Avoid Austin Ekeler? Trade out of the #1 pick?
I created this video on Avoiding Austin Ekeler in 2023 and it is naturally getting some push back. For starters, predicting a runner's decline is not an easy task. It's never going to be well received either, not when the runner has huge fan club. Ekeler is super likable, too, so most that say "no way, Ekeler easily has one year left!" are going to be looking out of a bias lens. Is my lens cloudy, though? Am I taking history and trying to suggest that no running back can defy the age of 28 now? This is a fair question, as Derrick Henry just defied it at 28 last season. My answer is below.
Firstly, give the video on this page a watch, as it will further amplify my points below. But, in a nutshell, the question isn't "is it possible that Austin Ekeler could have one more elite season?"... the questions that should be asked are, "what are the odds that Ekeler stays healthy?" and "is there a safer path than Ekeler given the risks?"
Let's start off with the fact that there is a chance Ekeler has one more electric and healthy season. Henry had those same odds. Just because Henry defied the odds, and I think the odds were against him, that doesn't just mean that every runner will now defy them.
If you have a 20-25% chance of winning a hand at poker, well, you could possibly win the hand, right? Henry had a huge risk of injury last season, but there was a let's call it 'decent' chance he could have stayed healthy for one more season. He did. No matter what the odds were, and the odds were all guess work anyway, he defied them. That does not make 28-year-old elite runners a new thing. They are not. The NFL is more abusive than ever before to the runner, and runners start off taking on that abuse a runner takes on at a much earlier age. Mix in that the league is stronger and faster than ever before, it makes sense that we NEVER see running backs have long careers anymore, at least not long like Emmitt Smith or LaDainian Tomlinson, etc.. it's 4-6 years max, and more likely 3-4 years if said runner is getting the kind of volume that makes them a top 5 fantasy running back, as that kind of fantasy production requires being overused. Ekeler has played for six seasons. This will be season seven. One might suggest that Ekeler not being thrusted into the between the tackles work until his last two seasons might make him last longer. But, the fact is that the body changes at 28-29 and especially 30. But, 28 is the new 30. When a runner was 30, they declined hardcore in years past. Now, it's 27-28, and Ekeler will be 28 when the season begins. If I had to guess a percentage chance Ekeler stays healthy this year, and let's call 'healthy' starting 14+ games at an elite level... I'd say the odds are 30%, maybe 40%. That is obviously guess work, and if you don't trust my thinking on this I don't blame you. You have to trust your own gut. My percentage does come with 20 years of doing this professionally, and successfully warning the entire fantasy world of Todd Gurley's decline despite no one wanting to believe me... but, I still missed on Derrick Henry falling off last year vs this year (which is very likely), but I again did not claim Henry would for sure drop off. I said he had a 25-30% chance of playing a healthy an dominate season. He did. He beat the odds, and I never once said those odds weren't present. So, it's not a matter of being right or wrong, it's a matter of playing the "what is safer?" game... and I ask the question, is there a safer option over Ekeler in 2023 given the cost of entry? I say absolutely!
This is where watching the video is important (before this next section, as it will just make a lot more sense).
Is Austin Ekeler, even with the risks, worth grabbing at his ADP?
I say no way. Not if a player like Bijan Robinson is available, and even a Garrett Wilson. But, at this point the bigger question becomes is trading down, if you can trade draft picks, a better option than drafting Ekeler? Again, the video is critical here, as I show a plethora of examples of draft pick trades that make trading Ekeler an easy decision (ie, trading the 1st-Round Pick that you might use on Ekeler for a 2nd-rounder and 4th-rounder). See the video.
Here is a great question by a YouTube Subscriber of mine, along with my answer:
My Answer: This could be the case, and I mention this is possible in the video.. that Ekeler has one more year. But, the question I pose in the video isn't 'is it possible,' the question posed is: Is it worth the risk when other players are available that are just safer and are near as solid upside-wise? And, even more important, trading out of the pick is even better vs using a 1st on anyone not named Chase, JJ or Bijan. And, I even explore the idea that no player, not even JJ or Chase or Bijan, are worth more than a Gibbs and London together (a 3rd and 4th in trade for that 1st-rounder) or Gibbs and Burrow (a 3rd and 4th). End of day, I think my main point is that the 1st rounder isn't as powerful as many feel, and trading down is advised if you can get two players like mentioned above. If you can trade. But, I hear you on Ekeler... he could have one more year, but what are the odds? You probably think 75-80, and for that reason trust your gut. I say it's 25-30% max, which is still possible. Keep that in mind. I'm not saying 0% chance. But, I jump a year early, that's my nature. I'd rather be a year early than a year late.
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