Austin Ekeler made his mark as an undrafted rookie in 2017, going from a player no one knew to one that was part of the regular rotation. Let’s look back on his rookie campaign.
Report cards have been passed out for all of the Chargers’ 2017 draft choices. I omitted Forrest Lamp due to the season=ending injury he suffered early in training camp and Isaac Rochell as he appeared in only three games.
But there was one undrafted player who made an impact this season, and that was Bolt Beat favorite Austin Ekeler. I’m going to pass out his grade momentarily but first, if you missed any of the other players being graded, click on the links below.
Ekeler came out of Western State University in Gunnison, Colorado. He wasn’t on anyone’s draft radar due to his small stature and the fact that he came from a tiny college. But he proved he could play in the NFL and could enjoy a long, productive career in the league.
Ekeler came into training camp as the No. 7 running back on the depth chart. To say he faced long odds to make the 53-man roster would be an understatement. Making the practice squad seemed like a good goal.
Of course the Chargers had Melvin Gordon entrenched in the starting role. The team also had Branden Oliver, Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow, Kenjon Barner and Andre Williams on the roster. Ekeler never let any of that deter him.
In the first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, he saw action on special teams but was able to catch a pass late in the game and turn it into a nice play. Quickly, it seemed that this kid was one who knew how to make the most of his opportunities.
As the preseason wore on, he looked better by the week. After his performance in the team’s preseason finale against the San Francisco 49ers, it seemed like it would be quite difficult for the team to let him go, but wouldn’t have been a surprise if it did.
He was an undrafted player from Western State. That’s just the way it goes for guys like him, right? Wrong.
Ekeler made the 53-man roster and soon, overtook Oliver as the team’s No. 2 running back. You’d see him nearly every game covering kickoffs on special teams and getting in on several tackles. But he proved to be a terrific player for the team as a running back, particularly on passing downs.
He caught 27 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns, including a two-touchdown performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But he made a dent rushing the ball as well, gaining 260 yards on the ground and averaging a team-best (among running backs) 5.5 yards per carry.
This was the epitome of making your mark when your number is called, something Ekeler expressed he was excited to do during my interview with him back in September.
If there was a knock on Ekeler, it was the two fumbles he lost this past season, which each helped lead to crucial losses against the Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs, as each turnover came at critical junctures of those games. He’ll need to work on his ball security, but if I’m a betting man, I’d say he corrects that going forward.
In 2018, I would expect Ekeler to have an even better season. That’s just what he does. He ascended from a small town in Colorado to a small college and onto the big stage of the NFL. He’s determined, intelligent, always prepared and much more gifted athletically than just about all of the scouts apparently thought.
What more do you want in a football player?