Chargers’ running back Austin Ekeler suffered a severe hamstring injury in their Week 4 game versus the Buccaneers. Ekeler had played well in 2020 before his injury, especially once the Chargers switched to rookie Justin Herbert at quarterback from Tyrod Taylor. In Week 3, Ekeler had 11 receptions on 11 targets for 84 yards, and he ran for 59 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
Ekeler wasn’t quite the reliable PPR RB1 some had hoped for, but he was a reliable fantasy asset before his injury. Now, he will likely miss a minimum of four weeks. However, I have serious concerns that Ekeler could be gone even longer than that. The Chargers recently signed Ekeler to a 4-year, $24.5 million contract, so they will want to protect their investment in him for the long-term. They currently sit at 1-3, and losing Ekeler will severely hurt their offense.
Therefore, the Chargers will likely continue to lose without Ekeler, and they could be well out of the playoff race before Ekeler is healthy. I’m not sure the Chargers would rush Ekeler back in a lost season, especially considering how tricky hamstring injuries can be. At this point, the Chargers will place Ekeler on injured reserve, forcing him to miss Weeks 5-7. However, I would be stunned if Ekeler returns before the Chargers’ Week 10 bye. Honestly, fantasy owners should plan for life without Ekeler in 2020.
Handling Ekeler is easy for redraft owners. Put him in your IR slot, and wait for him to come back. If you don’t have an IR slot, you have to hold onto him, but there’s no guarantee he returns in 2020. Running backs don’t grow on trees, so there’s no way you can drop him, in case he somehow returns earlier than expected.
The Chargers have two relevant backups to Ekeler, fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley and third-year veteran Justin Jackson. Kelley has had 52 carries through four weeks, although he’s only turned those attempts into 174 yards for a 3.3 YPC. Kelley has also fumbled twice, potentially causing head coach Anthony Lynn to limit his touches moving forward. Even so, Kelley is now a borderline RB2 until Ekeler returns, based on his volume upside.
Jackson has struggled throughout his career with injuries, and 2020 has been no different. Jackson missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a quad injury, but he managed to return for Week 4. Unfortunately, Jackson only had nine yards on six carries in Week 4, although he did receive two targets, catching both for 12 yards. With Ekeler out, I expect Jackson to get most of the receiving work while Kelley plays as the bruiser. Jackson is only a speculative, low-end RB4, but he’s a must-add in redraft leagues.
In dynasty leagues, this injury represents a massive hit to Ekeler’s value. Running backs are always somewhat volatile, so losing most of a season in the middle of Ekeler’s prime will severely hurt him. Luckily, Ekeler’s contract guarantees his status as the Chargers’ starting running back in 2021.
However, both Kelley and Jackson are also under contract for 2021. If either player shows well in Ekeler’s absence, the Chargers could employ more of a committee moving forward. Therefore, I moved Ekeler down about 10 spots, and he comes in at 38th in my 1QB dynasty rankings.
As for Kelley and Jackson, I think this injury opens a selling window for both players. Kelley has seen volume, but he hasn’t done much with it. If anyone will give a first-round rookie pick for Kelley, I would take that offer and run. Otherwise, Kelley is a hold.
Jackson had virtually no value before Ekeler’s injury, but he’s now a must-add if he was on dynasty waivers. I assume Jackson was already on a roster in most dynasty leagues, though. I would accept any future second-round pick in exchange for Jackson without a second thought. Even if I can only get a couple of third-rounders, I would still take that offer. Jackson has had multiple chances to make an impact, and he’s failed to do so in his career thus far. This situation is a classic selling opportunity, and you should take it.
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