Running Back Austin Ekeler broke out last season for the Los Angeles Chargers in Melvin Gordon’s stead. Gordon held out for a big-money deal, which he did not get from L.A., and is currently testing the open market. Ekeler, however, did sign a deal to stay with the Los Angeles Chargers. While it isn’t a big-money deal, it is enough to give us a good glimpse into how the Chargers view Ekeler, and how we should view their backfield for fantasy football in 2020.
Austin Ekeler’s Contract Terms
The Chargers and Ekeler agreed to a 4-year, $24.5 million contract on March 6, with $15 million guaranteed. This isn’t the biggest contract around; it’s a far cry from the mega contracts handed out to the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, and Todd Gurley. However, it does solidify Ekeler as a key part of their backfield while leaving a lot of question marks about usage.
What Austin Ekeler’s Contract Means for the L.A. Chargers
The Chargers gave Ekeler part-time money. If Ekeler sees the end of the contract, he will earn an average of just over $6 million a year. While it’s difficult to measure running back salaries (most good backs are on their rookie deals), his average salary sits between Jerick McKinnon’s $7.5 million per year, and Duke Johnson’s $5.2 million per year. That gives you an idea as to where Ekeler sits in the overall RB landscape: he’s a guy. Ekeler is good, but he isn’t break-the-bank good. The Chargers left themselves open to adding a running back to a depth chart that currently contains Ekeler, third-year RB Justin Jackson, and RFA Troymaine Pope. Los Angeles currently carries the twelfth-most cap space and have high picks in every round. The Chargers could snag a free agent RB or take a day two back to become Ekeler’s 1B.
What Austin Ekeler’s Contract Means for Fantasy Football
For the Los Angeles Chargers, however, Ekeler presents a large and valid part of their backfield rotation. Despite this assertion on my part that he won’t become the lead back, I don’t want to minimize Ekeler’s potential contribution to your fantasy football rosters. He’s a top-ten back for 2020, and a lot of that has to do with his non- traditional RB usage. Ekeler ran the sixth-most running back pass routes last season, with Ekeler often lining up in the slot. The Chargers ran both 21 and 22 personnel (“two-back sets”) at higher than league-average rates last year, with only three teams coming out in 21 personnel (two RB, one TE) more often. Two of those teams, the 49ers, and Vikings, did it through fullback utilization, which the Chargers do not have.
Ekeler will have a rotational spot in the 2020 Los Angeles Chargers backfield no matter who they select in the draft, but he will retain his fantasy football value no matter who they add. He averaged 99.1 yards per contest after Melvin Gordon re-established himself as the Chargers’ #1 running back. Ekeler averaged 5.1 catches and 60.8 receiving yards per game in the 1B role, which gives him an amazing floor and speaks to his usage in 2020 no matter who else is in the backfield. Draft him with confidence in the mid-second round, especially in PPR or half-PPR leagues.