Justin Jackson: High-Upside Flex Play in Los Angeles (2020 Fantasy Football)
I loved Justin Jackson back when news about Melvin Gordon’s holdout first broke last season. I thought that he was a high-upside asset, and while my prediction didn’t come to fruition, some guys in high places agreed with me.
“He’s definitely an elite back. His vision, you can’t coach what he has. Man, his vision. His vision and the way he runs the ball is great. It’s amazing how he can see stuff in a split-second,” said Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram.
“He’s a unique runner. There aren’t many people I’ve seen, in general, that run like he does. Like I tell him, he’s got that razzle-dazzle, some hocus-pocus… that’s how I’d describe his runs because you really don’t know what he’s going to do,” said fellow running back Austin Ekeler.
With Ekeler now set to miss a few weeks, I’m once again high on Jackson as a fantasy asset.
Jackson is a third-year player out of Northwestern. At six feet tall, he’s taller than most elusive backs, although he tips the scales at a slender 193 pounds. His light frame helps him athletically — he ran a 72nd-percentile 40-yard dash, and he’s got 84th-percentile burst and 96th-percentile agility. So that’s where the razzle-dazzle comes from.
His talent shines on his college tape. Remember that Jackson played for Northwestern, a Big Ten school that never finished a season ranked higher than 17th in his time there. Jackson consistently shined against tough opponents like Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa.
After going in the seventh round in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jackson has compiled 588 total yards on 87 carries and 26 receptions — good for 5.2 yards per carry. He’s only scored two career touchdowns, which isn’t great, but his passing-down usage makes up for that in PPR formats.
State of the Offense
The Chargers’ starting running back, Austin Ekeler, left Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers with a serious hamstring injury. Of his long-term status, Ian Rapoport had this to say:
#Chargers RB Austin Ekeler suffered what is considered a serious hamstring injury and while no firm decision will be made until all the analysis is done, Injured Reserve is the likely landing spot with hope of returning later in the season.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 5, 2020
There’s a good chance that the Chargers are down to just Jackson and Joshua Kelley for quite a while. I’ve been bullish on Kelley since before the season started, and I think that he’s got the best to shine in this backfield, but Ekeler’s injury frees up a ton of work for Jackson as well.
The Chargers are attempting the fifth-most rushing plays per game (32.25). Only the Patriots (35 — not counting Week 4’s edition of Monday Night Football), Browns (34.75), Rams (33.5), Colts (32.75) are running more often. After Week 3, Ekeler was averaging 15.67 of these per game.
Since Ekeler exited early against the Chargers, we got a preview of what their backfield will look like moving forward.
Chargers final HB snap count
Joshua Kelley 30
Justin Jackson 21
Austin Ekeler 3(injured)
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 4, 2020
On those snaps, Kelley carried the ball nine times for seven yards, and he added 26 more yards on three receptions. Jackson ran eight times for 13 yards, and he caught two passes for 12 yards. That’s not ideal production from either player.
It’s worth noting that it was Jackson’s first game back from injury, and the Chargers were playing without two of their starting offensive linemen, Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner. They were also facing off against Tampa Bay’s fifth-best defense against the run.
There are better days ahead for Jackson. Bulaga and Turner should return soon, and the Chargers’ offensive line ranked sixth in run blocking before Week 4. The Chargers will play the Saints next on Monday Night Football, and their sixth-best rushing defense is no joke, but Los Angeles will play the Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars, and Raiders immediately afterward.
Those are all bottom-10 defenses against the run. You should expect big things out of both Kelley and Jackson when the Chargers face off against them.
The fact that Kelley out-caught Jackson in Week 4 is interesting, but both of these backs should be able to post fantasy-relevant numbers on a weekly basis. After all, that’s what Kelley and Ekeler had been doing before!
Jackson is a great priority waiver add this week, especially since we know that Ekeler will miss a good chunk of time. If you just lost him and don’t have Kelley, he should be your go-to option.
I will say that the tough Week 5 matchup means that you shouldn’t expect immediate returns, but you probably won’t be able to get Jackson if you wait another week, so I’d just bite the bullet and pounce on him now.
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