by Nick Ercolano
May 19, 2020
Let's move out to LA, where we have last year's fantasy RB6 in Austin Ekeler.
Last year's line: 132-557-3 | 108-92-993-8
I ain't gonna say I called this shit, but
Tons of moving parts here for Ekeler's outlook in 2020, compared to last year. Let's break it down from front to byke.
Let's start with Melvin. He held out the first four weeks, but idt we'll ever get that type of usage from Ekeler again. I think it's smarter to look at what happened when Gordon was byke. From week 4 on, Ekeler was still the RB8 in half ppr.
Pretty simple assessment here: Gordon dominated the groundwork, Ekeler through the air. Gordon does leave 204 touches open in this backfield & most importantly, 15 GL carries. As you can see, Ekeler scored a total of 0 rushing touchdowns when Gordon returned which is pretty crazy. He scored three in the first 4 games:
We'll come byke to this.
Ekeler get his extension. Four years, $24.5M - $15M guaranteed congrats to the gawd. Nothing really to say here other than the obvious that he's going to be a big part of their game plan for the next 2-3 years for sure.
Now, they have a new QB under center. I'm going to assume it's Tyrod for at least the first half of the season. In my opinion it's bad news for Ekeler, but not as bad as most people are making it out to be. The same narrative I spoke about with Saquon Barkley in Part I of this series, where mobile QBs do just that... they run when they're under pressure rather than look for the closest dump-off. Rivers might as well have been paralyzed from the waist down with the amount he runs. So this is going to hurt his volume a bit, but you have to remember, that they basically sign Ekeler as a weapon - they have a ton of designed plays for him - the wheel route he runs is more deadly than corona. Once Gordon returned to the lineup, Ekeler lined up out wide or from the slot on over 33% of his snaps. That's a significant number for a running back.
So, while it will be a slight hit to his receiving numbers, it's not like Ekeler is Fournette who literally finished last year with an aDOT of 0.11 - everything was a dumpoff - he's a receiver as well. Also, I don't expect the Chargers to be a very good team overall this year, maybe 7 wins, if that, so plenty of passing situations.
They draft Joshua Kelley in the 4th, and I'm by no means crazy about Kelley as a prospect. My comp for Kelley is Mike Davis, someone who can do exactly what's asked of him - he can contribute in all situations but isn't great anywhere.
The other thing to note here is that Justin Jackson was hurt for the majority of the 2019 season. So, while neither of these guys is stepping into the Melvin Gordon role by themselves, most of his touches will be funneled to them.
So, overall, I think Ekeler's targets/receptions go down, but the floor is still super high in that category, I do think his rushing totals go up for sure - maybe around the 160-170 mark as he's now the main back here, not featured but 15-17 touches/game with 4-5 coming through the air is more than enough to be an RB1. And the holes should be a bit wider with a mobile QB under center.
The biggest question mark for me is what happens to the GL work. Gordon and Ekeler saw 24 GL carries between the two of them. That's a huge number. JJ didn't get a single one, so he's clearly not the guy for them there. So, even if Ekeler and Kelley split down there, expect it to be at least 50/50 if not moreso in favor of Ekeler, so I'd expect more than his career-high of 3 rushing touchdowns in 2019.
Zamn, sorry I took so long on Ekeler, just a lot going on there.
Aaron Jones is another really interesting back for fantasy because of his ridiculous TD total last year. 16 on the ground, 3 through the air.
Most people simply say, well, his TDs are going to regress... worst piece of analysis you'll hear all off-season. If he scores 15 rushing TDs this year, he regressed... into another top-5 fantasy season.
The big thing we need to look at, well two things are 1.
This is a big yikes moment. It makes sense. Only Michael Thomas had a higher target share on his team than Davante Adams did in 2019. So, when Adams is gone, the targets have to go somewhere. The receiving games were massive without Adams for Jones. So, those games are adding about 12-15 receptions, 150 yards and a touchdown or two onto his receiving pace, can't bank on that for the future.
