Fantasy playoffs are around the corner and things are getting wild around the NFL. If your reading this, congrats! That likely means you’re in contention or your so dedicated that even though you’re out, you’re still playing spoiler. Either way, I’m happy you’re here. All year I’ve seemingly found myself reading material that says RBs don’t matter. If you’re a fan of this series, you know that I don’t believe that’s true. Just ask anyone who hung the fate of their team on Melvin Gordon’s amazing 2018 campaign. Which isn’t over yet but likely is for the remainder of the fantasy season.
By the name drop, I’m sure you can guess which team will be profiled in this weeks report. The Los Angeles Chargers. Week 12 brought some devastation for Gordon owners as they watched him sustain a grade two MCL sprain. Tough blow. But The Chargers are in the thick of a playoff wildcard race and they look extremely good right now. With that said, people are really buzzing about Austin Ekeler and his expectations in Gordon’s absence. Justin Jackson is also making some waves as we got a small sample of him on Sunday as well. Can either of these guys produce anything close to Gordon’s stat line or are we just in line to see Philip Rivers throw for 50 times a game? I think the answer is clear, but lets hit the recap and data just to be sure.
Fantasy Football Rushing Report: Chargers
Week 12 Recap
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) November 25, 2018
The Chargers took on a struggling Arizona Cardinals team this past Sunday. The results were pretty much expected on all sides of the ball for the Chargers. Melvin Gordon had himself a great half of football as he totaled 15 total touches for 63 yards from scrimmage and two rushing TDs. The offense looked balanced and as always Gordon was one of the centerpieces of the game plan. That was until a third-quarter reverse play that went awry and found Melvin Gordon suffering a knee injury happened, ending his day. Once he went down, it was Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson that handled the groundwork.
Ekeler mixed in all day and ended with 103 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches with one rushing TD. His TD coming late in the third quarter after Melvin Gordon’s departure. Rookie Justin Jackson found himself some playing time towards the ends of the game and totaled 13 snaps, seven of which he had rushing attempts on. Jackson ended the day with seven touches for 57 yards on the ground. The game got out of hand for the Cardinals and the Chargers benched Rivers and the starters after they went up 42-10 going into the fourth quarter.
Philip Rivers and company got off to a slow start in this game but stuck to a balanced approach. The Chargers posted 414 total yards of offense, 178 of which were found on the ground on 30 rushing plays. After the game, it was announced that Gordon. had sustained a grade two MCL sprain and will miss time. However, How much time is still yet to be determined. That leaves us wondering who is the guy will be for the Chargers high powered offense in Gordon’s absence.
What The Data Tells Us
Ekeler burst on to the scene in his rookie campaign last year and he has been a weapon for the Chargers since. After posting 539 yards and five TDs from scrimmage on just 74 touches in 2017, it was clear the Chargers had found a gem of an RB to help out stud Melvin Gordon. Now that Gordon is away for some time, the Chargers may need to lean on Ekeler a bit more than usual. The question is, can he handle that level of work?
The chart above shows that Ekeler has been incredible at rushing the football between the tackles. He’s well above the league average at every area of the line. The only issue is that the sample size for this chart is very small. Ekeler only has 70 attempts on the season averaging to about 6.3 per game. On those 70 attempts, he does have 409 yds and one rushing TD. Amounting to 5.8 YPC. His efficiency is very promising despite limited snaps behind the likes of Melvin Gordon. He currently ranks as the RB29 in PPR formats and averages 10.4 fantasy PPG in 2018.
The place that Ekeler separates himself is in the passing game. He currently has 32 receptions on 39 targets for 354 rec yards and three rec TDs. Sure, 32 of 39 is impressive, but what he has done with those 32 receptions is even more incredible. In 2018, Ekeler has an aDOT of 2.20 and only 67 Air Yards. Meaning his targets and catches are at short lengths or dump offs for the most part. The impressive part is his 4.27 RACR and 221 YAC. His efficiency as a pass catcher is flat out insane. He is incredible at creating yards for himself after catching the football.
Seventh-round rookie pick Justin Jackson is a wild card. The only thing we know for sure is that he will be a part of the Chargers rushing attack in some capacity in Gordon’s absence. In week 12 we saw him come in and post seven attempts for 57 yards on the ground. Not bad, but most of his work coming after the Chargers forced the Cardinals to wave the white flag. He also saw zero targets on 13 snaps.
The Chargers drafted Jackson in the spring as a very promising prospect. He totaled 1142 rushing attempts for 5440 rush yards and 41 total rushing TDs in his four seasons at Northwestern. The chart above shows his metrics coming into the draft this spring. He profiled in the 75th percentile for all rookie RBs and was above the average Z-score for current NFL RBs with a 0.7. He was a promising prospect having a 129.9 SPARQ score, ranking 13th among incoming RBs.
Jackson has the profile as a decent between the tackles runner but lacked pass-catching production in college. In his time at Northwestern he only had 858 receiving yards and one receiving TD. Those numbers aren’t horrible, they just indicate he was never used as a pass catcher. Likely one of the reasons he fell to the seventh round of the draft. He’s only seen 25 total snaps this season but is fully expected to see a considerable uptick with Gordon out in the coming weeks.
Gordon is leaving 71% of offensive snaps behind with his knee injury. Those snaps won’t necessarily be up for grabs either. Its expected that Ekeler walks into a much-increased workload in the coming weeks but that comes with a few concerns. One being, we saw him operate as the lead back in week seven and it wasn’t anywhere near what we had hoped. He had just 16 total touches for 68 yards from scrimmage. That was mostly due to the game script and offensive struggles for the Chargers in week seven.
The Chargers take on the Steelers, who boast the ninth-ranked rushing defense this season, in week 13. Both offenses are extremely high powered and will likely be all over the field. Before his injury, Gordon averaged 125 yards from scrimmage and 19 touches per game. That’ll be a tall task for either guy to match. Gordon is just a different animal. However, Ekeler gets the edge going forward as he’s been in the offense for two seasons now, has positive statistics from scrimmage, and knows the offense well. Jackson is a “wait and see” candidate. His athletic attributes warrant a stash on your roster.
Look for Ekeler be the fantasy beneficiary of increased touches and versatility in the passing game. The Chargers will look to get him in space where he succeeds and contribute to their balanced approach. Jackson should be involved in some capacity but mostly as a runner. Keep in mind the Steelers are only allowing an average of 101 yds on the ground though so don’t expect too much from him in fantasy. Ekelers skill set will likely be better suited for the potential game script this week. Good luck!
Thanks for stopping by and you can reach me on Twitter @JesseReevesFF