Chargers RB Austin Ekeler comes alive in victory over Texans

Austin Ekeler made his fantasy football owners very happy.

The Chargers’ 34-24 win over the Texans wasn’t exactly pretty. However, there were electrifying moments of eloquence.

Houston kept Los Angeles on its toes in the fourth quarter, but the Bolts were able to close the game with a 14-yard scamper from running back Austin Ekeler into the endzone on a play-action bootleg with less than three minutes remaining. 

“I thought Coach Staley said something pretty cool at the end,” Ekeler said. “He was like, ‘If we would have had a blowout win, it wouldn’t have been as meaningful, and I thought that was true. It came down to getting close in the 4th quarter, only up four like ‘Hey we have to go out there’. 

It showed us a lot like ‘Hey, we have to put a drive together, we got a 4th down’. We got it, and we ended up with points to pretty much seal the game and get up two scores. I agree with him. I’m proud of the offense finishing the game like that.”

Entering Week 4, Ekeler had only 80 rushing yards on 32 carries. He also had not found the end zone. This changed Sunday, as the Ekeler finished with 13 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he had six receptions and a receiving touchdown. 

Ekeler’s performance is a shining light for Chargers fans and his fantasy owners since he had been largely absent on the ground in the first three games of the season. 

Quarterback Justin Herbert spoke on the importance of the team’s run game: “It’s huge,” Herbert said. “It all starts with those guys up front, and to have the backs like we do, you got to take advantage of that. We think really highly of our offensive linemen, especially our running  backs, so it was good to see today.”

The run game is a crucial element to a winning team in the NFL, and getting production on the ground going forward will help balance the passing game for Los Angeles. 

“At the end, I thought, I loved our commitment to it,” Staley said on today’s run game. “I thought that that allowed our line to really get into rhythm, which I think helped our passing game. We didn’t get any big splitters today, but I thought we had a lot of productive runs, kind of stayed out of the negative runs, and it felt like we ran the ball really well when we needed to.”

Ekeler is the Bolts’ best asset on the ground, and if he can consistently perform with that sort of firepower he showed today, the Chargers will be one of the most dangerous offenses in the league this season. 

As for the other running back’s performances, Joshua Kelley had four rushes for 15 yards, which came exclusively in the first half. Sony Michel had 11 yards on six carries, all of which came in the second half.

“I feel like we were able to put something together today even though it was still a battle,” Ekeler said. “Ended up getting what I felt like was a team win, so it’s good to get back on the right track. We’re trying to go on a run here, always starts with the first one so now we got one, and we have to do it again.”

Fantasy Football Market Report: Week 2

The most important risers and fallers entering Week 2.

It is amazing how an injury to one player can impact numerous fantasy football rosters. On Sunday night of Week 1, one such injury changed the landscape of the NFC East in general and the Dallas Cowboys in particular.

It has become common practice in the NFL for a team to save money by having a journeyman backup and pray their starter doesn’t get injured. For the Cowboys and QB Dak Prescott, that prayer went unanswered.

Prescott had surgery Monday to repair his throwing thumb with a six- to eight-week timetable for his return.

There were questions surrounding the fantasy stock of Cowboys players before Prescott went down after the team traded Amari Cooper and lost Michael Gallup and James Washington to injury.

Now, everyone’s value on the team comes into question. If the organization decides to go with backup Cooper Rush, who is a backup for a reason, what is CeeDee Lamb’s value? If defenses don’t have to respect the pass, what does that do to the value of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in the run game?

Even the Cowboys kicker is rendered moot.

It’s difficult to believe that one player can make that much of a difference to so many others, but the Cowboys may be dead in the water one game into the season – much to the delight of fans who don’t like the self-proclaimed America’s Team. For fantasy owners, the loss could have devastating implications.

Here is the Week 2 Fantasy Football Market Report.

Projecting realistic stat line for Chargers RB Austin Ekeler

Breaking down how Chargers running back Austin Ekeler might do in the 2022 season.

