Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley: What Chargers RB do I start in Week 5?

Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley - what Chargers RB should you start in fantasy in Week 5 since Austin Ekeler is out with a hamstring injury?

One of the bigger questions for many fantasy football owners is this — out of Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley, which Chargers RB do I start in Week 5? After losing RB Austin Ekeler for several weeks due to a hamstring strain (4-6 weeks), it will be up to both Jackson and Kelley to split to load moving forward. But what Chargers running back should you trust the most this coming weekend against the New Orleans Saints?

If we’ve learned anything from the 2020 NFL season thus far, it’s that depth — both in the NFL and fantasy football — is critical for success, both short and long-term. Week after week, we see numerous franchise-altering injuries that will keep some of the best players on the IR for weeks or up to a full season. However, if you were fortunate enough to grab Justin Jackson and/or Joshua Kelley, you might be in good shape this weekend.

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Joshua Kelley will see an even larger snap share in Week 5

Looking at the first four weeks of the season, only one of them ever saw meaningful work between Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson. Kelley has played on 40% of the team’s offensive snaps while Jackson has seen work on just 25%. Although, it is worth pointing out that in Week 4, Jackson’s snap share jumped to 40% due to Ekeler’s injury.

When we look at the usage, it is not even close. Kelley has out-touched Jackson 59 to 10. Through four weeks, Kelley has rushed 52 times for 174 yards and one touchdown along with seven catches on seven targets for an additional 84 yards. 

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I expect Kelley to be the better running back while Ekeler is out, but he needs to perform better than what he’s done in the past two games. He had 12 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 at Cincinnati and 113 total yards on 25 total touches (two catches) in Week 2 against the Chiefs.

Since then, he has combined for just 17 carries for 50 yards, along with five catches for 35 yards and two fumbles in his past two outings against Carolina and Tampa Bay. That said, I do want to clarify the fumbles. Last week, Justin Herbert’s handoff was so high it hit Kelley in the shoulder pad. It is up to the quarterback to put the ball in the correct spot while the running back is watching how the blocking is developing in front of him. 

Joshua Kelley in Week 5 is going to continue to see volume, which could see him leading the backfield in touches against a tricky Saints rush defense.

If Justin Jackson stays healthy, there is sneaky value in Week 5 and beyond

While people will naturally look to Kelley for the player to see the most significant boost, we might be overlooking Justin Jackson. Jackson was hurt in Week 1 and missed two games before returning in Week 4. With Ekeler hurt, Jackson had six carries for 9 yards and two catches for 12 yards on two targets at Tampa Bay. What we need to consider is the role that the Chargers need to fill with Ekeler gone, and a majority of that is in the passing game.

Jackson is a better receiving option than Kelley. Not only was Jackson a better receiving back in college, but he has actual experience in this offense in catching the football.

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Jackson’s had the chance for a significant role with the Chargers before and had mixed results. In 2019, when Melvin Gordon was a holdout to start the season, Jackson had 18 carries for 142 yards (7.9 yards per carry), along with six catches for 13 yards in the first three games of the year.

And in 2018, when Gordon was hurt and missed three games, Jackson had 31 carries for 123 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, plus six catches for 69 yards. He scored 15 or more PPR points in two of those games.

If Jackson stays healthy, I like his outlook for the rest of the year until Ekeler returns, likely after their bye in Week 10. He has been the more efficient player with his touches and brings an all-around skill set that will be beneficial for Herbert and the Chargers. Likely to see around a 40% to 45% snap share, Jackson needs to be picked up off the waiver wire now. If you don’t act quickly, I don’t know if you will have the chance to snag him after this weekend’s Chargers vs. Saints game.

Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley — who should I start in Week 5?

The player I have the most faith in is Joshua Kelley for Week 5, although he is an RB3 for me. I am not calling him a must-start against a Saints defense that is sixth-best against the run. While he struggled last week, the Chargers will have both Brian Bulaga and Trai Turner back for this game after missing last week’s game.

If you have a better option, I could see letting this backfield play out a week before trusting Kelley moving forward, but he will be in flex consideration for me even with a lowered ceiling.

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As for Justin Jackson and his fantasy outlook, I am grabbing him off waivers but stashing him on my bench. If we look ahead, the Chargers will play the Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars, and Raiders immediately afterward. These are all bottom-10 defenses and spots where I think both running backs could be started.

I am going to be watching the running back targets this week. If Jackson is getting the majority, he could push Kelley for who will be RB1 for the Chargers until Ekeler returns. 

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Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.