The DLF Mailbag: What is Austin Ekeler Worth?

Matt Price

Welcome to the DLF mailbag; the article series that answers *your* questions in long-form. It can be difficult to give a detailed response to your questions on Twitter so this series is designed to do just that. Each week we’ll do a deep-dive on the questions you have been rolling around in your dynasty mind. If you have something you’d like discussed in this format, please send me a message on twitter @MattPriceFF and include #DLFmailbag in your tweet. Let’s get into it!

@thekaceykasem asks…

What is Austin Ekeler worth?

Once we knew Melvin Gordon was going to hold out last off-season, I was squarely on the fence about how productive Austin Ekeler could be in 2019. We all know volume is king but there were two things that gave me hesitation.

  1. In 2018, Ekeler’s ceiling games came when Gordon also played which led me to question his ability to maintain efficiency as a lead back.
  2. I’ve always been a big fan of Justin Jackson’s game dating back to Northwestern and he was significantly cheaper than Ekeler was last off-season. It seemed possible this would have been more of a split backfield than the community largely believed.

Neither of these things ended up mattering and Ekeler was a fantasy beast all season long, especially in three of the first four weeks of the season before Gordon returned from his holdout. From weeks 1-16, Ekeler finished as the RB4 in both overall scoring (291.1) and in points per game (19.4), behind only Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, and Dalvin Cook.

ADP

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Ekeler’s ADP has risen 100 spots to 46 overall since July 2019. In that same time frame, he moved from RB46 to RB18. Currently coming off the board in the late fourth round of startups. Just ahead of him are Todd Gurley and Chris Carson. Just behind him are Le’Veon Bell and Devin Singletary.

Trade Value

Using the DLF Trade Analyzer we can see that Ekeler is currently roughly equal to the 2020 1.07 rookie pick. I actually think that’s just about a perfect valuation of Ekeler at this moment in time. As I see it right now, There’s a top tier of four-six players in this class and if I’m a contender I think I’d pay the 1.07 rookie pick for Ekeler depending on roster construction because you’re unlikely to get one of D’Andre Swift, JK Dobbins, Cam Akers, or Jonathan Taylor with the seventh pick. I’d certainly be more comfortable paying somewhere in the 1.10-1.12 range, but I don’t think it’s an unfair ask from a trade partner.

On the flip side, if I am in a rebuilding year and not planning to compete in 2020, I’d also say that’s a fair sale price, especially if I’m looking to take a wide receiver instead of a running back. While you’re unlikely to get Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb at that spot, there will be plenty of great options for you in the middle of the first round.

We all know that market value varies wildly from league to league, however, so let’s also take a look at the DLF Trade Finder to see some deals that have actually taken place on MyFantasyLeague. For this exercise, I’m much more interested in trades where Ekeler is the only asset on that side and I only want to look at ones that have occurred since the end of the 2019 fantasy season. Those filters yield the following trade results:

The second and fourth options are screaming deals and ones I would gladly pay to acquire Ekeler. I’d rather have him than any 2020 second, and in a one quarterback league, I’d prefer him over Wentz.

The first deal is interesting. You’re essentially buying back three years of age at running back for a formerly elite option at the position and an old, but still productive, wide receiver. I think this move is fine but if you’re competing in 2020, there is some risk. If Bell escapes Adam Gase and ends up in a better offense that will use his talents, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for him to be more valuable than Ekeler at some point next season. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jones and I do think he still has another year or two of fringe WR2 production left (side note: I like the entire Detroit Lions offense as a buy this off-season). If Bell stays in New York, then the Ekeler side likely comes out on top in this deal.

The third deal is one where I would be trading away Ekeler. It may be my own personal, well-documented love of Cooper Kupp, but in my eyes, he is a fringe fantasy WR1. Sims and the low-end picks don’t really move the needle much but they are a nice bonus on top of Kupp who I’d prefer straight up to Ekeler. Kupp is extremely safe and Ekeler carries some risk.

2020 outlook

I mentioned it briefly above, but to recap, I believe the best possible scenario for Ekeler in 2020 is Gordon playing elsewhere and the Chargers not bringing in a top running back in free agency or spending high-end draft capital on one in April. If Gordon is back or they do add a significant piece, then he is a little less attractive, but his involvement in the passing game will keep his weekly production afloat enough that it won’t be a total waste of an investment. I’m a buyer of Austin Ekeler this off-season and I’ll happily spend a late first in the upcoming draft to acquire him.

That will do it for this week’s edition of the DLF mailbag. If you’d like myself or another writer to take a deep dive into one of your questions, please reach out on twitter.

matt price