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2021 Fantasy Football Pick One: Austin Ekeler, Cam Akers or Antonio Gibson

Which running back would you rather have at the round 1/round 2 turn?

Fantasy football drafts are all about maximizing value at each spot, whether that means reaching for your guy or picking that stud who looks to be falling for no obvious reason. In this series, I’ve taken a look at groups of three players with similar current ADPs and have selected the one I’d be picking if it was me on the clock.

Which running back are you picking at the if you’re picking at the round 1/round 2 turn: Austin Ekeler (1.12), Cam Akers (2.01) or Antonio Gibson (2.04)?

I’m drafting: Antonio Gibson (and I have been)

All aboard my Antonio Gibson hype train. Gibson massively outperformed his 2020 ADP, finishing as the RB12 in 13 games vs an ADP of the RB36, going in the 7th round of drafts. In truth, I was even lower on Gibson before the season, ranking him outside my top-50, and I admit I knew little about him coming into the season. (I got caught up in the hype about what position he should be playing due to his lean college production, plus his lading spot on what was a poor looking Washington team.)

Washington however turned out to be a far better collective effort than the sum of their parts would have suggested, with a strong offensive line (PFF’s 6th rated line) combined with my 4th rated NEFF defense, helping them win the NFC East and allowing Gibson to thrive. He led all all rookie running backs in fantasy points per snap (0.49), and was second in points per touch. With a likely increase in both snaps and touches in 2021, including a greater number of targets in the passing game, Gibson has the opportunity to push to join the elite fantasy running backs in 2021. I’ve taken Gibson as my RB1 in a deep league already and when I’m drafting around the round one turn, he’s a been a player I’ve targeted regularly.

Related: Top 60 Running Backs for 2021 Fantasy Football

I still like Austin Ekeler a lot in fantasy in 2021. As the clear RB1 for the Chargers in 2021, Ekeler projects to see solid volume in both the running and passing games, though his history does suggest there is a limitation on the workload he can take as a pure rusher. Even 2019 when he finished as the RB4, he only rushed 123 times at 4.2 yards per attempt and relied heavily on a high volume of targets. That doesn’t mean he is not a top 12 option in redraft for 2021, but given Gibson’s higher usage potential, I’ll take a pass at the back of round one, but will snap him up if he’s still there in early second round.

The jury is still massively out for me on Cam Akers. With just three games as a rookie where he managed double digit points, Akers was outscored by team mate Darrell Henderson who was both more consistent and more durable in 2020. At his current draft capital of early second round, Akers is going at least a round early for me (I have him as a late third round pick).

Akers also saw just 7 targets in 10 games as a rookie, with Henderson seeing 23 and Malcolm Brown 26, and though Brown has left for the Dolphins, even seeing Akers take on that additional workload, he would need to see around 200 rush attempts to have a chance to match his current ADP (123 rushed last year). At this point I can’t project such a heavy workload and will happily let him be someone else’s problem in the early second round.

Who would you pick if you were on the clock with Ekeler, Akers or Gibson?