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Game-By-Game Projections: Austin Ekeler (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Dan Harris | @danharris80 | Featured Writer
Jun 16, 2020

Austin Ekeler could be a borderline RB1 in 1/2 PPR leagues when things are said and done

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Few players offer as much difficulty in creating their 2020 projections as does Austin Ekeler. He had 108 targets and 92 receptions for 993 receiving yards last season, all second in the NFL among running backs behind Christian McCaffrey. He scored eight – EIGHT – receiving touchdowns and had four catches of at least 20 air yards, both of which led the position. Although his receiving numbers were certainly going to come down, when you add the swap of Philip Rivers for Tyrod Taylor, everything about the 2020 season screams massive regression for Ekeler in the receiving game. And yet, with Melvin Gordon gone, he should re-assume lead back duties, on a team that will likely lean on its running game and defense. In short, projecting a talented running back like Ekeler whose value was tied so heavily to enormous receiving totals but who now should take over as the lead back and has a new quarterback is tricky, to say the least. But that’s why we’re here.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of how things could play out for Ekeler this season.

You can find our entire 2020 Player Game-By-Game Projection series here.

Note: Fantasy scoring based on FantasyPros standard scoring methodology found here.

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Week 1: at Bengals
With a truncated offseason and going against a rookie quarterback, albeit a talented one, Los Angeles should be content to rely on its running game and defense and play conservatively (which will become a theme this season). Ekeler should see the lion’s share of the running back touches and have some success. It’s unlikely that either team will be at their best in Week 1 but Ekeler’s fantasy value will be saved by a rushing touchdown.

Predicted Stat line:  16 carries, 59 yards, 1 rush TD; 3 receptions, 21 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 2: vs. Chiefs
The Chargers’ conservative philosophy is forced to go out the window as they trail for most of the game. Ekeler saw 23 targets and caught 17 passes for 151 yards in Los Angeles’ two meetings against the Chiefs last year. Those games were hardly atypical for Kansas City, who saw opposing running backs rack up 138 targets  for 951 receiving yards, both of which led the NFL. This game unfolds in a similar fashion, with Ekeler doing most of his damage in the receiving game, though he’s not quite as involved as last year given Tyrod Taylor as the quarterback.

Predicted Stat Line:  7 carries, 33 yards, 0 rush TDs; 7 receptions, 50 yards, 1 receiving TD


Week 3: vs. Panthers
The Chargers return to a more conservative game plan against Carolina, as their stout defense is strong enough to dominate the game. Ekeler sees plenty of carries, as a Panthers defense that allowed the most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns to running backs last year isn’t any better in 2020. Both Justin Jackon and Joshua Kelley factor in, but Ekeler finds the end zone and continues his strong start to the season.

Predicted Stat Line: 15 carries, 69 yards, 1 rush TD; 2 receptions, 13 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 4: at Buccaneers
The league’s best run defense in terms of DVOA in 2019 remains extremely tough against opposing running backs, and Week 4 against the Chargers is no exception. The Chargers, as will be their formula, try to rely on the ground game as much as possible, but with it not working, Ekeler doesn’t see an abundance of carries or yards on the ground. Some added action through the air helps salvage his fantasy day somewhat, but it’s a disappointing effort all around.

Predicted Stat Line: 10 carries, 33 yards, 0 rush TDs; 5 receptions, 26 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 5: at Saints
A Monday Night Football matchup in New Orleans is a tough road for any opposing offense, and the same holds true for Los Angeles. Similar to the Chiefs, the Saints’ potent offense often leads to them seeing plenty of targets to opposing running backs, which benefits Ekeler. But unlike the Chiefs, the Saints were one of the best teams in terms of defensive DVOA against the run last year, and they shouldn’t see much of a dropoff this year. The work is there for Ekeler here, but not the production.

Predicted Stat Line: 9 carries, 30 yards, 0 rush TDs; 6 receptions, 40 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 6: vs. Jets
The Jets were a difficult defense to run against last season, and the same should hold true this year. Continuing their 2020 mantra, the Chargers rely on their defense and play a conservative game, but with the Jets easier to attack through the air than the ground, Ekeler doesn’t see enough volume to make this an impact fantasy game.

Predicted Stat Line: 8 carries, 28 yards, 0 rush TDs; 4 receptions, 31 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 7: at Dolphins
Another game against an AFC East opponent, which means another game against a decent, but not explosive, offense. The Chargers stick to their script, relying on defense and playing conservatively, which gives Ekeler enough work and production to be meaningful against an improving, but not elite, defense that is softer than the Jets’.

Predicted Stat Line: 16 carries, 71 yards, 1 rush TDs; 2 receptions, 21 yards, 0 receiving TDs

Week 8: vs. Jaguars
It’s wash, rinse, repeat for the Chargers, as they take on a team they can defeat easily by simply avoiding mistakes. The Chargers rely on all three running backs and try to save some energy after returning home from an East Coast trip and in preparation for a divisional showdown against the Raiders.

