Undrafted rookie running back is having an excellent season.
Quick, when someone says the name Austin Ekeler, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you said the fumble he had against the Jacksonville Jaguars this past Sunday, that’s unfortunate.
Mistakes happen and those mistakes can be learned from. Sure, the turnover came at an inopportune time, but Ekeler had the best performance of his young career up to that point. Against the Jaguars, he carried the ball 10 times for 42 yards. He also caught five passes for another 77 yards, finding the end zone twice.
The Chargers didn’t put forth their best performance in Jacksonville and the argument can easily be made that if not for Ekeler’s contributions, the game wouldn’t have been anywhere near as close as it was.
So let’s not hold it against him. In fact, let’s forget about it altogether.
Instead, let’s focus on what the Chargers have found in this kid. How often do undrafted rookies pan out? They’re undrafted for a reason, right? But it seems that every season, you hear of a few of these players around the league that just want it more. These players have the kind of traits that can’t be taught. Heart, will, desire, things like that. Well, Ekeler has those intangibles in spades.
He came into training camp buried on the depth chart. There were so many running backs in front of him that it was questionable as to whether or not he’d even get much of a look in preseason games. Of course, he shined when he did, making the final 53-man roster right off the bat.
As an undrafted rookie, he’s been in the lineup for every game. He’s never been on the inactive list or spent any time on the practice squad. That speaks to his determination. In fact, he’s probably been the best rookie on the whole team this year.
Watch a Chargers special teams play some time. Though he’s a running back by trade, you will rarely see the team cover a kickoff where he’s not one of the first guys down the field ready to make a play. He does what is asked of him, and players like that earn their keep.
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Ekeler is quite similar to former Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, a player who was also undrafted. Woodhead also came out of a tiny Division II school (Chadron State) and has been able to be a part of the NFL for nearly a decade. His jack-of-all-trades abilities were a key reason why.
Ekeler is the same way. He’s quick and deceptive and once in the open field, he is a threat every time he has the ball in his hands. Just ask the Jaguars. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and a great special teams player. Plus, he has a winning attitude.
So despite his fumble, Ekeler was still nominated for the Pepsi Rookie of the Week. If you appreciate the effort he put forth against the Jags, go ahead and give him a vote.
But whether he wins that award or not, he’s going to be fine. The Chargers’ coaching staff clearly has confidence in him as he’s gone from the running back nobody knew this summer to Melvin Gordon’s primary backup.
And just like the player he’s so comparable to in Woodhead, he’ll be around for many years to come.