The running back room behind Austin Ekeler has been a consistent topic of discussion through the first week of Chargers Training Camp. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi continued to stress the importance of finding meaningful production behind Ekeler at his press conference on Thursday:
While Ekeler didn't miss a game due to injury specifically in the 2021 season, it's clear that he wasn't as fresh towards the end of the season after having to carry to load in the RB room for so long. Justin Jackson dealt with injuries early on in the season. Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley pretty much alternated healthy scratches throughout the year.
Ekeler publicly bemoaned the lack of production behind him during the season and has once again made that a focus this offseason. Lombardi meanwhile has made it clear that it's an open competition behind #30 to see who lands the RB2 role:
As Lombardi said, Kelley, Rountree, and rookie Isaiah Spiller will duke it out to see who starts the season as the second running back on the depth chart. From most likely to least likely, let's talk about the candidates:
Joshua Kelley for Chargers' RB2
Now, this depends on the criteria to define RB2. If you're asking me which running back will have the most production in 2022 and actually be "RB2" by the end of the season, my answer would be Spiller. The NFL functions on a system of rookies earning their playing time though and the Chargers aren't much different in that respect.
Right now, Kelley is the RB2 in training camp reps and it's further backed up by what we saw towards the end of 2021. In the last seven games of the season, Kelley was only a healthy scratch once. In that same time frame, Rountree was listed as a healthy scratch four times. Even though the Staley coaching staff took Rountree in the draft just over a year ago, they've consistently favored the former UCLA Bruin that Anthony Lynn drafted in 2020.
If not for Kelley's fumbling issues and the uncertainties in some parts of his blocking game, he might've been RB2 last season. At one point early on in 2020, it felt like almost a certainty that he would overtake Jackson on the depth chart. But while he has had decently high upside as a runner, consistency has been hard to come by.
Age is a factor in the running back room as well. Clearly, when you consider the capital the Chargers invested in Spiller, he will eventually be RB2 as stated before. But Spiller was also the youngest player taken in the draft this year. He will turn 21 years old midway through training camp while Kelley enters his age 25 season.
He won't be in the role for long, but Kelley is in my eyes the favorite to start the 2022 season as the primary back behind Ekeler.