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Joshua Kelley Flashes Flex Upside in Chargers Debut (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Isaiah Sirois | @is_sirois | Featured Writer
Sep 15, 2020

Those who drafted Austin Ekeler were in for a nasty surprise last Sunday. Rookie Joshua Kelley exploded for 60 yards and a score on 12 carries, earning himself a solid 12 fantasy points. Meanwhile, Ekeler logged just 19 attempts and one catch. If Kelley keeps seeing the same level of work that he did on Sunday, he could be a viable flex option each week.

Let’s break down exactly why Kelley is worth a waiver add following Week 1. He’s rostered in just 12 percent of fantasy leagues, so you should be able to snag him in most formats.

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Before the season started, FantasyPros’ experts identified Kelley as a strong sleeper pick. He brings a combination of power and speed to the Los Angeles offense that Ekeler and Justin Jackson lack. According to PlayerProfiler, Kelley pairs 74th-percentile strength with 77th-percentile speed. He ranks higher than both Ekeler and Jackson in both of those categories, although Ekeler did run a faster 40-yard dash than him.

Kelley’s athletic profile was right there for us to see on his college tape. As Chargers team reporter Chris Hayre explained, “what you see here is a guy who has the ability to get those tough yards, but then also, after contact, the ability to break free and score.”

He proved Hayre correct with this strong Week 1 play.

It’s also worth noting that Kelley earned more red-zone opportunities than Ekeler. He logged four of them to Ekeler’s three, which suggests that the Chargers have some well-placed confidence in Kelley’s scoring ability.

State of the Offense

Kelley is still listed third on Los Angeles’ depth chart behind Justin Jackson. Jackson earned two carries before having to leave the game with a quad injury, so his status is worth monitoring if you’re interested in Kelley. His reps could decline if Jackson is a full-go for next week.

That said, it makes far more sense for the Chargers to feature Kelley alongside Ekeler. Jackson and Ekeler are similar elusive-type backs, and neither owns the strength and bulky frame that make Kelley such a powerful runner.

What makes Kelley’s Week 1 all the more impressive is the state of the Chargers’ offensive line. Los Angeles played without two of their starting interior linemen, Trai Turner and Mike Pouncey, so Kelley may have an even easier time scoring once they return.

Kelley isn’t a risk-free add, however. The Chargers’ offense did not play well on Sunday, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor struggled to move the ball downfield. If that keeps up, the Chargers may not be able to stay in games, and a pass-heavy game script would neutralize Kelley’s advantages.

Kelley’s Outlook

I believe Kelley can serve as a rotational flex piece. That may change if Jackson returns or if the Chargers play a strong opponent, but the big-bodied rusher should continue to see enough committee work to return fantasy value. He may not hit value in weeks where he doesn’t score, so I wouldn’t start him every week, as the players you drafted will probably offer better returns.

But if you’re truly desperate at running back, Kelley does have two strong matchups over the next couple of weeks. He takes on the Chiefs’ mediocre run defense in Week 2, who will still be without defensive run-stuffer Mike Pennel, and then he gets the Panthers in Week 3. Carolina allowed Josh Jacobs to run for 93 yards and three scores in Week 1, so Kelley could post RB2-type numbers if he gets lucky.

It’s also worth noting that Kelley comes with high-end RB2 upside if anything happens to Ekeler. He would see an immediate uptick in carries, although Justin Jackson would probably also get some of the work left behind.

So what are the risks? Kelley’s committee role and touchdown-dependence lower his floor. It’s also unclear if the Chargers view him as the second or third option in this backfield, and while I think that he’ll beat out Jackson, it may take him a couple of weeks to do that.

I recommend that you add Kelley where you can, but you shouldn’t sell the farm for him in FAAB leagues. While he may be a high-priority waiver target, he probably won’t be a league-winner without some dramatic changes in Los Angeles’ offense.

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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