Ekeler and Jacobs are two sides of the same coin. One is a three-down semi-workhouse without much rushing volume that often plays in the slot; the other a lock for 285 carries and eight rushing touchdowns, but with little receiving upside. This article breaks down both of their situations and will attempt to see who is the better fantasy back since they’re ECR and ADP are so close together.
And to clarify in standard Jacobs is the easy pick, while Ekeler is an even easier pick in PPR. But this discussion pertains to half-ppr only.
Background of Ekeler
Austin Ekeler was the RB6 last year (RB4 in PPR), predominantly because of his absurd amount of targets (108). Ekeler was also very efficient, leading all running backs in yards per touch (6.9). He’s listed as a half back, but anything about his usage suggests the opposite. The runner went out wide often but ceased most goal-line work to the now gone Melvin Gordon. With Melvin Gordon, Ekeler didn’t have enough rushing volume to cement himself as an RB in the tier of other pass-catchers such as Kamara and McCaffery. The dilemma of Ekeler’s fantasy football outcome is an interesting one. Melvin Gordon, the touchdown and rushing work vulture, left to join a promising Denver team. But even more important, is the departure of Philip Rivers.
Rivers’ tendencies made Ekeler the PPR beast he was last year, targeting running backs on 29.4% (NFL average 21%) of passing attempts last year. The immobile hall-of-Famer struggled to avoid pressure and frequently dumped off the ball to his backs. Ekeler new starting QB targets RBs at a much lower rate (15%); the RB will need more slot work. Projecting Ekeler’s stats and fantasy impact is hard because the passing volume that made him elite will take a hit, but the rushing opportunity will increase.
Although Melvin Gordon is gone, the Chargers still have a plethora of running backs behind Ekeler: Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson. We know Ekeler isn’t the workhorse running back to rush the ball 275+ times, so its easy to see why the depth at running back is an issue for Ekeler. We can easily project that Ekeler will get all receiving RB work and will get worked into passing plays. Yet, another problem is that both Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley have redzone ability and can steal touchdowns from Ekeler as Melvin Gordon did.
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With Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert as the Chargers’ QB options next year it’s unlikely they remain the pass-heavy team they were under Rivers. Tyrod Taylor only averaged 27 passing attempts in his only full starting season in Buffalo. For reference, last year the Tennesee Titans were the lowest passing offense with 27. A drop off from the Chargers 37 attempts last year to an abysmal 27 attempts would cap Ekeler’s receiving volume and ceiling. And Herbert is a raw rookie who wouldn’t have many more passing attempts than Taylor.
Assuming Ekeler takes half of all rushing attempts, we can project him to have around 200 carries. Sadly, the loss of receiving work counteracts his gain in the rushing game. It’s hard to give Ekeler many rushing touchdowns because of the other backs or elite target numbers because of his QB situation.
Ekeler, at best, will be a mini workhorse with low touchdown upside. Despite this, he’ll still be reliable, but instead of being the mini Christian McCaffrey he was in 2019 expect him to take a step back and perform more in line as a mini Alvin Kamara. Or, to the extreme, a more volume and more efficient version of Devin Singletary.
Projections: 200 carries, 810 yards, 3tds, 64 receptions, 684 yards, 5tds- 229.3
It’s hard to see why Jacobs isn’t a first-round pick, 1150 yards with 8tds in only 13 games. Moreover, Josh Jacobs is probably one of the most elusive running back in the league. He was third in break way runs, eighth in evaded tackles, sixth in juke rate, and was on pace for over 1300 rushing yards! The only thing stopping the Alabama product from joining the top echelon of fantasy running backs is his receiving work. Resigning pass-catching RB Jalen Richard and drafting another pass-catching back in Lynn Bowden hurts his target numbers going into next year.
Jacobs had a difficult rookie season with an average of 6.7 defenders in the box and a 33% stacked box rate (highest in the league). On the plus side, offensive addition Henry Ruggs will help ease the pressure off Jacobs and more importantly the Raiders have the sixth best offensive line in the league. This Vegas team is built around Josh Jacobs and the run game. Also there is a lot of optimism when talking about his target numbers. Mike Maycock came out and said that he wanted to get Josh Jacobs more involved in the passing game. Also, many beat writers report that the Raiders will prioritize getting the ball into Jacobs’ hands. Additionally, Deandre Washington is now a Chief, freeing up 41 targets for the Raider running backs. Of course Jalen Richard will still get his passing game volume and some more of Washington’s former volume, but Jacobs will get a piece as well. Lynn Bowden shouldn’t really be viewed as a threat to Jacobs as he doesn’t have a clarified role. A crazy stat is that when the Raiders won in 2019 Jacobs had 24.2 total touches, while when the Raiders lost in 2019 Jacobs only had 16.7 total touches. There is a clear correlation between winning and losing football games and Jacobs volume. The Raider’s front office know this hence all the reports coming out saying they want to get him more involved. If Jacobs just gets an extra two receptions per game he would be an easy top 7 fantasy back in half-ppr. He is one of the safest picks with his rushing volume but also has the upside of someone like Dalvin Cook. Another benefit is that he doesn’t have the mileage that some of the top running backs have such as Derrick Henry, and isn’t likely to get injured (29% injury probability per player profiler). He is a complete smash pick and could be one of the only true three-down workhorses left in the NFL.
Projections: 293 carries, 1,450 yards, 9tds, 51 receptions, 423 yards, 3tds- 284.8 fantasy points
Conclusion: After a bit of research and thought-out projections, Jacobs is clearly the better pick in any situation. When I first went into researching I didn’t expect to see such a clear path of passing volume for Jacobs. While Ekeler’s situation from 2019 is dominated by negative departures, Jacobs situation only got better. Even if you draft a low reception player such as Nick Chubb or Derrick Henry, Jacobs is still the better pick because of how much more upside he has. The kid could legit finish as a top 3 RB, while Ekeler will need two QBs to switch up their play style and one of two back up running backs get hurt. I’m not saying Ekeler will be bad this year, but rather Jacobs is just that good of a pick.
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