Dynasty Decision: Austin Ekeler

Richard Cooling

One of my favorite things about dynasty is the difference in opinion that each individual has when it comes to what to do with high-priced players as they begin to reach that final peak value point.

We all know the pain of holding onto that stud player too long as their production evaporates and your once highly-priced asset is essentially worthless. There are also plenty of cases of players being sold expecting that decline only to go on defying the odds.

I wanted to dive into a few players who are approaching the point at which we expect their value to decline. Should you be holding onto them and making the most of their production. Should you be moving them on and getting a return before their price plummets?

Up next…

Austin Ekeler, RB LAC

Ekeler has taken a somewhat unique path to fantasy stardom. He went undrafted out of Western Colorado in 2017 and earned his way onto the Chargers roster initially as a special teams player and occasional satellite back. It wasn’t until Melvin Gordon’s holdout in 2019 that Ekeler was given a larger workload and wow, did he produce!

Now a consistent performer when healthy, can you rely on him long-term?

Previous Performance

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As mentioned, it is hard to take any great information from the 2017 and 2018 seasons where he was used largely as a satellite back. However, since then he has been nothing but a stud when he is on the field. The 2019 and 2021 speak for themselves. The 2020 season looks disappointing on the face of it but that was due to the fact he only played in ten games. On a per-game basis, Ekeler was still a top-ten back that year.

Situation and Usage

Ekeler’s role and usage have continued to evolve through his five-year career. Having started as the satellite back, the Chargers seemed reluctant to expose a smaller player to goal-line usage. However, that changed this year and he turned into a complete three-down back which resulted in ten rushing TDs from inside the ten-yard line.

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Statistics from Pro Football Reference.

Looking ahead to 2022, it’s hard to see that role changing. The Chargers drafted Larry Rountree in the sixth round last year and also have Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley on the roster. All three of those aren’t going to be taking over the feature back role and it’s hard to see them eating into Ekeler’s usage.

On the financial side, he is playing on a very team-friendly deal that still has two years remaining (per Spotrac) at $7m in 2022 and $7.25m in 2023. Unless his production falls off a cliff or he holds out for a new contract, I can’t foresee any situation where he isn’t the lead back for the next two seasons. He is a workhorse back on what is going to be one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league led by Justin Herbert. That’s a fantastic situation for any player.

Health

As a smaller back, injuries are always going to be more of a concern. However, to date, it is not something that has plagued his career. His only significant injury was a hamstring tear in 2020 which resulted in him spending six weeks on IR. With Ekeler being eased into a feature role in the NFL, he is not the traditional 26-year-old running back. He has fewer hits and miles on his body and should age more gracefully than the traditional running back at his age.

ADP and Trade Value

Ekeler is the RB11 and 25th overall player in January ADP. Recent trades of Ekeler include:

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The Trade Analyzer values him as worth the 1.02 or a little more than a mid 22 first and a 23 first in a 1QB league.

Looking at the value of Ekeler in the trade analyzer compared to the actual recent trades, there is a clear discrepancy. You can’t see the value of the draft picks but unless several of the above trades are including a top-three pick, it appears Ekeler is underpriced in the market currently.

As mentioned, the situation is set up for at least two more seasons of elite production as a top-five back. However, he is currently the RB11. It feels like people are overlooking the win-now potential and instead overvaluing youth at a position that changes drastically in 12 months, let alone 24.

Conclusion

As mentioned in my Nick Chubb Dynasty Decision article, I am always in favor of selling running backs, particularly at this point in their careers. However, in my opinion, the market is currently undervaluing Ekeler. He is a top-five back when healthy and is likely to produce at that level for the next two years. Yet he is currently being valued as a late RB1.

It is a very aggressive win-now move to go and acquire him. However, as a buyer, I love the move. He can give you similar production of the top two or three backs but at about half the price. If you’re a contender and can go and buy him to be your RB2 for a couple of mid-firsts, it is the kind of move that can win you a title. If you’re in a rebuild situation I think he is a hold right now.

As the trade finder shows, his price is reduced as people are in rookie fever mode and fading older backs. If you can hold out for another six months or so and sell as people shift into redraft mode you may be able to get even more in a trade. It is a tough move to make because you’re sitting out the draft but don’t panic sell now as his price is reduced. Hold out for August and people will start thinking about him as a mid to high-end RB1 as he settles in as a top-five redraft pick.

If you’re looking to buy back years, you may be best placed to target one of the young backs coming off an injury and hoping you strike it lucky. JK Dobbins, Cam Akers, and Travis Etienne seem like obvious pivots at the running back position.

If you missed the other parts in my dynasty decisions series go back and read about Nick Chubb or Stefon Diggs.

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Dynasty Decision: Austin Ekeler