How Next Gen stats can help you pick your fantasy football running backs

Austin Ekeler played with a major disadvantage last season, but could find himself with a major advantage in 2021. Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire

Seth Walder of ESPN Analytics will be writing a new fantasy football column this season using Next Gen Stats to analyze how the offensive line and opposing defensive line matchups affect running back production on a week-to-week basis. NFL player tracking, also known as Next Gen Stats, is the capture of real time location data, speed and acceleration for every player, every play on every inch of the field. Sensors throughout the stadium track tags placed on players' shoulder pads, charting individual movements within inches. A version of this column was published in the ESPN Fantasy Football magazine, on sale right now.

Austin Ekeler played the 2020 season with a disadvantage. A blocking disadvantage.

The Los Angeles Chargers finished last in 2020 among all teams in ESPN's run block win rate - a metric designed to capture a team's run blocking effectiveness using player tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats. But we've got good news for Ekeler and his backups Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley: all that is about to change. With the Chargers addressing their offensive line during the offseason, we're projecting them to leap all the way into the top 5 in run block win rate (RBWR) in 2021; a potential boost not only for Ekeler and Co., but their fantasy managers as well.

We've always known run blocking was important to football and fantasy football alike. But quantifying it - and then predicting it - was a challenge. The first part of that was handled in 2020 by the creation of RBWR.