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LA Chargers: Grading the 2020 running back group

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Justin Jackson #22 (L) and Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrate Ekeler's game winning touchdown in overtime against the Indianapolis Colts at Dignity Health Sports Park on September 08, 2019 in Carson, California. The Chargers defeated the Colts 30-24 in overtime. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
CARSON, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Justin Jackson #22 (L) and Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrate Ekeler's game winning touchdown in overtime against the Indianapolis Colts at Dignity Health Sports Park on September 08, 2019 in Carson, California. The Chargers defeated the Colts 30-24 in overtime. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

The LA Chargers come into the 2020 season with a running back group that looks different than in previous seasons. How do the running backs grade?

Over the last few years, the LA Chargers had consistency with Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler in the backfield. Gordon signing with the Broncos changes things for the team. The 2015 first round pick peaked in the 2017 season and had a very productive year in 2018, despite dealing with an injury.

Despite his influence on the franchise these last few years, Gordon’s departure doesn’t really mean the group will be worse off. In fact, one could make the argument that the running back group was of the same quality or better without Gordon during the four games he held out last season.

Austin Ekeler

Ekeler finally finds himself as the top running back Los Angeles. The Chargers rewarded him this offseason with a contract extension that keeps Ekeler with the team through 2023. That’s how confident they are in the former undrafted free agent.

In retrospect, there’s part of me that wishes Gordon never came back last year. Ekeler achieved the best stretch of football he’s ever played in the four games that Gordon held out from in 2019. He averaged well over 100 combined yards per game in that stretch, racking up 490 yards and six touchdowns. Perhaps there’s a chance he would’ve cooled off at some point, but we never got to see a full season.

While the jury is still out on whether Ekeler can handle a sixteen game season as the lead back, he deserves the chance to show it. There’s a better offensive line to run behind with Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga in powder blue. If his yards per carry stay around the 4.2 mark he set last year, the running back group will be in good position. The threat Ekeler presents in the open field as a receiver is dangerous,

Ekeler’s 2020 will be defined by how he leads as the number one back. As of now, there’s not much reason to doubt that he’ll put up solid numbers and create some great impact plays.

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