No. 2: How big is Chargers RB Austin Ekeler’s ceiling?
It seemed disastrous at the time. But running back Melvin Gordon’s holdout last year ended up being quite the blessing in disguise. After all, it directly led to offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt giving the primary ground role to the No. 2 tailback on the roster, Austin Ekeler.
All Ekeler did was rush for 557 yards on 132 attempts, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, while contributing another 993 yards through the air for a combined total of a whopping 1,550 yards from scrimmage with 11 touchdowns.
Those are the kind of numbers indicative of legendary dual-threat running backs, such as the 49ers’ Roger Craig and the St. Louis Rams’ Marshall Faulk.
Whisenhunt is gone now, replaced by coordinator Shane Steichen who came up through the Chargers ranks and figures to promote Ekeler just as much as Whisenhunt did a year ago.
That’s great news for the 25-year-old former undrafted free agent out of Western Colorado State.
Now, the question is just how much an impact will Ekeler have. Ekeler won’t be surprising anyone anymore. And with question marks under center, it’s likely opposing teams will shift the majority of their defensive focus on stopping Ekeler and forcing either Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert to throw.
True, the Chargers have plenty of aerial weapons. But it’s more than probable the No. 1 goal for defenses facing Los Angeles will be to stop Ekeler.
If he breaks through and breaks out, it sure will be fun to watch.