Austin Ekeler or Antonio Gibson: Which fantasy football RB should you target early in 2021?

    Austin Ekeler and Antonio Gibson are two of the top fantasy football RBs going outside the first round in drafts. Which one should you take?

    Austin Ekeler and Antonio Gibson are two of the top running backs likely to be available after the first round of your fantasy football drafts. Ekeler is currently drafted as the RB10, while Gibson is drafted as the RB13 per Sleeper’s average draft position (ADP). However, which fantasy football RB should you choose when you’re on the clock?

    The case for Austin Ekeler over Antonio Gibson

    Austin Ekeler is consistently one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL. Fantasy managers would undoubtedly prefer it if he was given more touches and are disappointed when the Chargers continue to rotate in other running backs — even after Melvin Gordon’s departure. Yet, it hasn’t stopped Ekeler from being one of the top fantasy RBs around.

    Of those players who played over 50% of the season in 2020, Ekeler was the RB9 in PPR points per game, averaging 16.5. He played all 16 games in 2019 and finished the season as the RB4, despite being 24th in touches.

    Will other Chargers running backs get touches, or are they just handcuffs?

    When choosing a fantasy football RB, volume is huge. The Chargers running back room has a familiar feel with Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley returning to the team. Both saw playing time in 2020, but neither should concern fantasy managers who roster Ekeler. They’ll continue to be involved but are unlikely to eat heavily into his volume.

    Sixth-round pick Larry Rountree III is the only other RB on the roster. He was productive in college, setting the Missouri record for career rushing yards, but the fact that they didn’t use a higher pick on a running back is positive news for Ekeler’s projected touches.

    Is Ekeler more valuable in PPR leagues?

    Ekeler is the clear top receiving back on the Chargers’ roster. In the last two seasons, he has averaged 6.7 targets and 5.6 receptions per game. He looks to have chemistry with quarterback Justin Herbert and has the athleticism to leave linebackers in the dust in the passing game.

    The Chargers’ receiving corps, led by Keenan Allen, features some notable names. Mike Williams and Jared Cook should be a part of the game plan, but Ekeler offers something that no other offensive player does. If Herbert feels pressure and is looking to get the ball out of his hands quickly, Ekeler will be nearby and turn a short pass into a big gain.

    Will Austin Ekeler be used in the red zone?

    One of the few downsides of Ekeler as a fantasy football RB is his lack of touchdown production. The Chargers rarely use him in the red zone and that limits his scoring opportunity. Kalen Ballage, who saw the most rushing attempts in the red zone for the team in 2020, is no longer in LA, but even Kelley was given more carries than Ekeler.

    Ekeler is targeted more than many other running backs near the goal line. However, the 8 receiving touchdowns he had in 2019 were an anomaly rather than the expectation.

    Why you should draft Antonio Gibson in 2021 fantasy football leagues

    Antonio Gibson took the NFL by storm in 2020. As a converted WR selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, not much was expected from him as a rookie. Preseason reports were encouraging, but the Washington Football Team had a crowded backfield. The expectation was that Gibson would be eased in.

    It quickly became clear that Gibson was the most talented RB on the team, and he finished the 2020 season with 206 touches, 1,042 total yards, and 11 touchdowns. He finished as the RB13 in PPR scoring, despite playing in just 14 games.

    Is Antonio Gibson a workhorse back, or will he be in a running back by committee (RBBC)?

    Gibson enters the 2021 season as the clear starter in Washington. He appears fully recovered from the turf toe injury that cost him two games last year. Furthermore, there has been no indication that head coach Ron Rivera is looking to limit him.

    Washington’s roster construction backs this up. Peyton Barber was released, and J.D. McKissic is almost exclusively a receiving back. McKissic’s presence limits the number of targets that Gibson will receive, but he did catch 36 last year, so the potential is there.

    Undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson was incredibly productive in college but should be used mainly as a change-of-pace option. Nevertheless, Gibson showcased the ability as a workhorse back, which is exciting.

    The Washington Football Team should have one of the most improved offenses in the NFL

    Washington is the latest franchise to hand an opportunity to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. While Fitzpatrick has struggled to hold down a starting position in his career, his gunslinger mentality will rejuvenate an offense that spent far too much time in neutral last season.

    Gibson should see more touches than he did last season. There will undoubtedly be more of a vertical element than there was with Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins. Still, that shouldn’t impact Gibson negatively.

    Instead, there should be more scoring opportunities and lighter boxes. Terry McLaurin looks to be on the verge of becoming one of the elite wide receivers in the league. Curtis Samuel, meanwhile, will need attention from opposing defenses. For a player with Gibson’s ability in space, that prospect should excite fantasy managers and could lead to more big plays for Gibson as an enticing fantasy football RB option.

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