The cat is out of the bag with Austin Ekeler. He peppered in some monster PPR scores throughout 2019 after having the second-most receptions by a RB (92). With Philip Rivers now in Indianapolis and the Chargers having to rely on Tyrod Taylor (or Justin Herbert), I think this pushes the offense to be even more reliant on Ekeler while also striking a better pass/run balance. Los Angeles had the fifth-fewest rushing attempts last season.
As to not show their hand, I expect the Chargers to move around Ekeler and get Justin Jackson on the field as a decoy to hide their intention. Think of it like how the 49ers would use Deebo Samuel as a hybrid RB on end arounds and screens. Ekeler will go out in motion, leaving Jackson in the backfield. Maybe they run a play-action to Jackson, or a short crossing route and hit Ekeler out in the flat.
This is, of course, mostly speculation.
However, Taylor is not much of a risk-taker and based on his style of play, I don’t imagine the Chargers will open up the offense, spread it out and gun it with him under center. I’m expecting tighter and bigger formations. He’s going to take the throws the offense gives him and that’s frequently going to be a short, simple throw.
Now, I’m never going to actively root for a player to get injured. That’s not what I’m trying to say here, but I think we’re looking at a “Christian McCaffrey-like” push to give more touches to Ekeler. CMC’s touches exploded from his rookie to sophomore season. He saw even more looks last year. That is what I’m expecting for Ekeler and anytime a running back touches the ball that much, injuries have to be a concern. From where I’m sitting, Jackson is not only a must-have handcuff to Ekeler, I think he’ll be involved enough to merit consideration as a late-round flier.
In 2019, Jackson started off well before injuring his calf ahead of Week 4. In those first three weeks, he went 6-57, 7-59 and 5-26. So they aren’t world-beating figures, but in those games Ekeler was killing it so I can forgive Jackson not getting the ball more.
In PPR, Jackson likely won’t offer much since so many RBs in today’s NFL are buoyed by tallying a few receptions per game. I’m anticipating around 10 carries per game with a catch or two.
The absolute key for Jackson is game flow and the Chargers improving significantly upon their 5-11 record a year ago. Getting ahead early and staying ahead will almost always equal more rushing attempts and a more conservative style of play. This would serve as a big boost to Jackson’s fantasy potential. And let’s face it, Rivers wasn’t the ideal fit for a dink-and-dunk offense behind a poor offensive line.
A final wild card here is the arrival of rookie RB Joshua Kelly, a fourth-round pick out of UCLA. You never know how a rookie may come in and displace guys ahead of him on the depth chart. The Chargers are insisting that Ekeler & Jackson will form a one-two punch out of the backfield, so we have to see how that plays out.
Ultimately, Jackson’s value is tied to his ceiling, not his floor. In Rounds 10 and beyond, if you’re looking for a starter caliber player in Week 1, you messed up in the first nine rounds!
Jackson isn’t a full-fledged lottery ticket type because we’ve already seen what he can do and what type of player he can be if given the opportunity. That said, for him to meet his maximum potential, the situation would have to break in his favor. If you draft Ekeler, Jackson is the obvious handcuff you don’t want to miss. If you miss out on Ekeler, Jackson is the opportunist play and well worth the late-round flier selection.