In the absence of Austin Ekeler, the LA Chargers should lean more on Justin Jackson as opposed to Joshua Kelley.
Austin Ekeler‘s hamstring injury will keep him out for at least a month. It’s a crushing blow to the Chargers’ run game, which had been moving the ball very well. The LA Chargers had 455 rushing yards through their first three games. On Sunday against Tampa Bay, they had 46 rushing yards total.
The reality for the Chargers is that they will not replace the efficiency of Ekeler. Through the first quarter of the season, Ekeler averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception. The next most efficient runner is…Justin Herbert, averaging 3.9 yards per run.
Joshua Kelley simply hasn’t been very efficient. He’s had moments where he’s flashed for sure, but 3.3 yards per carry isn’t going to cut it as the lead back. The old “offensive line is bad” excuse doesn’t even really apply this year.
Fumbling is also a big problem for Kelley, as he’s turned it over two times in the last two games. Those turnovers resulted in seven points for the Buccaneers and three for the Panthers.
The question with Justin Jackson is really about health. However, if he was truly nursing an injury in Week 4, I don’t think he would’ve played. Some will point out that Jackson’s rushing averages aren’t that hot either, but he only has eight rushing attempts. That’s not a particularly large sample size to glean something from.
Jackson played pivotal roles in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In games where he got more than seven carries in 2018, he averaged 5.04 yards per attempt. His efforts in the Pittsburgh and Kansas City games saved the running game and offense.
In 2019, a nagging hamstring injury knocked Jackson’s productivity down from where it would have been. But, his per attempt stats don’t lie. Jackson averaged 6.9 (nice) yards per carry over the course of the season while having 142 yards on 18 carries prior to the injury.
With Kelley’s relative inexperience and his low efficiency in the first four games, the Chargers should give Jackson the bulk of the carries. He’s a more developed player right now with better vision. Injuries are a concern, but not moreso than any other player. As we learned with Ekeler this weekend, injuries happen to the most well-conditioned players too.
Installing Jackson as the lead back until Ekeler is healthy would give Kelley an opportunity to build up his pass catching and field vision. Having the ability to develop without the pressure of the RB1 role is a significant factor here as well.