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Austin Ekeler is on a historic pace

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“Receiving Back” should not be an insult

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

It’s impossible to watch Austin Ekeler play football and not smile. The energy, strength, balance, explosion, and vision he exhibits with the ball in his hands is just plain fun. It seems that every time the ball touches his hands, something good is about to happen.

Now there are a lot of people who seem to consider the term “receiving back” to be an insult. And it could be, if that’s all a RB could do, and if he was only doing it 3 or 4 times a game as a checkdown.

Ekeler is neither of those things.

Before we get into projections about where Ekeler could finish the season at his current pace, lets look at what he’s already accomplished.

Currently Ekeler leads all RBs this season in receptions (65), receiving yards (667), receiving TDs (6). The next closest RB is Christian McCaffrey at 59 rec, 517 yds, and 3 TDs.

If he doesn’t catch another pass all season his numbers would be good for:

  • 6th most receiving yards by an undrafted RB in a single season all time
  • Tied for 2nd most receiving TDs by an undrafted RB in a single season all time
  • Highest receiving yards per game average by an undrafted RB for a single season *minimum 6 games (next closest was 50.4 ypg in 14 games)
  • Tied for 3rd most 100 yard receiving games by a RB in a single season all time
  • 8th most receiving yards by a RB in a single season in Chargers history
  • Tied for 2nd most receiving TDs by a RB in a single season in Chargers history
  • Tied for most 100 yard receiving games by a RB in a single season (2) in Chargers history

But there are still 5 games left! At his current pace he would finish the season with 95 receptions for 970 yards receiving and 9 TD’s receiving (it’s really 8.7 but we are going to round up here). Where would that put him in the history books?

  • Most receiving TD’s by an undrafted RB in a single season all time
  • Most receiving yards by an undrafted RB in a single season all time
  • Tied for 4th most receiving TD’s by a RB in a single season all time
  • 9th most receiving yards by a RB in a single season all time
  • Most receiving yards and TDs by a RB in a single season in the NFL since 2000
  • 2nd most receiving yards by a RB in a single season in Chargers history
  • 2nd most receptions by a RB in a single season in Chargers history

If that isn’t impressive enough, it gets better.

Austin is doing all of this with a rare level of efficiency.

According to the advanced stats on pro-football-reference.com, Austin has 0 drops on catchable passes. He has 11 broken tackles on pass plays, good for averaging a broken tackle every 5.9 receptions, and since he’s averaging 6 receptions per game, he’s basically breaking a tackle on a reception at least once a game. He’s currently averaging 9.5 yards after the catch (YAC).

All of those numbers are impressive on their own, but lets compare them to the next best pass catching RB this season, Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is only 6 receptions behind Ekeler but 150 yards behind him. McCaffrey had 6 broken tackles on those 59 receptions with a rate of a broken tackle every 9.8 receptions. McCaffrey has 2 drops on catchable passes. And finally, McCaffrey is averaging 8.1 YAC.

Now I will admit, McCaffrey is handicapped a bit by the fact that he’s also the featured RB in Carolina so he likely isn’t as “fresh” when he gets the ball thrown his way, but Ekeler’s stats and efficiency as a pass catcher aren’t just slightly better. They are much better.

The things that Austin Ekeler is doing as a pass catcher out of the backfield are in rare territory and anyone trying to say he’s “just a receiving back” aren’t just selling Ekeler short, they’re ignoring the fact that he’s producing better than most of the big name TEs and WRs this season. Only 6 WR’s have more receiving TDs than Ekeler, only 2 TEs have as many receiving TD’s, and with his 3 rushing TDs, he has more total TD’s than any WR or TE this season. His receptions have earned the Chargers 30 1st downs this season, tying him with Stefon Diggs and Darren Waller for 26th among pass catchers, but he also has 23 1st downs as a runner this season which brings him up to 53 1st downs which would put him 2nd among TEs and WRs league wide behind only Michael Thomas with 58 1st downs.

So while Austin Ekeler’s main impact this season has been catching passes out of the backfield, he has arguably been one of the most impressive offensive weapons in the league this season and is on pace to break Charger and NFL receiving records as a RB this season.