Despite the lost season of 2023, the Los Angeles Chargers are now in possession of number five in the draft and have their pick a myriad of premium players. As of now, you can pretty much point to anywhere on the roster and there’s a glaring hole. One unit in particular that needs help is the running backs.
The Los Angeles Chargers Running Back Situation Currently
The run game was non-existent for the Chargers over the last two seasons. In 2022, Austin Ekeler was able to fight through, doubling as a receiver and back, setting records, and earning contract incentives for the season ahead. But in 2023, his star faded, and he ended the season with just five rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown, way less than the double digits of the previous year.
The Chargers did draft a running back in 2022, Isaiah Spiller from Texas A&M in the fourth round at 123rd, but he’s had very little action due to injuries and the fact that he falls into the dreaded RB3 position on the depth chart, where he isn’t rotated in much.
As RB2, Joshua Kelley is scrappy and can make an impact when on the field, it’s just been “the Ekeler show” for the last few seasons, so Kelley has seen more snaps than Spiller, but way fewer than Ekeler.
Running back Elijah Dotson was also in the mix last season, only playing in a handful of games, so other than training camp and preseason, he didn’t play nearly enough to be the clear RB2. As both Ekeler and Kelley are headed for free agency, the Chargers will most likely draft a running back, it just depends on when.
Two Possible Options For The #5 Chargers Draft Pick
Jonathon Brooks, University of Texas
Jonathan Brooks is currently ranked first for running back prospects according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). His profile states, “At over six feet tall and over 200 pounds, Brooks shows impressive wiggle, agility, body control, and long speed for a player with his build.”
Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic also said that he has “the ability to wiggle his shoulders and leave people on the ground in space, Brooks forced 63 missed tackles and averaged nearly 4 yards per carry after contact. How he responds to the injury is a concern, but Brooks has just 238 college carries on his body. He’s also a very good receiver.”
As Ekeler demonstrated in 2022, the Chargers have used running backs as receivers in a pinch. The missed tackles stat also bodes well for Brooks, demonstrating his power. The ACL injury is a red flag, but he’s young, which hopefully means he’ll bounce back quickly. Brooks has the speed and the ability to keep plays alive, which the Chargers desperately need.
He also played 45 pass-blocking snaps this past year and didn’t allow any sacks, hits, hurries, or pressures. Ekeler hasn’t been good in pass blocking, so that would be a bonus if Brooks could develop more in that area.
Trey Benson, Florida State University
PFF has Trey Benson ranked number two, while Pro Football Network has him as number one. In their profile, Pro Football Network says, “he is very skilled at quickly navigating through seams as a north/south runner, and he can explode downfield with his vertical speed…Benson’s foot speed and micro-mobility impress within his long-strider mold, and in a limited sample, he’s shown off exciting receiving upside. Of the backs in the 2024 NFL Draft, Benson has the best chance to be a true three-down workhorse.”
PFF noted his high number of missed tackles forced after a rush in 2022 (79) and he still got 45 in 2023. The Chargers need a three-down back who can turn on the jets. Someone who can power through, finding those spaces on the inside and outside, and Benson fits that bill. He had five more rushing touchdowns in 2023 than the previous season along with his first receiving touchdown with 227 receiving yards.
Should the Chargers Draft a Running Back First?
The Chargers should draft a back in 2024 as it’s a good class. And likely there will be quality backs left in later rounds, so they could wait. But since the Chargers are in dire need of someone to fill out that position group and become the next star player, it may be better to do it sooner rather than later.