The Los Angeles Chargers placed RB Austin Ekeler on the IR on Friday meaning he will have to miss at least the next three games. Hamstring injuries can be extremely nagging so there’s a chance he may miss even more time so the Chargers will have to move forward without their newly resigned RB1 for a while. The Chargers also added Kalen Ballage to the practice squad, but he will likely only see the field in case of another injury.
The two guys who will be expected to carry the load will be Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley with the latter being the one most likely to be taking on bell-cow duties. Up until this point, Kelley has played in 40% of the offensive snaps compared to just 25% for Justin Jackson. Kelley also has 59 touches on offense compared to just 10 for Jackson.
While Joshua Kelley will be the de facto #1 running back, he will definitely have his snaps managed and will likely have an almost 50/50 split with Jackson. He has fumbled the ball twice over the past two weeks and after starting off the season with 173 yards from scrimmage his first two games, he only mustered 85 over the last two weeks. He is by no means ready to immediately take over the majority of the offensive snaps.
Just a season ago, Justin Jackson had a great start to the season in the absence of Melvin Gordon due to his holdout. While he has struggled to get on the field this season, he has proven the ability to produce and is a significantly better receiving back than Kelley has shown.
It will be absolutely crucial that the Chargers offense is able to have a balanced attack to take the pressure off of Justin Herbert and the Chargers defense. Last week, LA was in control the entire first half, but once Austin Ekeler went down, the offensive balance completely disappeared. The leading rusher on the day was Justin Herbert with just 14 yards. That lack of balance led to the defense looking gassed as Brady torched them which led to a 24 point 2nd half and a come from behind victory.
It is crucial not only for the Chargers’ chances to win games but also to help the growth of Justin Herbert that they have a proper run game in place that keeps defenses guessing. Many young QBs in the past have had life made easier due to extremely productive RBs by their side including Dak Prescott with Ezekiel Elliott and Jared Goff with Todd Gurley. Whoever steps up to the plate, they will be expected to produce in Ekeler’s absence.