Home Analysis Who’s the next Austin Ekeler?

Who’s the next Austin Ekeler?

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Following on from my last post about how we missed on Austin Ekeler coming out of college and in his first two years in the league, I wanted to dig in and come up with some candidates to find the next uber efficient under appreciated running back. You can check my out Austin Ekeler article here.


There were 3 main things I wanted to tick off when trying to find the next Austin Ekeler.

1. Efficiency- the first and most important identifier we’re looking for is whether the player has been efficient with their touches

2. Work in the receiving game

3. Dynasty ADP outside the top 100

I’ve narrowed it down to 3 main candidates with one standing clearly above the other two for dynasty purposes.

Option A:

Raheem Mostert – ADP 109
Raheem Mostert

Mostert played as a WR/KR in college. He had a slow start to his NFL RB career as he transitioned to the position. Totaled a tiny 136 carries in his 4 year college career at Purdue, with 93 of those coming in his senior season. Came into the league in 2015 as an undrafted free agent but didn’t get double digit touches until 2018, where he flashed at 7.7 yards per attempt before breaking his arm. Raheem had finally found a coach to unlock him, Kyle Shanahan, son of Mike Shanahan, also an outside zone savant.

2018

Yards per carry 7.7 (1st) on limited carries

Yards per touch 7.2 (equal 1st with our next candidate)

2019

Yards per carry 5.6 (4th) on 137 carries

Yards per reception 12.9 (2nd, behind fullback Dan Vitale), however on only 14 receptions

Yards per touch 6.3 (4th)

Two seasons where Mostert has gotten more than double digit touches and he has done nothing but crushed with efficiency. His yards per reception indicates he should be given more receiving work and this is backed up by the fact he played WR in college.

Raheem the dream is the most expensive of your 3 options I present to you today, but I think he has the most immediate upside, 2020 league winning upside.

Option B:

Duke Johnson – ADP 177
Duke Johnson

Yards per touch

2015 – 7.2 (10th)

2016 – 6.9 (1st)

2017 – 6.7 (4th)

2018 – 7.2 (1st – equal with Raheem Mostert)

2019 – 6.5 (2nd)

The best D.J. in Houston, Duke Johnson, has shown world class efficiency for 5 straight years but has topped out at only 165 touches which was in his rookie year 2015. He has suffered from irrational coaching again and again. What can the man do when given a real workload?

Last year Houston traded a conditional 4th round pick that became a 3rd round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Duke Johnson. Lamar Miller then went on to year his ACL 2 weeks later and it was looking wheels up for Duke. The questionable head coach/GM Bill O’Brien then went and traded a depth offensive lineman to the Chiefs for Carlos Hyde. Bill then went on to play Carlos Hyde as the featured back, essentially giving Duke Johnson only 3rd down work.

2019

83 carries @ 4.9 yards per attempt (12th)

⁃ Hyde 245 @ 4.4 yards per attempt

44 receptions @ 9.3 yards per reception (10th)

⁃ Hyde 10 @ 4.2 per reception

127 touches @ 6.5 yards per touch (2nd)

⁃ Hyde 255 @ 4.4 yards per touch

This year Duke will start the season behind ex Cardinal David Johnson. Last season David Johnson ranked 40th in ypc (3.7) running behind the same offensive line that allowed Drake to rank 9th (4.8ypc) and Edmonds 5th (5.1ypc). This came a year after he ranked 41st with 3.6ypc.

Furthermore, it is evident David Johnson’s body is breaking down. He may have only missed 3 games last year but was seemingly on the injury report all season long, and gifted us with this clip of him. It’s evident why he ranked last in PFF’s elusiveness rating.

David Johnson looking slower than a fridge

I’ll be trying to get some good DJ everywhere this year.