After a hamstring injury sidelined him for six games in 2020, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler rebounded in a big way with a productive season that saw him set several personal bests.

Ekeler became a worthy Robin to Justin Herbert’s Batman. He led the backfield with 911 yards on the ground while punching in 12 scores, the latter of which was good enough for fifth among league rushers. He added 70 catches through the air, racking up 647 yards and eight more scores, which returned him to fantasy football glory. Most importantly, Ekeler remained healthy to play an entire 16-game slate, hit his career-best in rushing yards, and be crowned the league’s king for total touchdowns.

Even with the arrival of fourth-round pick Isaiah Spiller, Ekeler is the primary safety blanket for Herbert and a valuable weapon that will be asked to produce in various creative fashions. 

So what can Chargers fans expect Ekeler’s next season to look like?

Well, expect the rushing touchdowns to enjoy a bit of positive regression. With Spiller in the fold, Ekeler’s red-zone carries will likely decrease. If Spiller cuts into Ekeler’s early-down role, then it would certainly have an effect on the rushing numbers. With his longest rush going for 28 yards last season, Ekeler will need a fair amount of handoff volume to reach 1,000 yards on the ground.

But since Los Angeles added no notable receivers outside of retaining Mike Williams, Ekeler’s high-volume receiving duties are expected to be preserved. That means a lot of third-down work, where Ekeler will extend routes into the flat and test his quickness against linebackers that will look to eliminate him from the passing game. It’s a safe bet to assume offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will develop plenty of scripted motion and predetermined reads to get the ball in Ekeler’s hands and let him make a play.

Ekeler came seven yards short of a 1,000-yard receiving season two years ago. A Melvin Gordon holdout allowed him to gobble up the majority of backfield duties. According to Player Profiler, Ekeler caught 92 of his 108 targets and averaged 10.8 yards per catch (first in the league). He ran 265 routes on 44.4% of the team’s passing plays.

Let’s compare that to his latest campaign. Ekeler ran more routes (393) on more plays (61.6%) than in 2019. He was targeted the most out of any running back in the NFL, and he racked up most receiving yards, too. Although his receptions “dipped” to 70, that mark still ranked second among running backs. 

The sixth-year back is being deployed more, which is allowing the Chargers to break open defenses and spread the ball around. While Ekeler is being force-fed less than his 2019 breakout, his numbers in the passing game are still grand enough to rank in the upper echelon of dynamic running backs. It helps when Ekeler is astoundingly good at creating for himself – he created 940 yards after evading the first tackle attempt.

Ekeler’s rushing totals should decrease a bit when factoring in Spiller’s gradual emergence. In turn, this may lead to him running over 400 routes and seeing more opportunities as a receiver. He might not score 20 touchdowns again, but Ekeler’s ability to succeed in virtually any role will be a nagging headache for defenses to keep track of.

A rushing line of 200 carries, 850 yards, and eight touchdowns seems reasonable. As a receiver, seeing Ekeler hit the century mark is not a total fantasy, but he will likely fall in between that and his 2021 season. Tab him for around 80 catches, 750 yards, and seven touchdowns.

Fantasy football PPR live draft review

A second PPR draft in mid-May showed a few different patterns emerge.

Much like with our May edition of the Mock Draft Series, out of respect for the hosts of this draft, no reference will be made to its identity so the content remains fresh on their end, nor will the entire draft results be published here.

The blurbs about my team below were provided to the draft host and will appear in a magazine as part of a larger evaluation of the draft. Before getting into my individual picks (we didn’t write up our final four), here are a few observations from an 18-round, 12-team, PPR draft.

