Los Angeles Chargers Offseason Preview: Running Backs

Los Angeles Chargers Offseason

The Los Angeles Chargers running back corps have a well-established starter in Austin Ekeler right now, and finally started to move in the right direction in terms of depth. However, there are still questions concerning said depth, seeing as only one backup was notable this season. And so the Los Angeles Chargers will head into the offseason continuing to try and improve the run game.

2023 Los Angeles Chargers Offseason Preview: Running Backs

On the Roster: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Zander Horvath (FB)

As mentioned above, Ekeler is the clear-cut starter here. He is one of the more versatile halfbacks in the league, as he is just as much a threat (if not more) as a receiver than as a runner. He has two straight seasons with at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage and at least 15 touchdowns.

Joshua Kelley is the other notable player here. After two underwhelming seasons to start the season, the more downhill power-esque back finally started to emerge as a legitimate change-of-pace option, averaging 4.2 yards per carry with two touchdowns. His absence was felt when he missed four games as no one else was really able to step up. This is the reason for concern – they have one good change-of-pace option now, but only one. That may not be a crippling issue, but you still want ideally want more runners that can produce at all. Both Ekeler and Kelley averaged over four yards a carry, so this would not seem to be an offensive line issue – it’s a halfback personnel issue.

Isaiah Spiller, the fourth-round rookie, was supposed to be the new change-of-pace guy – but instead, Kelley broke out, and Spiller ended up having a disappointing first season – to the point where he was a healthy scratch at times in favor of the likes of Sony Michel (who got released at the end of the year). He finished with only 18 carries for 41 yards (2.3 yards per carry). There’s still time for him to turn things around as Kelley did, but the Chargers can’t count on that.

Horvath is also on the roster, but he’s a fullback and is generally used as such – or occasionally in a tight end-like role on goal-line plays, so he does not really factor into the “running back” equation despite being listed as a halfback.

Other: Larry Rountree III

The Chargers do not have any impending free agents this year, but they do have Larry Rountree – who spent almost all year on the practice squad and signed a reserve/future contract, so he’ll likely at least be around for the offseason. Barring a dramatic improvement, it’s hard to see him making the active roster, and even making the practice squad might be a long shot depending on how much competition they add. He finished with 13 carries for 19 yards in 2022 and has an average of 2.2 yards per carry over two seasons. He has shown that he is not part of the solution at running back for the team.

The Outside Options

The Chargers have not been turning to free agency in general lately to solve their running back issues, electing instead to keep drafting and hoping they strike a bullseye eventually. This probably is the better strategy, all things considered, but the number of whiffs they have had in the Draft at halfback is concerning. Michel was a rare exception to the “no free agency backs” rule last season, and that was only after the preseason and only because Spiller was injured and then later ineffective.

It’s hard to see the Chargers selecting a running back higher than the third round; they don’t need a starter at this stage, they just need further depth/another change-of-pace back. There should be no shortage of candidates that may be available in the third round, such as Blake Corum, Chase Brown, and Zack Charbonnet, just to name a few. The question is if the Chargers will be able to get the selection right this time. They can’t keep whiffing on running backs in the Draft forever.

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