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Austin Ekeler has been one of the most valuable players in all of fantasy football over the past two seasons. He is currently being drafted as the RB7 (middle of the third round) in dynasty startup drafts. This article will explore whether he is undervalued or overvalued and highlight an under-the-radar risk factor that is not fully priced into his dynasty value.
How many years left?
Ekeler turns 28 years old in May and enters his seventh NFL season. While a fall-off does not feel imminent, it rarely does. As Adam Harstad of Footballguys has often pointed out, fantasy production for a player rarely tapers off slowly. Instead, a player is humming along in his career and then suddenly suffers a drastic reduction in production. Sometimes this is due to injury. Just as often, a player simply reaches the tipping point where he is not quite good enough to justify his previous role and sees a massive drop in opportunity (whether it be carries or targets) once he hits that tipping point. For 28-year-old running backs, Harstad found we should expect 2.17 years remaining of fantasy relevancy.
Ekeler could be the rare running back who does not fall off a cliff sometime during his eighth or ninth NFL season. His receiving ability potentially gives him more of a chance to stick around as a productive contributor. However, it is generally bad practice to base your dynasty strategy upon hoping a player will be an outlier to a strong trend. At this point, we should be valuing Ekeler as if he has just two more prime seasons left.
The primary issue for Ekeler is that even if he defies the general trend of running backs falling off a cliff as they approach 30 years old and at least remains a productive contributor for a few seasons, he could still fall drastically from the ranks of impact fantasy running backs if he cedes a handful of high-value touches per game. Ekeler has been the rare back who is a mismatch as a receiver out of the backfield but also handles goal-line work. Ekeler has scored 38 touchdowns over the last two seasons. It is reasonable to assume the Chargers will want to start scaling back Ekeler’s touches sometime in the next year or two. Adding a bigger back to take over short-yardage and red-zone carries makes a lot of sense. It should not be a surprise if Ekeler scores half as many touchdowns over the next two seasons as he did the previous two. Beyond the next two seasons, it becomes highly improbable that Ekeler will still be his team’s top red zone back.
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