One of the most difficult tasks in drafting a fantasy football team
is trying to decide between two players you essentially see as having
identical value. Knowing how to break such a tie can be important
as often a pick comes down to a dilemma between Player A and Player
B. The purpose of this article is to not only identify pairs of
players that are considered of nearly equal value in 2021, but also
take a look at the process of solving those dilemmas.
Our final installment in this three-part series focuses on running
backs. In this case, weíll examine runners who are being drafted
as borderline RB1s or high-end RB2s and have the upside to meet
or exceed those expectations.
and Antonio Gibson
are both being drafted in the second round of most redraft leagues
with both drawing late-first-round consideration in PPR formats.
Their 2020 seasons couldnít have been more different as Gibson ascended
to fantasy stardom while Ekeler was forced to cope with injuries
such that he missed six full games. Both are focal points for their
respective offensive schemes and both are healthy. So, who is the
better pick as your RB2 if you chose a RB in the first round or
your RB1 if you didnít?
Here are the numbers you have to remember with Austin Ekeler:
92 and 993. Those are the receptions and receiving yards totals
for Ekeler in 2019 despite only starting eight games with Melvin Gordon still with the Chargers. That equated to 5.8 receptions
per game and even though he was hurt for much of last season,
Ekeler still averaged 5.4 receptions in those ten contests. In
short, Ekeler is a PPR stalwart. Even if he simply duplicates
last seasonís reception totals, thatís another 92
reception season with the extra game thrown in.
The Chargers donít really have another running back to challenge
Ekeler for primary RB duties between the twenties even on first
and second downs. Itís not that heís dynamic in that
roleÖ heís just all theyíve got. And in fantasy
football, thatís all that matters.
Additionally, having a second year to adapt to Justin Herbert
at QB should help all of Los Angelesís skill position players,
Ekeler included. Teams cannot cheat up a safety to stuff the run
knowing that Herbert will likely burn them if they do.
The injury last season makes projecting Ekelerís 2021 a
little cloudy to be sure, but that doesnít mean heís
any less exciting as a fantasy prospect.
Gibson was a wide receiver for the University of Memphis, so he
too understands what it means to factor into the passing game.
The Washington Football Team decided to play him at running back
and obviously the transition was a huge success. Not only did
Gibson average a highly respectable 4.7 yards per carry, he also
distinguished himself as the go-to option at the goal line amassing
11 rushing TDs. With the release of Peyton Barber earlier this
week, there will be no threat to that role even as the Football
Team is likely to be in the red zone more often with upgrades
at QB and WR.
All signs point to Gibsonís touches (206 in 2020) increasing
this season to at least 300 (combined) and that number could still
be low. Assuming he maintains his 4.7 average per rush and 6.9
per reception, the increase in points will be substantial.
Consider this: Last season, Gibson finished as the No.14 RB in
terms of fantasy points scored despite missing two games and only
carrying the ball out of the backfield 170 times. Barring an injury,
thereís almost no way those numbers donít improve
making him one of the safest ďfloorĒ picks with upside
in all of fantasy football.
I brought up some exciting numbers with respect to Ekeler earlier.
Now, let me bring up a few that are more concerning. Namely, 132
and 557. They represent the most carries Ekeler has ever had in
one season and the most yards gained rushing as well. Those arenít
even RB2 numbers, much less the numbers for a RB you might consider
for the lead role at the position. Given that this is Ekelerís
fifth year in the league, there is simply no evidence to suggest
he can handle the traditional workload that comes with being a teamís
Let me throw out one more number as well: 9. That is the number
of rushing touchdowns Ekeler has accumulated in his career to date.
Thatís four seasons and 401 carries worth of game action.
Ekelerís total TDs in ten games last season was 3. Again,
those are numbers that do not reflect his current status as a top
10-15 option at this vital position.
We noted earlier that Gibson is a capable receiver given his history,
but what we didnít note was that RB J.D. McKissic was a reception
vulture last season out of the backfield. McKissic caught 80 passes
and was targeted 110 times, which was the most of any RB in the
league. Granted, Alex Smith was the quarterback and as such, the
check-down pass to a RB was standard operating procedure but less
check downs this season for McKissic doesnít mean more for
In fact, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the wild card in all of this. Fitzpatrick
is known for making daring throws downfield and attacking defenses
within the seams, not dumping off screen passes for 5 yards and
a cloud of dust. As such, Gibsonís receiving totals of 36
receptions for 247 yards from last season may be a foreshadowing
of what is to come. There simply isnít much upside for him
in the passing game.
Letís just get this out of the way up front. If you are
still using standard, non-PPR scoring in your league, Antonio Gibson
is going to be the safer pick and most likely the better pick from
a production standpoint. The evidence we have to go on just doesnít
bring Ekeler up to Gibsonís level if receptions are meaningless.
But, since more and more leagues are going PPR each and every year,
itís important to note that this match-up is a virtual photo
finish in that format. Gibson is going to run for more yards and
score more TDs than Ekeler. Ekeler will almost certainly produce
quite a few more receptions, receiving yards and will be a ďsteadierĒ
producer of points, rarely having a game in which his PPR points
fall below 15 or so.
Meanwhile, Gibson is near certain to have at least a couple of multi-TD
games in addition to hitting yardage bonuses for rushing, if those
exist in your league.
All that said, it is my recommendation
that Austin Ekeler would be a slightly better choice in PPR formats.
The 500+ more receiving yards projected and the 35 additional
receptions would grant him almost a point per game more than the
talented, but less two-dimensional Gibson.
An injury to J.D. McKissic would likely flip that script, but
since we donít factor that in until itís a reality,
Ekeler by a nose is where I stand.