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Justin Jackson (RB, LAC) - 2019 Fantasy Football Sleeper

As the beginning of the NFL season draws near, there are still some unresolved playing time situations around the league. One of those can be found in the backfield of the Los Angeles Chargers.

As everyone knows by now, star running back Melvin Gordon has held out the entire preseason in hopes of securing a new, long-term contract before his current contract expires at the end of the 2019 season. Many fantasy owners still remember what happened with Le'Veon Bell in Pittsburgh last season. Now, Gordon doesn't have nearly as much leverage as Bell did because Gordon is still under contract while Bell was a restricted free agent. Either way, unsettling playing time situations can be a thorn in the sides of fantasy owners but they can also open up value for other players.

If Melvin Gordon ends up missing regular-season games, the Chargers' depth chart has Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope, and Jeremy Cox listed as the top five players. The expectation will be that Ekeler will operate as the team's lead back but Jackson will mix in, as well, making him an interesting sleeper this season.

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Jackson's Sleeper Appeal

At 193 pounds, Jackson is not big enough to operate as an every-down running back in the NFL. That being said, neither is the 199-pound Ekeler. That should assure that the Chargers lean on both runners in their backfield this season. While Ekeler is expected to see the majority of the work, this could end up being a 60-40 split with some beat reporters like ESPN's Eric Williams even predicting it could be closer to 50-50. According to Player Profiler, Jackson posted an excellent 12.8% target share in college, good for an 87th percentile score. Despite seeing just a 30% snap share in eight games in Los Angeles last season, Jackson finished with 19 targets. He is a proven asset in the passing game who could wind up being a valuable PPR flex play if Gordon sits out.

Being a pass-catching running back as a member of the Chargers in the Philip Rivers era has historically been a productive spot, going back to the Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead years. In 2018, the Chargers and Rivers directed 138 targets to their running backs, sixth-highest in the league. Of those 138 targets, Gordon drew 66 in just 12 games played. All of this goes to say that the third-down running back role in Los Angeles can be a valuable asset in fantasy. According to 12-team, PPR league drafts on Fantasy Football Calculator, Jackson's ADP is currently 117.7, meaning he can usually be drafted at the end of the 10th round.

Jackson did flash that he can play in the NFL last season. Despite limited opportunities across eight games, he posted three games with at least 57 rushing yards during Gordon's late-season absence. Jackson reached at least 11.6 PPR points in three of those four games while also turning in a 5.5-point dud against the Bengals in Week 14. While he didn't wind up winning leagues for anyone, his fantasy finishes during the playoffs made him a useful flex option in lineups.

Whether Melvin Gordon shows up or not, the Chargers offense can again be counted on to finish as one of the better offenses in the NFL. While Jackson will never be used as a strict bell-cow running back, he has excellent pass-catching skills in a Chargers offense that loves to throw to running backs. While Jackson is unlikely to be a league-winner again this season, he has plenty of upside for fantasy owners who are looking to bolster their running back corps in the later rounds. Even if he only provides value over the first half of the season before Gordon returns, stacking wins for your fantasy team in the early-going improves your chances of making the playoffs exponentially.

Of course, all of this could change if Gordon decides to end his holdout and report to the team. If/when that happens, Ekeler would slide into Jackson's predicted third-down role while Jackson would be left as the third-string running back and nothing more than injury insurance should something happen to either of the two aforementioned backs.

More ADP Values and Sleepers

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