It has been a confusing week for fantasy football managers of Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler with his COVID status not being certain for half the week. What are the latest updates regarding Ekeler’s availability, and what should fantasy managers do with the Chargers’ backfield if he is absent?

Is Austin Ekeler playing today against the Houston Texans?

It was very much a case of “is he or isn’t he” with Ekeler in terms of the COVID list this past week. Early in the week, it was reported that Ekeler had been placed on the reserve/COVID list, only for that report to be rebuffed. Unfortunately, on December 22, Ekeler reportedly tested positive for COVID, and the Chargers officially placed him on the reserve/COVID list.

Ekeler discussed his positive test on his weekly podcast and whether he might be able to return. Ekeler said that “right now, I can tell you it’s not looking good, just because of the history of COVID and how long it usually takes to dissipate or at least for your body to beat it. So, I’m just going to be chilling.”

That is tough news for both the Chargers and Ekeler’s fantasy managers. The Chargers will be somewhat grateful this has happened ahead of their matchup with the Texans, who they would expect to beat. However, the Chargers cannot afford any missteps in the season’s closing weeks.

Unless Ekeler can test out of the protocols and be asymptomatic ahead of the game Sunday, he will have to sit out Week 16. In the long run, this might be good for the Chargers, with Ekeler having been limited with an ankle injury in Week 15. This will give him time to rest the ankle and be fresh for the final two weeks and potentially the playoffs.

Who might the Chargers turn to if Ekeler is out in Week 16?

There are three other RBs on the Chargers’ depth chart heading into Week 16. Those three are Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, and Joshua Kelley. After Ekeler, Jackson leads the team in touches with 42 rush attempts and 12 targets. With Ekeler limited in Week 15, Jackson had 13 rush attempts and 1 target as the lead RB.

It has been a frustrating couple of weeks for Rountree. He has been inactive the last two weeks after sitting second in rush attempts through the first 13 weeks. Although, there is a good chance that if Ekeler is inactive, Rountree will be active for the first time since Week 13.

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If Rountree is active, then it could cause this to be a very split backfield. Kelley has had 17 rush attempts in the past two weeks but had just 11 between Weeks 5 and 13. Therefore, it is tough to know who might be the second option behind Jackson this week.

The Chargers do have Darius Bradwell on the practice squad. However, with four RBs on the roster, plus fullback Gabe Nabers, it seems unlikely they will use one of their two elevations on Bradwell this week.

What should fantasy managers do in Week 16?

If Ekeler is active, he is a player you cannot look away from. His ability to create plays as a runner and receiver make him a valuable commodity. Yet, there is a risk in starting him. Ekeler has been nursing an ankle injury and has missed practice this week with COVID. Thus, he may be limited, especially if the Chargers open up a big lead.

If Ekeler is active, Jackson becomes the main fantasy option. He appeared to be the player the Chargers leaned on the last two weeks when Ekeler was hurt. Over the past two weeks, he has had 22 carries for 121 yards, along with 2 receptions for 20 yards. There is enough concern that Jackson is by no means a must-start. However, he could be a serviceable option for managers looking to fill gaps this week.

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