👑 Fantasy's RB king will NOT be traded!

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Great day to be great…

In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by BetMGM:

  • Austin Ekeler and the Chargers have found peace

  • Breaking down the top Week 17 matchups to target in best ball

  • Brock Purdy is allowed to throw a football again

  • Team Preview Szn: Detroit Lions

  • It’s 5/24. Take it away, Ian Hartitz…

One of 2023’s biggest offseason storylines was resolved on early Tuesday morning when the Chargers added close to $2 million in incentives to RB Austin Ekeler’s contract, keeping their stud playmaker in town for at least this season.

Ekeler’s original trade request revolved around his discontent in making “just” $6.25 million in the final year of his $24.5 million extension. While the Chargers gave Ekeler permission to seek a deal elsewhere, general manager Tom Telesco said “Nope” when asked if there had been any trade interest at the end of April.

It’d be a lot cooler if RBs were able to demand more money in the year 2023, but unfortunately, that’s not the case in a league forced to make tough financial decisions due to salary cap restraints.

Still, it’s pretty wild that Ekeler’s current annual salary ranks just 13th at the position behind guys like Miles Sanders and James Conner.

The 28-year-old veteran has been nothing short of fantastic over the past two seasons as the Chargers’ featured back, scoring an astronomical 162.2 more PPR points than the next-closest RB.

  1. Ekeler (716.5 PPR points in 2021 and 2022)

  2. Josh Jacobs (554.3)

  3. Joe Mixon (527.4)

  4. Najee Harris (524.2)

  5. Jonathan Taylor (519.5)

Overall, Ekeler has scored 38 total TDs over the past two seasons – the next-closest player has 26.

There was never a more fantasy-friendly outcome for Ekeler than simply returning to his roots: Literally, no team has provided more expected PPR points per game to its backfield than the Chargers over the past three seasons.

The game-changer: Targets.

While pass-game opportunities are earned to an extent, Ekeler’s 127 targets in 2022 were a full 19 more than the next-closest RB (Christian McCaffrey - 108) and 39 more than third place (Rhamondre Stevenson - 88).

Of course, opportunity is only half of the puzzle in fantasy land: Ekeler deserves a lot of credit for regularly making the most out of his run- and pass-game opportunities alike in 2022:

  • PFF rush grade: 83.2 (No. 13 among 42 qualified RB)

  • Yards per carry: 4.5 (tied for No. 17)

  • Yards after contact per carry: 2.99 (No. 20)

  • Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.21 (No. 13)

  • PFF receiving grade: 80.9 (No. 3)

  • Yards per route run: 1.63 (No. 7)

  • Targets per route run: 28.2% (No. 1)

And yet, Ekeler is going off the board as the RB3 (11.4 pick ADP) over at Underdog Fantasy. I agree with Fantasy Life’s Dwain McFarland in that Ekeler is too cheap right now and deserves to be drafted as the second RB off the board.

From Dwain’s latest RB tiers article:

“Ekeler will be 28 this season but has 268 fewer regular-season touches than McCaffrey and less competition in the backfield. The Chargers’ RB is a safer bet for 20-plus points per game but carries slightly less upside than CMC. Ekeler is a steal in late Round 1 of Underdog drafts.”

Dwain McFarland

True age cliff concerns are still a year away; fire up Ekeler as the top-two RB he’s been for the better part of the last 48 months. He’s a bargain anytime you can snag him at the 1-2 turn in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes.

Best Ball Week 17 Matchup First Look

Nailing Week 17 correlation is a major factor in attempting to take down Underdog Fantasy’s Best Ball Mania IV contest. Fantasy Life’s Chris Allen breaks down some of his most intriguing matchups from the slate.

Pete Overzet recently dove into the mechanics of game stacking with Week 17 in mind. Simply put, by correlating our lineups, fewer things have to go right for us to gain an edge.

However, not every game environment is worth targeting.

Using some data from 2022, I reverse-engineered a way to identify ideal matchups to target as well as ones to avoid using offseason implied totals. Training camp news and offseason hype may change some things, but we can still apply the same process to new information.

🎯 Matchups to Target

Underdog Best Ball Week 17 Matchup First Look

🤠 Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys

  • Point Total: 50

Mike McCarthy’s boomer energy put an initial damper on our expectations for the 2023 “Kellen Moore-less” Cowboys. Combined with concerns about Dak Prescott’s interception rate, things looked somewhat bleak.

But leave it to Dwain McFarland to drop some facts on us.

Well, I’m sold.

Plus, signing Brandin Cooks to a two-year, $20 million deal doesn’t exactly suggest that the Cowboys plan to establish the run in 2023.

On the other side, Detroit's moves in free agency and the NFL Draft indicate their offensive philosophy won't change. They were already third in yards per drive and above average in PROE in 2022. Detroit then added explosive rookie receiving threats in Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta to the pride.

So, with both QBs making their way into Dwain’s top six QB tiers, there’s definite value in targeting Cowboys-Lions stacks in your 2023 best ball drafts.

👀 Start Betting On Week 1...Now!

There are 106 days until the 2023 NFL season kicks off...

But, thanks to BetMGM, you don't have to wait 106 days to start betting on games.