  • This group was hyper-aggressive with selecting wide receivers early in the first round, especially atop the draft. Four of the first seven selections were wideouts, including Cooper Kupp going No. 3 overall. Detroit running back D’Andre Swift going 12th was the only thing close to a surprise in the opening round. Three tight ends and six receivers went in the second round. The rest were running backs.
  • The first QB came off the board was Josh Allen was taken with the fifth selection of Round 3, which is the earliest any quarterback has gone in the first three drafts of this series. Justin Herbert went with the final pick in Round 6, followed two spots later by Patrick Mahomes. Only Lamar Jackson (Pick 8:09) would go over the next 24 choices.
  • In the first 100 picks, 5 QBs, 42 RBs, 44 WRs and 9 TEs were taken. During the PPR draft a week prior, we watched 6 QBs, 39 RBs, 45 WRs and 10 tight ends.

Here’s a snapshot of the first 10 rounds broken down by number of positional picks:

1st: 8 RBs, 4 WRs
2nd: 3 RBs, 6 WRs, 3 TEs
3rd: 1 QB, 5 RBs, 4 WRs, 2 TEs
4th: 6 RBs, 6 WRs
5th: 3 RBs, 8 WRs, 1 TE
6th: 1 QB, 4 RBs, 6 WRs, 1 TE
7th: 1 QB, 5 RBs, 6 WRs
8th: 1 QB, 6 RBs, 4 WRs, 1 TE
9th: 5 QBs, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 3 TEs
10th: 1 QB, 4 RBs, 6 WRs, 1 TE

My team

We were asked to write 35 words per pick to give a little insight as to our draft thoughts:

1:02) RB Austin Ekeler, Las Angeles Chargers: It came down to Derrick Henry being dominant one more time, Cooper Kupp as the safest pick here, or Ekeler remaining healthy. I was most concerned about not having a strong enough RB1 if I chose the wideout.

2:11) WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Knowing the drafter at the turn had an elite RB and presuming WR-WR was in play, I went with Evans before another back. It played out as expected. Evans and Keenan Allen were the best remaining WR1s.

3:02) RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns: I hoped Chubb would survive the turn, and my Round 2 decision paid off. Injuries and time-sharing concerns are real, but Chubb is a TD machine and gives me a legit RB1 as my second back.

4:11) WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Commanders: The debate was McLaurin and Courtland Sutton, who went with the very next pick. McLaurin has proven to be mostly QB-proof and makes for a quality WR2, even with Carson Wentz under center.

5:02) RB Damien Harris, New England Patriots: Three drafts, three Harris selections … it’s not that I’m necessarily a huge fan, but he’s a tremendous RB3. Thanks to Harris’ scoring prowess, none of the remaining backs were definitively better options at this stage.

6:11) WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals: A strong draft start afforded this gamble. Hopkins will miss six games, sure, but he’s a borderline WR1 lock in PPR upon his return. It’s not too often you can plug that kind of talent into your WR3 slot.

7:02) QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: Securing my third-ranked passer in Round 7 ahead of the long end of my wait, Mahomes was tough to let pass. While the WR talent regressed, he makes players around him better and will be fine.

8:11) WR Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers: Lazard may emerge as the top fantasy receiver in Green Bay after the Davante Adams trade. It’s worth a late-round wager to find out. At a minimum, he’s adequate depth for me while Hopkins is out.

9:02) TE Austin Hooper, Tennessee Titans: I’m much higher on Hooper’s rebound than most, and since I tend to wait on TEs, this one was a no-brainer. Tennessee’s WR situation is shaky, at best, and Hooper is an ideal fit for the system.

10:11) WR Kenny Golladay, New York Giants: Can the talented Golladay stay on the field? His quarterback situation could hold him back, but I’m willing to bank on Brian Daboll getting the most out of Daniel Jones. The rest is up to Golladay.

11:02) RB Marlon Mack, Houston Texans: I should’ve taken Tyler Allgeier over Golladay. The rookie went at the turn, forcing a pivot to Mack. A whole lotta “meh,” but he has a chance, which is all one can ask for this late.

12:11) TE Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears: Kmet is one of my favorites for a breakout season, and the third-year tight end covers my backside if the Hooper gamble doesn’t pan out. There’s legit TE1 potential in Chicago’s new offense.

