Sorting Out the 2022 Los Angeles Chargers Running Backs

Chargers Running Backs

For the most part, there is not a whole lot of uncertainty concerning position groups on the offensive side of the football for the Los Angeles Chargers. The wide receiver lineup looks to be about the same as last year, and aside from replacing Jared Cook with Gerald Everett, the tight end lineup was mostly unchanged and looks pretty predictable. The running back lineup is the lone exception here – it’s not completely clear how the depth chart and distribution of snaps/carries will look after Austin Ekeler. Let’s take a look at the lineup of Chargers running backs and predict how things will shake out.

READ MORE: Chargers Right Tackle Battle

Breaking Down the 2022 Los Angeles Chargers Running Backs

Austin Ekeler

2021 saw Austin Ekeler have easily the most carries of his career, whereas in the past he had primarily been more of an Alvin Kamara-type receiving-back player. He finished with 911 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, both career-highs – and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. With 647 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, he finished with a career-high of 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns.

Although he had an excellent season, the Chargers are still not quite using him as a bell-cow halfback – hence why there are questions about who will come out on top as the change-of-pace back. It had usually been Justin Jackson when he was healthy in the past, but the Chargers elected not to re-sign him this off-season – leaving that role to fall to one of the options below.

Isaiah Spiller

Isaiah Spiller should be the most likely candidate to fill that change-of-pace role. The Chargers selected him in the fourth round this year. As opposed to the last two running backs they drafted – who were more power-back types – Spiller is a bit more well-rounded of a runner and has a little more receiving utility as well.

In theory, he should pretty easily fit into the RB2 slot. The issue is, of course, there is no guarantee of how a rookie will pan out in the NFL – or if they will play at a high level right away, or if they will take a year or two to get there. Fortunately for Spiller, he won’t be expected to take on a big workload unless Ekeler gets injured. But the Chargers running backs group does need a more reliable change-of-pace option, and Spiller is the most likely candidate to be able to do that.

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Joshua Kelley

The Chargers have selected potential RB2’s three years straight in the Draft. Kelley was the first attempt of those. He actually got off to a decent start when in his first game he finished 60 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. However, in Weeks 3-4 of 2020, he had back-to-back games with fumbles and never seemed to regain his confidence after that. He finished with 354 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 3.1 yards a carry. 2021 was not any better as he started out as a healthy scratch. He only got notable opportunities late in the season, but still finished with only 102 rushing yards, no touchdowns, and 3.0 yards per carry.

He may still end up being useful for short-yardage or goal-line situations, but on a lot of other teams, he would likely find himself fighting for a roster spot. It’s mainly due to the lack of depth that he’s likely to stick around. We could also possibly see him improve this year since we did see (briefly) that the ability is there. He does have a little receiving utility to help himself out. Barring Spiller being a massive disappointment, however, we probably should not expect him to be higher than RB3.

Larry Rountree III

Rountree was a sixth-round pick by the Chargers in 2021. He struggled pretty heavily in his rookie year, getting only 87 yards on 36 carries and one touchdown. He showed basically zero receiving utility as well, with only one reception for negative yardage. After getting a modest amount of carries in the first half of the season, he got phased out to the point of being a healthy scratch due to his poor play.

There’s always the chance for improvement in his sophomore campaign, but we saw barely anything last year to suggest that this should be expected. The fact that he seems a bit one-dimensional does not help matters. His roster spot shouldn’t be considered guaranteed, though the fact that he only has one year under his belt might land him another chance unless he flames out hard in training camp/preseason.

Leddie Brown and Kevin Marks Jr

Leddie Brown is an undrafted free agent, but should not be slept on with regards to making the roster. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with West Virginia and gained some honors in the Big 12. In terms of build and skill set, he’s actually not that dissimilar to Spiller. He’s obviously not a lock, but given his impressive resume for a UDFA and the lack of good competition, he should be considered somebody to watch in training camp and preseason.

Kevin Marks Jr (another UDFA) probably should not be dismissed entirely either. Although he had a 1,000-yard season in his sophomore year with Buffalo, he got outshined by Jarret Patterson and when he finally had a chance as a starter in 2021, it got bogged down by injury. Though he does have some shifty ability, he’s also been noted to have a tendency to try to make a big play instead of taking what’s available – which has led to losing yards instead. Brown seems like a safer bet to stick around, but again, given the lack of roster locks, Marks could always surprise people. At the bare minimum, at least one of these two UDFA’s should make the practice squad.

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Fullback Battle

The Chargers drafted a fullback in the seventh round – Zander Horvath. He went Third-Team All-Big Ten in 2020 and showed some nice versatility in college. He will be competing directly with Gabe Nabers for a roster spot. On paper, Horvath would seem more likely to put up stats, given that he is done so in college. Nabers has done fine, however, particularly on special teams. Horvath may still win the job over the incumbent Nabers in part because of his versatility, however.

In Conclusion

Ekeler and Spiller are basically the only two guarantees to make the roster among the Chargers running backs. And even though it’s quite likely, it’s not a guarantee that Spiller will be the RB2 right away. Also, Kelley and Rountree will have to watch out for competition from the UDFA’s. It will indeed be interesting to see how the competitions here play out in training camp and preseason.

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