In the coming days and weeks, fantasy football players across the country will have the luxury of drafting an effective running back who's found paydirt at an exceptional rate in recent seasons. And this coveted first-round target is none other than Los Angeles Chargers star Austin Ekeler, fresh off a 2021 campaign in which he recorded a career-high 1,558 scrimmage yards and 20 all-purpose touchdowns. At full strength, he's one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers.
Although last season ended in heartbreak -- Los Angeles was knocked out of playoff contention by the division rival Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18 -- Ekeler thrived in the backfield. The 27-year-old rushed for 911 yards on 206 attempts across 16 games, and he also joined franchise legend LaDainian Tomlinson as the only running backs in Chargers history to score 20-plus times in a season. In a loaded AFC West, there's immense pressure for Los Angeles to resemble a true playoff contender, but Ekeler isn't bothered by the outside noise.
"I feel like I'm always underrated -- and not because I'm comparing myself to others, but for myself," Ekeler told CBS Sports Radio's "The Zach Gelb Show" on Monday. "I feel like I have a lot more value to give. But, usually, I think the world lags behind where you feel you actually are. So, it just comes down to me continuing to push and continuing to show actual actions that, 'Hey, I'm a high-caliber player,' or, 'Hey, I can compete at a high level in the NFL.'"
"I really don't like to look at the ceiling -- that whole 'shoot for the stars' type of thing, I really don't like that perspective. I'd much rather build up my floor. And I want to build up my floor as high as I can, because no matter what I do, I'll be able to fall on my floor that's right next to me. And that'll be my starting point. I'm focused on what's right now, and that's my floor... We were a good team, but to be a great team, we've got to do it every single week, be able to show up and not beat ourselves."
During the first month of the 2021 season, the Chargers appeared primed to capture their first AFC West division title since 2009, with an impressive 4-1 record through five games. But inconsistency in all three phases prevented them from rattling off another three-game winning streak, and they dropped three of four games down the stretch to finish in third place, at 9-8. Overall, they ranked fourth in the league in average yards and fifth in average points.
Los Angeles will immediately have an opportunity to seek revenge against the Raiders, as the AFC West foes are slated to meet in Week 1 at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 11. According to BetMGM, the Chargers have the second-best odds to win the division and the sixth-best odds to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, Third-year starting quarterback Justin Herbert also owns the third-best odds to earn the league's MVP award.