If there was one position for the Los Angeles Chargers that had as much (if not more) decline or turmoil in the 2019 season as the quarterback position, that would be the running back position. Melvin Gordon had a very disappointing year that started with a holdout, included a game-ending fumble on the goal line and peaked with a two-fumble performance in Week 15. It was pretty obvious after everything that had happened that he was not going to be a part of the team’s future plans. That still leaves some minor questions for the position, though. It’s a little unclear at this point who’s going to get the majority of the carries going forward, or if they’ll be split. Let’s take a look at who we’ve got this season in the group of Chargers running backs.
Sorting Out the 2020 Los Angeles Chargers Running Backs
When Gordon held out and missed four weeks as a result in 2019, Austin Ekeler got the bulk of the carries. While this didn’t necessarily backfire, Ekeler simply is not a three-down back – or even really the best overall runner on the team. He’s much better as a receiving back, where he joined the ranks of the elite in that unofficial position last year.
Ekeler is still sure to get carries. But he probably won’t be getting 20+. He didn’t even get that many in a game last year when he was temporarily the starter. Granted, the Chargers were more of a pass-first team last year. But even with them probably being more of a run-first offense this year, he’s unlikely to be a bell cow for that offense as a runner.
Justin Jackson would seem to stand to benefit heavily from this situation. With Gordon and even another backup in Troymaine Pope gone, his only real competition is Ekeler and a rookie (more on that later). While he’s sometimes had a little trouble getting past the line of scrimmage (although the offensive line may be to blame there), he’s also shown some nice speed bursts and running ability after the initial onslaught.
He did have a rough campaign in 2019, as he missed nine games due to injury. Even after that, he was stuck for most of the year behind both Gordon and Ekeler. He only had 29 rushes for 200 yards and no touchdowns. His best game saw him take seven carries for 59 yards. Still, with him being more of a natural runner than Ekeler and his prior promising history in 2018, he should be in line for significantly more carries this year. He will have to stay healthy though.
Joshua Kelley is the wildcard in play here. He was drafted this year in the fourth round, coming out of UCLA. He made the Second-Team All-PAC-12 in 2019 during his time there. Kelley was obviously drafted to try and add some depth and hopefully a future starter. He’s generally known for being a downhill and physical runner.
It’s hard to predict how Kelley will pan out, though. He’s still certainly in a good situation. Provided he comes to play in training camp and preseason, he could get a decent number of carries early on.
There are zero other running backs on the roster that have taken a snap in the league or who were even drafted. Derrick Gore is the only remaining non-rookie, and he split time last year between the Chargers and Washington Redskins practice squads. Darius Bradwell is one of this year’s undrafted free agents for the Chargers. So are Bobby Holly and Gabe Nabers, but they’re both fullbacks. It’s difficult to see any of these remaining guys contributing much, if at all. Most of them probably won’t even make the final roster.
Last Word on the Chargers Running Backs
Ultimately, this group will probably at least start out as a running back committee. That committee will likely get a lot more carries than they did last year. Ekeler is sure to get a share of carries. Even though he’s better as a receiving back, he occasionally does get a good burst from the backfield. Jackson will probably have the first crack over Kelley unless the latter blows everyone away before the regular season. At some point, either Jackson or Kelley might start getting the bulk of the carries over everyone else. It’s also quite possible that either Gore or Bradwell will get a roster spot as well. Still, they will probably get very few snaps (if any).
Regardless, expect to see this Chargers running back group get a lot more carries as a unit this year. Also expect all three main players (Ekeler, Jackson, and Kelley) to get a share of the carries. Ekeler is the least likely to have his role change dramatically; he’ll continue contributing best in the receiving game. Jackson should be able to keep a stronghold on his carries unless he gets hurt again.
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