Is this the week where Austin Ekeler finally returns from his injury? It’s a question many fantasy football general managers have been asking for quite some time. Having been out since Week 4, the hope is that Ekeler will be on the field for the home stretch of the season as fantasy players get ready for the playoffs in just a few short weeks.
Update Sunday, November 29: Austin Ekeler is active for the Los Angeles Chargers Week 12 matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
Austin Ekeler continues to rehab his injury in the hopes of a return
One of the best things we have seen in recent years is the adoption of the fantasy football community by some NFL players. Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler has been one of the NFL players who has routinely acknowledged the community and did so in one of his recent tweets stating, “To all my fantasy owners that didn’t drop me… the time draws near.”
While watching the video can easily make anyone who rosters Ekeler excited for his return from injury, we still need to be cautious before getting too excited about his return for Week 12 against the Bills.
Initially reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Chargers’ RB Austin Ekeler suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain during the team’s Week 4 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It later came out by Ekeler himself during a live stream that part of the tendon essentially ripped off the bone, which is much closer to a Grade 3 injury.
At first, the diagnosis was 4-6 weeks for his recovery period, but head coach Anthony Lynn said that Ekeler’s return would come “later rather than sooner,” according to Daniel Popper of The Athletic a few weeks ago.
Later has been the case as last week marked the seventh week that Austin Ekeler has been out since the initial injury. He is actually able to come off of injured reserve at any time if the team decides he is good to go and fully healed. Knowing that he is running at what seems close to full speed, should fantasy managers expect to see Austin Ekeler return from his injury this week?
Is Austin Ekeler playing in Week 12?
Fantasy managers continue to ask if Austin Ekeler is set to return or if his injury will keep him from playing in Week 12. On Wednesday, he practiced for the first time in weeks, which meant that Ekeler’s 21-day window to be activated from the injured reserve list was officially opened. And on Saturday, the Chargers did, in fact, activate him from the injured reserve.
That does not give us any guarantees, though, for Sunday against the Bills. With the Chargers sitting at 3-7 on the year with no realistic chance at the playoffs (barring multiple teams collapsing down the home stretch and an undefeated run by the Chargers), they likely won’t be in a rush to get him back on the field.
On Sunday morning, Ian Rapoport reported that Ekeler is expected to make his return in Week 12 against the Buffalo Bills. However, Rapoport also stated that Ekeler is not expected to be the bell cow this week, even with Kalen Ballage a game-time decision and considered unlikely to play.
However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the rest of the season as they likely want to get Austin Ekeler back on the field to see what their offense can look like with Herbert and Ekeler together for several consecutive weeks. Knowing what you have with Herbert under center – who is on pace statistically to be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL – and Ekeler in the backfield can help the Chargers evaluate other aspects of the offense, which will give them a better idea of how to attack the 2021 offseason.
Remember – Austin Ekeler came out on fire and continued the hot streak he was on in 2019. In the first four weeks, Ekeler rushed 47 times for 236 yards (5.1 avg) and had one rushing touchdown. He was also extremely efficient in the air, catching all 16 targets for 143 yards (8.5 avg). He was the RB13 in PPR scoring during that time despite not finishing Week 4.
If Ekeler doesn’t return in Week 12, is RB Kalen Ballage an RB2 again in fantasy?
Update Sunday, November 29: Kalen Ballage is inactive for the Los Angeles Chargers Week 12 matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
With so many coin-flip decisions to make for your fantasy football rosters, let’s appreciate both sides of the coin and give each argument its diligence. In this case, the coin-flip decision is this – will Kalen Ballage be an RB2 or better vs. the Bills this Sunday, and can he help produce enough fantasy points to make up for Austin Ekeler’s loss on your fantasy team?
The case for Kalen Ballage as an RB2
In the past three weeks, Kalen Ballage has been the RB16 or better each week, including an RB4 showing in Week 9. Last week, Ballage carried the ball 16 times for 44 yards and caught seven of nine targets for 27 yards, finishing with 14.1 PPR points.
Over the last three weeks, Ballage has totaled 49 rushes for 181 yards (3.9 avg) and one touchdown while catching 14 of 18 passes for 76 yards. He has done enough for head coach Anthony Lynn to name him the starter moving forward.
If Austin Ekeler does not return from injury in Week 12, I have no problem with Kalen Ballage as an RB2 in my rankings again against the Buffalo Bills, who allow the 18th-most fantasy points per game to running backs at 23.29 per game. They are allowing 105.6 rushing yards and 0.9 rushing TDs per game.
The case against Kalen Ballage as an RB2
The one place that could be difficult for Ballage is his receiving work, which has accounted for 47.2% of his fantasy production. The Bills allow only 34.3 yards per game through the air (11th-fewest), but they have also seen the seventh-fewest attempts against them and allow a sizeable 8.36 yards per reception to running backs.
As ho-hum as the Bills’ run defense has been, the Bills lost a nail-biter against the Arizona Cardinals last week — a day where the Bills’ running backs ran for 35 yards on 11 carries. The run defense gave up over 200 yards at a 6.2 ypc clip. For a team with aspirations of winning the AFC East and winning playoff games, there should be an emphasis on the run game, and run defense, in practice this week.
Be conscientious of how you think the game script will go as well. Though you could see the Chargers try and establish the run to keep Josh Allen and company as bored as possible, you could just as easily see the Bills jump out ahead multiple scores, and it’ll be up to Justin Herbert and the passing game to keep pace. If you believe the Bills jump out ahead early, it might be best to fade Ballage.
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