Now, the rushing touchdowns. Aaron Jones has been the single best GL back in the NFL since he has entered. You want to talk about regression, his efficiency isn't regressing. He's turned 31 career 10zone carries in 19 TDS (61.3%) that's the highest of any RB and it's not close. Most backs struggle clipping the 50% mark on GL carries, this dude is above 60% on carries inside the 10.
I do like the fact that this is the 2nd year in Matt LaFleur's offense. And for all the shit we give him, he led them to a 13-3 record. So the team will be good again, and the GL opps wil be there.
The question becomes - what's A.J. Dillon's role here. The Packers inexcusably drafted A.J. Dillon in the 2nd round of the draft. Say it's for the future, Jones and J-Will's contract are both up, that's nonsense. Running backs in the 2nd are rarely values, now your drafting one that high to replace someone a year from now? Just take one later or wait until next year if that's the case.
Regardless, he's there and you can't ignore the draft capital. Lots of comps to Derrick Henry too, and having Matt Lafleur coached Derrick Henry, there's something to be said there. They didn't draft a wide receiver somehow, it tells you that this is very much going to be a run-first offense. And there's going to be a rotation back there, which is why Jones makes me nervous and is listed as my RB14. Jones was only barely a 60% snap guy last year, and there were literally "Jamaal Williams games" -- that should never be a scheme phrase for any NFL offense, but now you add a third back to the mix who they really like and could take away from Jones' GL carries? Idk mane. Jones is going to be too inconsistent for me to consider drafting him as my RB1 in 2020. If he's not going very late 2nd, early 3rd, I'm probably avoiding.
In my opinion, there's a massive tier drop after Jones. Those top 14 backs, I want two of them as my RB1s and 2s.
Oh boy, Fournette is a fun subject to talk about. I could probably sit here for 22 hours and just say 100 targets, 100 targets, over and over and over again, and that would just about sum up Uncle Lenny's 2019 season. No, if I could describe Lenny's 2019 season in one tweet, maybe the best tweet of 2020:
This was the true, real version of "volume is king" coming to fruition in fantasy football. Volume is king. What a great statement. That's a thing right? Did I make that statement up? First to say that right?
Here's what most people don't understand. If you ride the volume is king wave on a player for a full year, and they're wildly inefficient, that plays itself out over the long run. You don't keep feeding a 3.6 YPC guy the ball 300 times, look back at the previous year and say, let's do it again.
Here's what I needed to find. I could've just left you out to rot and told you that without big facts to solidify it BUT FUCK THAT we aint these other bullshit ass fantasy football creators this is BIG FACTS GOTTA EAT. So, here's what I did:
Follow along with me: Wanted to find RBs that have had big workloads, been inefficient on them and what happened the following year. Common sense dictates the workload lightens, unfortunately, common sense isn't very common in the NFL.
So, using Rotoviz's Screener I looked at:
I could've saved us all a bunch of time and just told you that Jay Gruden is now the OC in Jacksonville and he signed what is ultimately the death blow to Fournette's RB1 possibility in 2020, in the form of Chris Thompson. Thompson and Gruden obviously very close from their time in Washington, and with Fournette taking all the 1 yard runs up the middle, Thompson's likelihood of getting hurt this year goes down from 150% certainty to around 120%, but at least it's lower. They should literally give him 0 carries this year. But Fournette is getting nowhere close to 100 targets again in 2020, that number will be chopped by like 40-50 targets I'd bet. Laviska Shenault is gonna be a true playmaker around the LOS and Thompson will take a lot of passing work.
Yes, Fournette is due for positive TD regression I guess, but I'm not expecting more than like 1100 YFS and maybe 7-8TDs this year - that's not worth 3rd round draft capital. You'll get the same production with probably more receptions from a guy like Le'Veon Bell, David Montgomery, I know you all want me to say David Johnson but that shit ain't happening!!!! 2-3 rounds later. Leonard Fournette in the 3rd makes me want to puke like a margarita made with orange juice.
As I said, there was a huge tier gap after Aaron Jones - so if Fournette in the 3rd makes me puke, so do all of these guys after him.
by Nick Ercolano
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