All you have to do is...

Do any lines stick out? Our own Matt LaMarca has you covered.

LaMarca is betting: Falcons -2.5 (vs. Panthers)

"...Atlanta spent heavily in free agency and have blue-chip players across a number of offensive skill positions. Their QB situation remains a major question mark, but Desmond Ridder likely won’t be played under the table by Bryce Young in his first career start.

This number is already up to Falcons -3 across most of the industry, but it’s still available at -2.5 (-120) on BetMGM. Three is easily the most important key number in NFL betting, so I don’t want to miss out. This is one I’m willing to lock in early."

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Around the Watercooler (August 2022)

🧠 QBs must be able to throw a football in order to be good at football. Good news for the 49ers.

🥜 Getting hit in the gonads is never a fun time. Somebody get this Jets WR some ice.

🚨 10 best ball questions with Mike Leone. Don’t miss this episode.

🥳 One of the most discussed players of the offseason is at OTAs. Let’s party like it’s 2019.

🚑 Another one of the most discussed players of the offseason got hurt at OTAs. At least it’s not believed to be too serious.

🦶 The Broncos made some changes to their special teams. This source seems reliable.

😤 Kick returners can now call a fair catch and get the ball at the 25-yard line. Special teams coaches aren’t happy.

🤑 Cheapest QB-WR1-WR2 stacks to make on Underdog. Where my value hounds at?

👀 2025 is a pretty long way away. Which NFL team will be the most dominant until then?

Team Preview Detroit Lions

Fantasy Life senior analyst Ian Hartitz is breaking down all 32 NFL teams over the next two months. Let’s take a look at the Lions, who are the league’s reigning fifth-ranked scoring offense with higher expectations than ever ahead of 2023…

💪 RBs

  • Jahmyr Gibbs (Ian’s RB13)

  • David Montgomery (RB24)

  • Craig Reynolds (RB101)

Gibbs profiles as the sort of fantasy-friendly pass-catching RB who doesn’t necessarily need more than 200 carries to potentially have upside fantasy RB1 production.

He was arguably the best RB prospect of the draft, perhaps even over Bijan Robinson, when looking purely at targets per route run (TPRR) and yards per route run (YPRR).

Yards per route run targets per route run

Gibbs is fast — like, really fast — routinely erasing pursuit angles on his way to the end zone. And while his lack of size (5’9, 199 lbs.) has led to questions surrounding his ability to handle an every-down role, teams usually don't draft an RB in the first round without a featured role in mind.

In fact, 10 of the 12 first-round RBs drafted since 2015 racked up 197 touches or more in their debut seasons:

  • Najee Harris (381 touches)

  • Ezekiel Elliott (354)

  • Saquon Barkley (352)

  • Leonard Fournette (304)

  • Josh Jacobs (262)

  • Todd Gurley (250)

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire (217)

  • Melvin Gordon (217)

  • Sony Michel (216)

  • Christian McCaffrey (197)

  • Rashaad Penny (94)

  • Travis Etienne (0 - injured)

Gibbs also joins a Detroit offense that's accustomed to feeding targets to their RBs in the passing game. Over the past three seasons, D’Andre Swift ranked fourth among RBs in total targets behind only Austin Ekeler, Alvin Kamara, and Leonard Fournette.

A true workhorse role seems unlikely for Gibbs after the deal the Lions gave Montgomery, but that doesn't necessarily preclude Gibbs from a potential top-12 fantasy finish in 2023, especially in PPR formats.

While RBs like Rhamondre Stevenson and Breece Hall get the slight nod from me over Gibbs thanks to the higher likelihood of them being featured in both the pass and run game, I’d still gladly draft a pass-catching RB like Gibbs over RBs who aren't necessarily projected to see many targets, like Travis Etienne, Miles Sanders, and Kenneth Walker.

Team Preview Detroit Lions

And then there’s Montgomery, who looks poised to inherit the same role that helped Jamaal Williams score a league-high 17 rushing TDs in 2022.

Still, the history of high-priced free-agent additions has been rather brutal. There simply hasn’t been a good track record of success when RBs have changed teams over the years.

The good news for Montgomery is that he'll be just 26 years old this coming season, so there are no immediate age cliff concerns. Running behind PFF’s reigning eighth-ranked offensive line is also a nice luxury.

This very Lions offense managed to achieve that feat in 2022 on the back of Swift (RB15) and Williams (RB18), so Montgomery shouldn't be overlooked in fantasy drafts. The biggest potential concern could be if the coaching staff again keeps a third RB like Craig Reynolds annoyingly involved like they did last year.

Montgomery’s path to fantasy success will require the Lions to repeat their top-10 offensive performance from last season and for the team to funnel him goal-line opportunities like they gave Williams in 2022.

I’m fine chasing Montgomery in standard scoring or half-PPR formats to an extent. Just realize that despite having led the NFL with 17 rushing TDs last year, Williams still just barely cracked the top-20 RBs in PPR PPG last season because of his lack of a pass-game role.

Treat Montgomery as a borderline RB2 who will be TD-dependent but has rather awesome upside if Gibbs were to miss time or start slow as a rookie.

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