cook, and Aaron Jones.

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*Per airyards.com.

As shown above, his yards after the catch is proportional to his receiving yards comparable to players with similar production. This supports the notion that he was not dependent on a few big plays, but rather steady volume. Also, it is encouraging to see positive air yards and ADOT (Average Depth of Target), even if these are not particularly reliable statistics for RBs. The main stat and question that puts his value in doubt is his targets and role moving forward, which brings up the issue of contracts and the team’s plan for the position…


The first domino to fall will probably be if the team reaches an agreement with Gordon or if they let him walk in free agency. If he does leave, this vacates ~15-20 touches per game.

Ekeler enters free agency himself as a restricted free agent, meaning the Chargers will need to match any offer provided to him on the open market. While we do not know if they are prioritizing him, they may want some continuity in the backfield assuming they let Gordon walk. It would be unprecedented for a sub-200 lbs undrafted RB to command top dollar at a lower-paid position, nearly ensuring the contract would be reasonable for the team to match.

The closest recent comps would be Dion Lewis (four-year, $19.8m contract in 2018 with the Titans) and Giovani Bernard (two years, $9.8m in 2019 with the Bengals). These contracts have not exactly been home runs and the incoming draft class will further deflate his value. This suggests he can be retained by the Chargers for a reasonable $3-5m/year.

The final barrier is the draft. This is a deep and talented RB class which may wreak havoc across the fantasy landscape. If the Chargers invest a pick in the first day or two of the draft, questions will undoubtedly arise about Ekeler’s role. The good news is we will already be through free agency and know the contract he receives. A drafted RB will lower his ceiling considerably, but he has been a top 20 fantasy contributor even with Gordon receiving 20+ touches per game. He can maintain his role and excel regardless of who else is in the backfield.

Dynasty value

Ekeler’s value has never been consistent with his production. This is typical of undrafted free agents and players who do not command the lion’s share of touches in their backfield. The graph below shows the discrepancy in his points per game with his average ADP and ranking throughout his career. This is typically a good indicator of a player to buy since they have notable history of consistently outperforming cost.

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But given his contract situation and the moving parts described above, his value will be a roller coaster this off-season and specific buying windows will appear.

The best time to buy is right now when he remains priced outside the top 50 in ADP and is in the 20s of RBs. This is his floor of production and he will have a role to produce regardless of situation heading into 2020 (and beyond with an extension). If Gordon leaves and they re-sign Ekeler in free agency, his ADP will skyrocket pre-draft, and purchasing him will become much riskier. So if you do not act now, it may be worth biding time until after the draft. It is highly unlikely the Chargers head into 2020 with only Ekeler and Jackson in the backfield considering they both weigh less than 200 lbs, so chances are they draft someone. Regardless of draft capital, any player who weighs over 210 lbs will create a narrative that the rookie will take over lead-back duties. This will deflate Ekeler’s value again and create a new buying window before training camp.

The DLF trade calculator places his value in the mid first-round pick range. Given the hype of this rookie class, a late first or package of second round picks may be enough to acquire him. This draft class is shaping up to be excellent, but its depth has already taken hits with players staying for senior year. More value will shift with the NFL draft, and capitalizing on the value of these picks now can pay off later.

Data courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, airyards.com and playerprofiler.com.

Thank you for reading. You can follow me @FF_TomB. I am always happy to answer questions and chat all things fantasy. Stay up to date on all your dynasty needs at dlfstg02.dynastyleaguefootball.com.

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