Our final candidate to be the next Ekeler, the one I’m planting my flag on and someone who I think is one of the best current investments in dynasty football…

Option C

Tony Pollard – ADP 136
Tony Pollard

Tony Pollard was a 4th round draft pick in 2019 out of Memphis. In college he played alongside Darrell Henderson in a complimentary role, with a big focus on catching the ball. Note his high yards per catch.

Pollard garnered a lot of hype late last offseason as Zeke’s holdout stretched closer and closer to the season start climbing from a dynasty May ADP of 255 to a September ADP of 129.

2019

86 rushes for 455 yards @ 5.3 yards per carry (2nd)

15 catches for 107 yards @ 7.1 yards per reception (43rd)

101 touches for 562 yards @ 5.6 yards per touch (7th)

Apart from his yards per reception, these are promising efficiency metrics for Pollard. It is an incredibly positive sign that he received over 100 touches as a rookie even though he was behind a big workhorse in Zeke who had 355 touches.This is comparable to Austin Ekeler who garnered his 74 rookie touches behind Melvin Gordon’s 342 touches that year (21.4/game). In Austin Ekeler’s second season he had carved out a big enough role to knock MG down to 18.75 touches/game. So there is precedent that a workhorse RB is not necessarily a barrier if you’re good enough. 

Only 15 of Pollard’s rookie year touches were receptions, which is traditionally a strength of his. Given the small sample size of his reception total I’m not concerned about the low-ish yards per reception of 7.1. I expect Pollard’s receiving volume and efficiency to increase considering his calling card in college was as a pass catcher (2.6 Recs/game) and he had a sustained high yards per reception (104 receptions @ 12.4 yards per reception).

We are seeing a trend of RBs getting paid big money after their rookie deal, falling to pieces and then their exorbitant contracts becoming albatrosses on their team’s cap situations – Gurley and the aforementioned David Johnson being the two most recent and memorable. After the first two years of Zeke’s contract (post 2022) there is a very clear out on the contract for the Cowboys if they want it. Post 2020 and 2021 there are also outs but slightly more expensive.

What does this mean for Pollard?

An out post 2022 for Zeke takes Pollard to the end of his rookie deal, so he’d be in the same boat trying to get an extension. However given these outs, Zeke’s contract does become a bit more tradeable. In any case, they managed to combine for 456 touches in 2019, so it should be in the realm of possibility that Pollard’s efficiency earns him above 150 touches, even up towards 200 if he plays his cards right (Ekeler had 145 in 2018, 224 in 2019), infringing on Zeke’s touches. 

The Cowboys offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, is fairly forward thinking so I think there’s potential he recognises the benefit Pollard’s efficiency and receiving brings to the offense even if he doesn’t look like a traditional “bellcow” a la Zeke (or Melvin Gordon in Ekeler’s case).

Tony Pollard has lots of room for future growth, he has humungous boom potential if Zeke were to get injured or get suspended again, and to be honest, I think he’s going to do what Ekeler did and give his coaching staff no choice but to get the ball to him more and more.

Given the strength of this class I’d be willing to part with a mid to late 2nd for Pollard in 1QB 12 team leagues, 2.05-2.10 range. Don’t be fearful of Zeke, go and get this future star on your roster.

Consider my flag planted! 

Would love to hear your feedback and get some discussion over at @TheTFLPodcast and @TalbTree

Credit: Pro-football reference 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Duke Johnson has been the object of many fantasy footballers affection for many years. As you note, his coaches have never seen fit to give him opportunities on the field commensurate with his efficiency. I’m wondering whether his efficiency suffers dramatically if analyzed by situation. For example, what are his efficiency metrics on 1st and 10, in quarters 1-3, with a score differential of 10 or less? I think of these situation being a pretty good measure of whether a coach will trust a RB (almost regardless of whether it is a good decision measure or not, though I suspect it probably is).

    • Really great question Cameron. You’ve piqued my interest. I’ll look into it, and will probably write up an article about it, I think there’s some interesting components to look into. Cheers!

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