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Draft Austin Ekeler, fade Jared Cook in fantasy this year

Don’t be afraid to draft Ekeler higher than others.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As fans of an NFL team, sometimes it’s difficult to separate your fandom from the realities of NFL football. Naturally, there’s likely one or two players on your favorite team that’s worth drafting in the higher rounds. However, when it comes to handling the mid to late rounds, you can often find yourself trying to convince your own brain that you do NOT need your team’s third wideout and it DOES matter that it’s “just a dart throw” at this point.

The Chargers have their fair share of interesting players in fantasy this season and you may feel compelled to grab as many as you feel comfortable with, but I suggest you do some research and make sure you’re not being influenced by your own hype for the franchise this year.

In Matthew Berry’s first edition of his popular “Love/Hate” article, the senior ESPN fantasy analyst tabbed one Chargers player among his “loves” and another among his “hates.”

First up, Berry absolutely LOVES running back Austin Ekeler this year and he fully believes the dual-threat back isn’t getting as much lovr as he should right now.

Here’s what Berry had to say about Ek:

“...in the nine full games he played last season, (Ekeler) averaged 18.6 touches and 102.1 scrimmage yards. And starting in Week 12 when he returned from injury, he led all running backs in target share (19.9%!). Since the start of 2019, Ekeler ranks third among all backs in fantasy points per touch. When he gets touches, he produces. And he will get a ton of touches. Fine, you don’t want to take my word for it? Will you take Ekeler’s word for it? During his recent appearance on The Adam Schefter podcast, Austin told fantasy managers to draft him, referencing new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who came over from the Saints. I am paraphrasing here, but Ekeler basically said, in the offense they are installing this year, “I’m Kamara.” Is anyone worried about Alvin Kamara’s touchdown equity? Exactly. Stop it with the Justin Jackson/Joshua Kelley/Larry Rountree III vulture concerns. Ekeler is currently going as RB8 and in the middle of the second round on ESPN, but I have him as a top-six back and mid-first-round pick. He needs to be drafted as such.

It’s hard to argue with anything Berry said above. While splitting time with Melvin Gordon in 2019, Ekeler came seven yards short of 1,000 receiving yards. We know what he can do as a pass-catcher but now’s the time we all get to see whether or not he’s also made for toting the rock as the team’s number one. Barring another freak injury, of course.

If you were to take his name off of it for a moment and I just told you that there’s a running back who could average between 18 and 20 touches this year in an offense that loves utilizing the position, you’d probably jump at the chance to own such a player. Just because he’s not actually Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey doesn’t mean he couldn’t produce the same if given the chance.

Now on the other side of things, Berry is NOT a fan of new Chargers tight end, Jared Cook. Despite putting up above-average numbers over the past few seasons with the Raiders and the Saints, Berry isn’t sold on his past play being an indicator of what’s to come. After all, Cook is quite old for the tight end position and the sand in the hourglass isn’t going to last forever.

“Last season, Cook was highly touchdown-dependent, which is very hard to count on, especially with a new QB,” says Berry. “Cook had only three games with more than three catches and he was 21st among all tight ends in routes per game. It’s hard to see either of those stats turning around at the age of 34 in a new offense, especially with my guy Donald Parham Jr. breathing down his neck. (I am semi-obsessed with Parham in dynasty leagues.)”

That stat regarding Cook’s lack of average targets per game isn’t exactly what you’d like to see for any fantasy player worth rostering. Only three games with more than three targets? Herbert loves to spread the wealth and that likely means he won’t be a consistent presence each week, but his upside is higher than most fliers at the position given who’s throwing him the ball.

Don’t be surprised if Cook catches his fair share of touchdowns but he’s likely no more than a late-round flier or a replacement player for whenever your starter is on a bye week.