Chargers undrafted rookie spotlight: RB Austin Ekeler

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 11: NFL Rookie Ladarius Green
SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 11: NFL Rookie Ladarius Green /

We have hit July and are a mere weeks from the start of training camp which will be held from the Los Angeles Chargers’ new home in Costa Mesa, California.

Over the past several weeks, I have profiled every undrafted rookie on the roster as part of this undrafted series and today, I touch on the last one. I saved this one for last for a reason.

Sure, I may have some bias behind that, but I’m happy to show Chargers fans what this guy is capable of in the NFL.

Name: Austin Ekeler

Height: 5’9″

Weight: 195 pounds

School: Western State University (Division II)

Austin Ekeler was brought in as an undrafted free agent from Western State in Colorado. I watched him play during his high school days at Eaton High School in Eaton, Colorado and I have spoken to him as well as interviewed him in the past.

I remember fans in those high school stands saying he was good enough to play in the NFL. I remember hearing a lot about him before actually going to play and I remember watching in amazement at just how good he was once I did see him play.

As good of a player as he is, he comes across as an even better person. Humble and full of respect, this is the kind of guy you want to root for. Here, I hope to get Chargers fans to root for him as well.

Western Colorado is a small school in Gunnison, Colorado. The football team competes in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference of Division II and has had some well-known athletes attend the school, including former UFC Heavyweight champion Shane Carwin.

On the football field, no player ever made more of an impact for the Mountaineers than did Ekeler.

He finished his college career with 5,857 yards and 55 touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry. In the process, he was named a finalist for the Harlon Hill Award in 2016, given to the best player in Division II.

But if you’re still not impressed, you have to see these pro day numbers.

Random note for #DraftTwitter: Western Springs (CO) RB Austin Ekeler put up absurd Pro Day #’s last week. 4.43 40, 40.5 vert, 10’8 broad.

— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) March 13, 2017

Ekeler took part in the pro day held at Colorado University back in  March. Kevin Fishbain, a beat writer for the Chicago Bears notes that his numbers were “absurd”. That’s a good word, because his 40-yard dash would have ranked No. 4 at the scouting combine. In addition, no running back at the combine had a better vertical jump.

That speaks to Ekeler’s level of athleticism.

In watching his game tape, you’ll see that he’s quick, elusive and much stronger than his size would indicate. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield. But it’s his ability to make plays in space that will set him apart at the next level.

So how does he fit in L.A.? The Chargers obviously have Melvin Gordon, who will continue to be the bellcow back for the team for the forseeable future. But what does the team have behind him in the way of reliable players? What we saw last season should help answer that question and that answer is not much.

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Kenjon Barner was brought in as a free agent but he has just 260 career rushing yards in three seasons. Andre Williams has potential, but spent most of last season on the practice squad. Kenneth Farrow was largely ineffective when inserted into the lineup last season and Branden Oliver, who many will consider the No. 2 running back right now, has played in just eight games over the last two seasons.

Most importantly, the team didn’t replace Danny Woodhead through free agency or the draft and Ekeler might be the perfect guy to slide into the role he used to have.

In other words, there is an opportunity on this roster for Ekeler and that’s likely what he saw when he chose to sign with the Chargers following the draft.

My Take

In offering my take on all of these undrafted free agents, you’ve heard me say things like this player is shooting for the practice squad or this player might be a better fit on another team. Maybe you’re tired of reading that in this section during this series.

Well you’re not going to hear it here.

As I just mentioned, this team has a huge opportunity at running back. The Chargers have six running backs on the roster and assuming they’ll keep four on the final roster, Ekeler would just have to beat out two guys this summer.

Not only do I think that could happen, I expect it to happen. This kid is going to surprise you from the first time he touches the ball in a preseason game. If you get out to Costa Mesa this summer, the guy wearing the No.3 jersey is going to catch your eye.

Back in April, Austin told me, “Western State Colorado University was the only team that believed in my ability to play running back, and that is all I needed. That’s all I need now, is one team to believe in me.” Well, one team has shown a belief in him and soon, he’ll make believers out of its fans.

Or perhaps after reading this, you’re already a believer.