After the injuries piled up, the Chargers needed another body in the running back room. That came in the form of Kalen Ballage, a New York Jets’ back that was cut just a month into the season.
Shockingly, Ballage burst onto the scene with a few great games. He was responsible for keeping the Chargers in the game against the Raiders with 69 yards on 15 carries. That was a really good day considering no one could’ve possibly expected him to do that well.
While his performances against Miami and New York didn’t reach the level he was at against the Raiders, they were still decent. Ballage had over 100 combined yards against Miami and 70 against the Jets.
Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley returning after their injuries dropped Ballage’s carries by quite a bit, as they should’ve. Even when you consider the drop in usage affecting his stats, Ballage was markedly less efficient. He went from averaging 3.7 yards per carry to about 2.7. There was no dent that he made in the receiving game that made up for that.
Ballage had a few decent games but it seems like the Chargers squeezed all they could out of him by the time December rolled around. He just didn’t had the same level of physicality or intensity that he initially showed. It also didn’t help that Anthony Lynn and Shane Steichen called his number on run plays way more often than they should’ve.
Final 2020 Grade: C-
Every running back had their own personal struggles that added up over the course of the season. Ekeler’s season was fantastic, but that six game stretch he missed with the hamstring injury really put the unit at a huge disadvantage. Jackson’s numbers also weren’t bad for what they were, but it was yet another season where he barely managed to play half of the games.
Kelley’s struggles seemed to mainly be related to losing confidence as a rookie running back, which is always a tough situation in the NFL. Once he started to face that adversity, it was a real struggle to get his head back in the game. The healthy scratches were probably the right decisions, but they were disappointing calls nonetheless.
Ballage broke through in a couple of games but his magic pixie dust wore off. He was…back to being Ballage again.
This group can definitely be better going forward if the health and coaching situations improve to open up the run game, but 2020 was a certified dud.