The Chargers will head into 2020 with the same starting duo they entered this season with. However, the group needs to add one more player to the mix.
Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will start at running back in 2020, as Melvin Gordon is projected to be gone after this year. The duo performed admirably to open the season, and their combination should provide a similar spark next year, particularly since they would have had a whole offseason to practice as the Chargers’ one-two punch backfield.
However, even with Ekeler putting up monster numbers, and even with Jackson averaging a whopping 6.8 yards per carry, the Chargers would be wise to add a third running back to the mix.
Troymaine Pope performed admirably in the preseason, but has not factored much into regular season games. With the return of Gordon, the rookie has been relegated to a special teams role, and even that may come to a close once Desmond King returns from his one-game team-implemented suspension.
The first reason the Chargers need to add a running back: They can’t trust Ekeler and Jackson to play a full 16 games just yet. Jackson has yet to play a full NFL season, and his long absence this season is a red flag. Ekeler, who had never played in all 16 games his first two years, looks to be on pace to do so for the first time in his career. However, while he will finish a full 16 games, he will not have done so as the team’s lead back. Though No. 30 doesn’t need to be run into the ground to be considered a feature back, he will be expected to shoulder a greater workload next season. Fans absolutely believe Ekeler can do it, but so far, he has yet to actually prove he can handle the full-time job for an entire year.
Second, the Chargers could use some help in the return game. They have no problem using running backs as returners, as all three of Ekeler, Jackson, and Pope have contributed there this season. King, unfortunately, has been a disappointing as a returner this season, one that ironically opened with him taking a return 43 yards on the team’s first play of the year. Since then, it’s been poor decisions and muffed punts. The team could use a special teams threat once again, and perhaps a running back who has returned kicks or punts in college could solve the problem.
They could choose to go the elusive and shifty route with running backs, but the Chargers could also do well to go with a bruiser. No one expects Tom Telesco to take a running back early, so a mid-to-late-round pick whose specialty is knocking defenders out of their pads may be what this team needs. Particularly, at the goal line or short-yardage situations, where Ekeler and Jackson are at a disadvantage because of their size. Plays can be called to move the chains in other ways, but when the Chargers want to go with a one-yard plunge into the heart of a defensive line, they may need someone with more size.