13:02) RB Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions: Since the Mack pick could go either way, a safe, reliable veteran was the target, and Williams fits the bill. Plus, D’Andre Swift has proven to be less than a model of health thus far.

14:11) WR Jamison Crowder, Buffalo Bills: In three years with Buffalo, Cole Beasley was a PPR powerhouse out of the slot, and Crowder should have little trouble assuming the role in this pass-heavy system. He provides excellent value-to-upside ratio.

Rounding out the draft: Arizona Cardinals RB Keaontay Ingram (Round 15), PK Daniel Carlson (Round 16), QB Jameis Winston (Round 17) and Miami Dolphins defense/special teams (Round 18).

Fantasy football team previews: AFC West

Huge changes with Denver and Vegas look to turn the division on its head.

The 2022 fantasy football draft season is starting to heat up now that we’ve gone through the height of free agency and all of the chosen rookies have been assigned to their professional home cities.

The landscape has changed a great deal for many franchises after a whirlwind offseason, and our divisional preview series will help you stay on top of all of the changes to date.

AFC divisional previews

East | North | South | West

NFC divisional previews

East | North | South | West

Fantasy Football Market Report: Week 18

Trending in the right and wrong directions to close out the 2021 season.

The 2021 season has been one of the most frustrating in the history of fantasy football. COVID-19 had an impact last season in terms of forcing games to be shifted from one week to another and messing with lineups, but the NFL made it clear prior to the start of this season that, while there could be flexibility within a week to switch games (Tuesday Night Football was a thing again this year), if you had an outbreak, it would be on the individual organizations to play. This time around, the show must go on.

The balance of power shifted completely as outbreaks hit teams. Quarterbacks who had never started before made starts. Entire position rooms went down – it’s hard to win you start your third left tackle or fifth defensive end or cornerback.

Hopefully, by the beginning of the 2022 season, this global nightmare will finally be behind us, but a lot of fantasy owners have seen their seasons come to an abrupt end due to COVID. For those who weren’t able to dodge the loss of key players at key time, just know you weren’t alone.

Here is the Week 18 Fantasy Market Report:

Fantasy Football Risers

RB Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers

Mitchell isn’t a surprise riser – he’s posted five 100-yard rushing games – but in his last four games has become a workhorse like no other back in the league. In those four games, he has 97 carries for 399 yards and has scored three touchdowns. If the 49ers get into the playoffs, which is a distinct possibility, if they’re able to control the ground game like they have with Mitchell, the 49ers will be a hard out in the postseason.

TE Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

There is always discussion about who will fill out the Tight End Mount Rushmore along with Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Darren Waller – the accepted Big 3. Andrews has always been in consideration to be the fourth guy, but he has really stepped it up, especially in the last month. He has 99 catches for 1,276 yards and nine touchdowns, including five 100-yard games, but in the last month he may have cemented his spot. In his last four games, he has caught 35 passes for 465 yards and three touchdowns – planting his Mount Rushmore flag for next season.

WR Cyril Grayson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A guy who didn’t play college football, he only has 10 receptions, but has gained 212 yards, including a 62-yard catch and touchdown receptions of 33 and 50 yards. With Chris Godwin out due to injury and Antonio Brown gone altogether, somebody has to step up, and Grayson may well be that speed option by default. Tom Brady has a history of turning receivers into fantasy darlings, and Grayson could be the next in a long line of them.

RB Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

Ekeler is a guy who is in fantasy lineups almost every week because he’s a poor man’s Alvin Kamara – or at least he was. He has just one 100-yard rushing game and hasn’t hit 70 receiving yards in a game, but it’s the body of work that matters here. He has scored 18 touchdowns (11 rushing, seven receiving), has a touchdown in each of his last six games and, over that six-game span, he has scored nine TDs. If you had Ekeler and didn’t win a fantasy championship, it wasn’t his fault. He gave you what you needed to be successful.