Predicted Stat Line: 14 carries, 53 yards, 0 rush TDs; 1 reception, 11 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 9: vs. Raiders
In a big divisional matchup and heading into a bye, the Chargers need points to keep up with an improved Oakland offense. The Raiders did not allow many yards rushing last season, but that was more about them seeing a low number of carries against (333, 11th fewest in the league). Ekeler sees work both running the ball and in the passing game, as the Chargers know they have a week to rest before a tough home stretch.

Predicted Stat Line: 14 carries, 49 yards, 0 rush TDs; 5 receptions, 55 yards, 1 receiving TD


Week 10: BYE


Week 11: at Broncos
Fresh off a bye, the Chargers take on a division rival whose offense has finally started to click as their rookies become comfortable with the offense. The Denver defense, including its rush defense, is decent, but Ekeler finds some success through the air to make his day palatable.

Predicted Stat Line: 12 carries, 50 yards, 0 rush TDs; 3 receptions, 61 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 12: at Bills
A game in Buffalo in late November against a strong Bills defense is not what a team from Los Angeles wants to see. But it’s not a terrible thing for Ekeler, as the Bills defense should be better against the pass than the run, as they were last year. That means work for Ekeler both on the ground and through the air, as his yardage totals make up for his inability to find the end zone.

Predicted Stat Line: 13 carries, 53 yards, 0 rush TDs; 4 receptions, 46 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 13: vs. Patriots
The Patriots have taken some hits on defense this offseason, but they should continue to have both a strong passing and rushing defense. Without Tom Brady, New England should struggle to put up points, leading to a low-scoring affair that lacks many fantasy points for either team.

Predicted Stat Line: 10 carries, 34 yards, 0 rush TDs; 3 receptions, 15 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 14: vs. Falcons
Home for a second consecutive game, the Chargers rely on their running backs to an extreme, trying to control the clock and keep the ball out of Matt Ryan‘s hands as much as possible. Ekeler is involved plenty, finding the end zone as a receiver, and having one of his best fantasy games of the year.

Predicted Stat Line: 12 carries, 55 yards, 0 rush TDs; 6 receptions, 72 yards, 1 receiving TD


Week 15: at Raiders
It’s a short week for both teams with a Thursday night matchup, and it shows. Neither Las Vegas nor Los Angeles has much success on the offensive side of the ball, and the fantasy totals for both teams remain in check.

Predicted Stat Line: 13 carries, 57 yards, 0 rush TDs; 3 receptions, 17 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 16: vs. Broncos
Rested and against another divisional opponent, the Chargers face another hard-fought game at home against the Broncos. Wary from allowing a few long receptions to Ekeler in the first meeting, the Broncos tighten up their coverage on Ekeler as a route-runner, stymieing him through the air.

Predicted Stat Line: 15 carries, 60 yards, 0 rush TDs; 3 receptions, 20 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week 17: at Chiefs
With only one playoff bye in each conference available this year, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs still have something to play for in Week 17, and they pull out all the stops. So, too, do the Chargers, as they desperately try to keep up with the unstoppable force that is the Kansas City offense. That means that Ekeler sees plenty of involvement in the passing game and finds the end zone, though it does little good for most fantasy owners in Week 17.

Predicted Stat Line: 8 carries, 34 yards, 1 rush TD; 8 receptions, 71 yards, 0 receiving TDs


Week-by-Week Recap

WEEK OPP RUSH ATT RUSH YDs RUSH TDs RECEPTIONS RECEIVING YDs RECEIVING TDs PTS
1 Bengals 16 59 1 3 21 0 15.5
2 Chiefs 7 33 0 7 50 1 17.8
3 Panthers 15 69 1 2 13 0 15.2
4 Buccaneers 10 33 0 5 26 0 8.4
5 Saints 9 30 0 6 40 0 10
6 Jets 8 28 0 4 31 0 7.9
7 Dolphins 16 71 1 2 21 0 16.2
8 Jaguars 14 53 0 1 11 0 6.9
9 Raiders 14 49 0 5 55 1 18.9
10 Bye 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
11 Broncos 12 50 0 3 61 0 12.6
12 Bills 13 53 0 4 46 0 11.9
13 Patriots 10 34 0 3 15 0 6.4
14 Falcons 12 55 0 6 72 1 21.7
15 Raiders 13 57 0 3 17 0 8.9
16 Broncos 15 60 0 3 20 0 9.5
17 Chiefs 8 34 1 8 71 0 20.5
TOTAL  192 768 4 65 570 3 208.3

 
2019 stats: 132 rushing attempts, 557 rushing yards, 3 rush TD, 92 receptions, 993 receiving yards, 8 receiving TD
2020 prediction: 192 rushing attempts, 768 rushing yards, 4 rush TD, 65 receptions, 570 receiving yards, 3 receiving TD

Ekeler is bound to see massive regression from his 108 targets, 92 receptions, 993 receiving yards, and eight receiving touchdowns he totaled last season. That was going to happen naturally, and it should be accelerated by the replacement of Philip Rivers with Tyrod Taylor. But he should mitigate his losses by seeing additional carries, increasing his total touches and giving him a relatively stable floor. That should leave him as a borderline RB1 in 1/2 PPR leagues when things are said and done.

You can find our entire 2020 Player Game-By-Game Projection series here.


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Dan Harris is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive or follow him on Twitter @danharris80.

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