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Who Will (Try to) Replace Melvin Gordon?


The fifth-best running back in PPR through 11 weeks. A seven-game touchdown streak. Your RB1. The engine that made the Los Angeles Chargers run. You could call Melvin Gordon a lot of things, and for fantasy purposes, there aren't a lot of worse losses in 2018. Hell, I've seen more than once the equivalent of "Show of hands whose season just ended" posts across Twitter and reddit following the loss of this one player. He's arguably one of the most important names in fantasy football this year.

And there's no more important name to replace in Week 13. You have a few choices on the Chargers specifically, one who is widely owned and the other who is about to be, but as always when it comes to these situations, a better option may end up being on your bench. Ultimately we won't know how the backfield will shake out in Carson, CA until the Chargers do.

So let's set the table. Gordon was seeing about 15 rushing attempts per game and a total of 60 receiving targets, and while that won't all be claimed by a single player, it's worth knowing who will take over what portion of the offense. That's also assuming that the Chargers will be as offensively productive without Gordon, but considering a pretty soft defensive schedule the rest of the way we can assume there's still some serious potential.

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Who Will Lead the Bolts' Backfield?

Austin Ekeler

Ekeler has been the first name on everyone's list for the natural Melvin Gordon replacement, but Ekeler's role of a receiving back isn't anticipated to change. Ekeler saw 5 rushing attempts in Week 12, a downgrade from his 6.4 average rushing attempts so far in 2018. He didn't suddenly get the rock with Gordon out, but the Chargers were so far ahead by the time that Gordon was ruled out of the game that the team didn't need to re-calibrate the offense in order to win.

There's not any indicator they will either. We have one game in the Anthony Lynn era where Melvin Gordon didn't play, a week seven matchup vs. the Tennessee Titans. Ekeler saw twelve carries and seven targets that the Chargers almost lost. It's not too far away from Gordon's average carries per game, and certainly over his receiving numbers. It's the only thing we have to suggest that Ekeler will end up the bulk of carries for the rest of the fantasy season.

At best, Austin Ekeler will end up seeing his receiving numbers climb up while the Chargers compensate to fill their offensive void. Even though our one full game in 2018 suggests Ekeler will also see the work on the ground, I'm a little less sure...

Justin Jackson

And here's why. Justin Jackson will be flying off the waiver wires where Austin Ekeler has largely been owned throughout the season as bench depth, and for good reason. Jackson's seven rushing attempts in Week 11 are going to be the catalyst, the rookie's only meaningful work in 2018. Don't get me wrong, the young running back gave it a try five other times, but only as a change of pace back (and not in the fantasy sense, literally to sub in for a rep because everyone else was tired.)

So why pick up Jackson? You can probably convince yourself that his 8.14 yard average on those seven carries is legitimate and because maybe you can't pick up Ekeler that Jackson is the best thing. But think of it slightly differently. The Los Angeles Chargers are largely a lock for their wild card slot, and while us fantasy players would like for a single player to take over and play the role of Gordon, it makes less sense for the Chargers as a football team. Ekeler's role against the Titans was taking the best available player in the backfield and having him play a role that wasn't quite automatic.

It makes more sense for Ekeler not to continue to be a square-peg-in-a-round-hole so that he can stay healthy and catching passes in the actual playoffs. Now that the Chargers have seen Jackson play and gain a little momentum, they may lean on him to get them through the games they don't necessarily have to win. Point being; the way that fantasy players worried about the Rams letting Todd Gurley rest in the fantasy playoffs, the Chargers now are really having to evaluate how they use their players in a handful of games where they don't need to win to make playoffs.

So Justin Jackson's potential success may be more linked to the success of Melvin Gordon than most of us initially realize, and the rookie can get a real shot in the backfield while Ekeler may be left in his role of catching passes instead.

 

Conclusion

In the end, we've seen Ekeler get the consistent reps that aren't too far off from Melvin Gordon's usual day in the office. His potential success has been seen in a very small sample size that may not be proof of anything, but we have seen enough to believe it can be cut and pasted through week seventeen.

Jackson's role is certainly more theory than proof, but one we've seen before; a young player getting meaningful reps in fantasy's most important season while his team tries their best to stay healthy instead as opposed to winning each and every game. I'd rather have Ekeler in Week 13, but I think Jackson must be owned everywhere in case the theory on Jackson rings true.

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