Some running backs are just different. Their talent level puts them far above that of their backups, or their usage is so great that any one player cannot be expected to absorb it all, or they have greater versatility than their peers, or some combination of these.
Think: When Derrick Henry went down, no one was going to duplicate his production — either in efficiency or volume. When Christian McCaffrey went down, it was obvious no one player was going to inherit his massive workload.
Austin Ekeler doesn’t appear to be the kind of guy who would fall into such a classification. His usage inside the 20 is far less than other league leaders — Jonathan Taylor gets 78.6 percent of red-zone carries, Leonard Fournette got 63.5 before he went down, Dalvin Cook gets 57.5. Even Melvin Gordon, in a bona fide platoon with Javonte Williams, gets 48.6.
Yet there is Ekeler, with just 47.1 percent, despite being the clear feature back in the Chargers’ offense. It gets only slightly better inside the 5, with Ekeler rising to 50 percent, but still, his rivals across the league routinely get 60 percent or better — with Taylor and Cook topping 80.
What these numbers suggest is that Ekeler’s volume shouldn’t be as hard to replace as other top fantasy RBs. And maybe that is true. But there is something to consider, which is not just the percentage of use, but the efficiency.
You see, Ekeler has 10 rushing touchdowns from inside the 20 — tied with Joe Mixon for the third highest in the NFL behind Taylor (14) and James Conner (13). So Ekeler is getting a ton of such attempts — 40 on the year, also tied for third. And he has scored on 25 percent of those.
Better, he has scored nine times on 23 rushes from inside the 10 (39.1 percent) and six times on 10 carries from inside the 5 (60 percent). Only Conner and James Robinson are better.
So what does this all mean for Justin Jackson, who would step in if Ekeler is out this week? For starters, it means we shouldn’t expect Jackson to duplicate Ekeler’s efficiency, especially when it comes to scoring.
Will he at least approach Ekeler’s workload? Ekeler has 173 carries this season. The rest of Chargers RBs combined have 106. Ekeler has 62 percent of the rushes. We would want to see some type of similar disparity between Jackson and the next guy to forecast similar domination. We don’t.
Jackson has 42 carries; Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree have 36 and 28, respectively. His snap percentage is 14.9 of plays, compared to 12.2 and 11.0. So, not a huge difference. Jackson has gotten more of the work of late — topping 25 percent in three straight games, including 53.8 last week when Ekeler went down. But this isn’t enough to suggest he is a plug-and-play. He is certainly playable, just not automatic.
Don’t slot Jackson ahead of more proven backups, such as Alexander Mattison or Ronald Jones. We rate him as a back-end RB2 this week.
Chase Edmonds RB, Cardinals, vs. Colts (FanDuel $5,800/DraftKings $4,700)
We expect Edmonds to get a larger share of the work in his second week back. A heel problem that might limit James Conner could amplify this possibility.
Emmanuel Sanders WR, Bills, at Patriots (FD $5,600/DK $4,000)
He will be fresh off a knee injury, but we’ll set aside our aversion to those making returns after long layoffs, since Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley, both on the COVID list, will be both.
Robby Anderson WR, Panthers, vs. Buccaneers (FD $5,700/DK $4,900)
Lead Carolina WR DJ Moore is dealing with a hamstring problem. We’re not high on the Panthers’ pass offense, but Anderson could see some extra targets from Cam Newton and/or Sam Darnold.
Tyler Lockett WR, Seahawks, vs. Bears (FD $7,300/DK $6,700)
DK Metcalf could be limited by a foot issue. Despite Lockett’s feast-or-famine history, he has double-digit PPR outings in five of his past six games.
Josh Allen QB, Bills, at Patriots (FD $8,500/DK $7,500)
Hard to find “weak” guys among the few with clear availability, but Allen faces the toughest D vs. opposing fantasy QBs. Was limited to just 11.7 fantasy points in Week 13 by the Pats and the blustery Buffalo conditions.
Rashaad Penny RB, Seahawks, vs. Bears (FD $6,100/DK $5,500)
Looks incredibly pedestrian, and was outperformed by DeeJay Dallas last week. Expect Dallas to inch even further into Penny’s workload this week.
Jerry Jeudy WR, Broncos, at Raiders (FD $5,800/DK $5,000)
Scored a donut last week, his third single-digit (or worse) game in the past month. Drew Lock at QB doesn’t move the needle much, but what little it does is in the wrong direction.
Dawson Knox TE, Bills, at Patriots (FD $6,100/DK $5,300)
Held to just two catches by the Pats three weeks ago. New England gives up about 50 percent fewer PPR points to tight ends than the NFL average.
Fantasy Insanity Daily Duel
Slate: Sun. main (11 games)
Type: $9 tourney
Top prize: $25K
QB – Matthew Stafford (LAR, at Min) $7,900
RB – Alexander Mattison (Min, vs. LAR) $5,500
RB – Damien Harris (NE, vs. Buf) $6,600
WR – Cooper Kupp (LAR, at Min) $9,800
WR – Braxton Berrios (NYJ, vs. Jac) $5,300
WR – Emmanuel Sanders (Buf, at NE) $5,600
TE – Mark Andrews (Bal, at Cin) $8,000
Flex – Amon-Ra St. Brown (Det, at Atl) $6,500
DEF – Buccaneers (TB, at Car) $4,700
QB – Jalen Hurts (Phi, NYG) $7,700
RB – James Robinson (Jac, at NYJ) $8,200
RB – Ronald Jones II (TB, at Car) $5,400
WR – Amon-Ra St. Brown (Det, at Atl) $6,500
WR – Laquon Treadwell (Jac, at NYJ) $5,300
WR – Cooper Kupp (LAR, at Min) $9,800
TE – Cole Kmet (Chi, at Sea) $5,000
Flex – Cordarrelle Patterson (Atl, vs. Det) $7,200
DEF – Chargers (LAC, at Hou) $4,800
Season risked: $122
Season winnings: Jarad $70, Drew $15