WR Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans

Cooks has become a very poor man’s Davante Adams. Everyone knows the ball is coming his way, but he didn’t have Aaron Rodgers throwing it to him. He has 130 targets (next highest on the Texans is 53). He has 87 receptions (next highest is 30). He has 1,011 yards (next highest is 379). He has six TD receptions (next highest is three). When most would give up on him, over his last three games, he has 22 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns – stepping up for those who showed faith.

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Fantasy Football Fallers

QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

His fantasy contribution as a rusher is negligible. What you get from him is passing yards and garbage-time touchdowns. That hasn’t happened this year, and it has gotten worse as time has gone by. The Falcons didn’t get in the QB run at the start of the draft and were willing to ride it out with Ryan – known for 300-yard games is losses. In his last eight games, he not only doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, Ryan has been under 200 in five of them, hasn’t thrown more than one touchdown in any game, and has no touchdown passes in four contests. Those are the kind of stat lines you get from COVID replacements, not a guy who is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

He has been on this list before, but it has been because the expectations of a player of Elliott’s stature are pronounced. Unlike other running back disappointments, he has played in every game and never got benched in fantasy lineups. Scoring 12 touchdowns is great, but it has come with a price for a top-five pick. He has caught 46 passes, but they have gone for just 284 yards. He has 25 or fewer receiving yards in 13 games. What makes it an issue is that, in his last 10 games, his high for rushing yards is 52. Still in the heavy-lifting portion of his contract, this hasn’t been acceptable for some time. His stock for next year has a floor for the first time.

QB Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts

Fantasy football doesn’t care if you win or lose. Guys like Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford have become fantasy gods by having a brutal defense that provides fluffed numbers late in games (the Roethlisberger Effect). Wentz has a reputation for being capable of posting solid numbers. In his first nine games, he threw two or more touchdowns in seven of them and found his way into a lot of fantasy lineups. In his last seven games, he has one or no TDs and has thrown for 180 or fewer yards in five of them. Those who bought in during the first half of the season have been forced to rethink their position. While his team has been successful, he has stunk out loud from the fantasy perspective.

WR D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

When the season started, it seemed like a lot of the same with Moore. Through his first four games, Moore caught 30 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. That was when things were good. In 12 games, he has caught 56 passes for 672 yards and one touchdown. As bad as things have been, even those averages are above his last three games – 14 catches for 132 yards and no touchdowns. Moore was brought onto fantasy rosters with the knowledge that he was going to have issues at quarterback. But, he has had that before and thrived. This time around? Not so much.

QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Lawrence came in with the can’t-miss franchise tag of a “can’t miss” prospect – the best since Andrew Luck, many postulated. In his first game, he threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns and the expectations suddenly went off the hook. In the 15 games since, he has thrown just seven touchdowns (with 14 interceptions) and has thrown for fewer than 230 yards in 11 of them. In his last 11 games, he has accounted for just four touchdowns. It’s not his fault that the Jaguars are extremely limited talent-wise, but four touchdowns in 11 games is something you expect from a marginal tight end, not the No. 1 overall pick.

RB Austin Ekeler among players on first injury report of 2021

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was a non-participant on Wednesday.

The Chargers had their first practice of the week in preparation for the regular season opener against Football Team.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s practice injury report for Los Angeles, courtesy of the team’s official Twitter account:

The most notable player who was a non-participant was running back Austin Ekeler. He worked off to the side with trainers during the portion of practice open to reporters, per The Athletic’s Daniel Popper.

The severity of his injury remains to be seen and it could be precautionary for all that we know, but it’s worth noting that Ekeler missed six games last season with a hamstring injury.

The status of Ekeler will be closely monitored the next two days. If whatever reason, he can’t go then the team will turn to Justin Jackson to get the start, while Joshua Kelley and rookie Larry Rountree back him up.

Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was a full participant, and head coach Brandon Staley said that he is trending towards playing this weekend.