After much development during the 2018 season, it’s time to evaluate the status of the Los Angeles Chargers’ running backs.
Over the course of the offseason, I want to take a look at the Chargers position groups and determine a grade for that group heading into the 2019 season. Last time I covered the team’s wide receivers, which you can check out here. Here, we’ll move on to the running backs.
The Chargers have one of the better running back situations in the league when I look at the depth as a whole. Of course, Melvin Gordon is the premier back. Despite missing four games last year, I’d argue last year was Gordon’s best season. Averaging 5.1 yards per carry, the highest of his career, as well as having the most touchdowns of his career, Gordon was a beast. It’s getting to the point where Gordon’s going to be a top-five running back in this league for a while.
Gordon’s biggest issue throughout his career has been his ability to stay on the field to some degree. Gordon played his lone full season in 2017 and missed the most games with four in 2018. I don’t expect him to have any long term injury concerns in the future, but you’d like to have him for all 16 games. Of course, it may not matter with how deep the Chargers can be at running back, and it may be advisable for the Chargers to maybe take a little bit of the load off Melvin later into the season.
I say that because the Chargers have some great depth at running back. Gordon and Austin Ekeler is one of the best tandems the league, easily top five. Ekeler still averages 5.3 yards per carry for his career, and his production doubled last year. He’s a threat to crack a big play in either the running game or receiving game every time he steps on the field.
He’s an excellent second back, and when needed, he can step into the top spot. This is because past the top two on the depth chart, the Chargers have some proven depth.
This brings us to the third spot on the chart with Justin Jackson, who stepped up in big spots last year, specifically in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
He’s able to have a big performance in a pinch, and helped the Chargers big time in the second halves of those two games they needed to have in their run to the playoffs. Of course, Jackson probably isn’t going to be used a lot this year, barring injury, but he’s another reason I think this group has so much depth. It’s pretty rare to have the third running back on the roster be someone the defense really has to respect.
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I’m also someone who thinks Detrez Newsome, obviously in his very limited role with the team, has been pretty decent. You hope he never has to play in the season because that would mean something’s gone very wrong injury wise in front of him, but he’s got talent.
I think the Chargers, from their first to third running backs have probably the best trio in the league. They’re certainly top five with the Gordon and Ekeler combo, but extending that to Jackson, I think they’re in the conversation with the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, and New Orleans Saints for some of the best depth at running back in the league.
I’m excited to see what the running backs do this year and to see specifically how the team might manage Gordon’s touches down the stretch and give Jackson a little more of the load from time to time. Gordon’s health is really the only potential negative variable.