Through the first four games of the 2019 NFL season, running back Austin Ekeler has shown everyone that he can handle the larger workload and has talent to be a star running back in the NFL.
When it was announced that Los Angeles Chargers star running back Melvin Gordon III would be holding out to start the season, many fans worried that backup Ekeler would not be able to carry the load Gordon did last season.
Many believed Ekeler, the undrafted third year running back out of Western State University, was nothing more than a great change of pace back who complemented Gordon as the backup. However, over the first quarter of the season, Ekeler has left no doubt that he could carry the load of a starting running back in the league, to the delight of Chargers fans and fantasy owners alike.
Ekeler has absolutely shined through four weeks of the NFL season. He has racked up 220 yards on the ground on 56 carries for a solid 3.9 yards per carry. However, in the air? Ekeler has caught for 270 yards on 24 catches putting him at 11.3 yards per catch.
That adds up to 490 yards from scrimmage through four games this season, which ranks fifth in the NFL. Ekeler has had no trouble finding his way into the end zone this season, as he has scored six touchdowns so far. While they are not necessarily sustainable with the return of Gordon (along with the fact that production that great is no easy accomplishment), that would put him on pace for 2,120 yards from scrimmage along with 24 touchdowns over a full 16-game season.
Pro Football Focus has given Ekeler an overall grade of an 85.4, putting him third behind only Dalvin Cook and Ronald Jones (second behind only Cook when looking at running backs with over 100 total snaps). Diving deeper into that, he has earned a solid 71.2 run grade but an absurd 94.0 receiving grade which is nearly five points higher than the second-best receiving back (McCaffrey).
Ekeler has graded out as an elite running back through four weeks of the season and the stats he has put up really back it up.
Overall, in a league that seems to be redefining the job of the running back, Ekeler has shown he fits right in. The days of the ground and pound running back are all but behind us. Running backs are coming into the league more and more with the ability to catch the ball at a high level and really spread out the offense more than we have ever seen.
Because of that, Ekeler is thriving and has shown everyone that he can be a very competent starting running back for an NFL team. He can certainly handle the workload of the job, and he can do it as well as the best in the league from what we have seen so far.
Luckily for the Chargers and their fans, it isn’t for any other team. With Gordon looking to get back into the groove, things are looking to get very exciting for the Chargers running back room very soon.