Should The Chargers Be Content With The State of Their Running Back Room?
The short answer here is no, the Chargers should not be content with their running back room at the moment. There are a number of reasons why the Chargers should not be happy. Let’s start by looking at how they performed last season. The Chargers’ rushing attack was far below average. On the season they totaled about 1,800 yards, which ranked 20th in the league. Unfortunately, they were only able to accumulate 12 rushing touchdowns, 26th in the league. The sad part here is that Justin Herbert actually led the team in that department, with five touchdowns. They were also incredibly inefficient, only averaging 3.7 yards per attempt as a team, which was third-worst in the league.
These stats are truly baffling, especially when you consider that Anthony Lynn is a former running backs coach, and had a strong reputation for building strong rushing attacks. That is not a good look for anyone with that kind of skill set. To have their future franchise pocket quarterback leading the team in rushing touchdowns is a scary thought. Fear not though, there is hope. From a new coaching staff, and an entire off-season to fix their issues, let’s take a look at what the Chargers can do to fix this problem.
Let’s start with the most obvious answer to solving the roster problem. The NFL draft is looming, and the Chargers have nine picks in the 2021 draft. Make no mistake though, the Chargers shouldn’t spend a single pick on a running back in the draft. A relatively weak class with a few big names like Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, but not a ton of depth of quality. Even if there was, the Chargers have plenty of holes and depth issues to sort out due to injuries. They should spend every pick on grabbing guys that are going to solidify the protection around Herbert. Focusing on a deep offensive line class should help the rushing attack become more efficient.
Luckily for the Chargers, this year’s free agency class has a lot of talent, led by Green Bay’s Aaron Jones. There are also high-end players in their prime like James Conner and Kenyan Drake that could be more affordable than Jones. While there are a ton of big money guys the Chargers could out and spend on, I don’t think spending on these kinds of players is the long-term answer. There are other veterans looking to find new homes such as Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, and Marlon Mack who could be difference-makers for hopefully not too much money. Whomever the Chargers think fits best definitely needs to be a between-the-tackles type of player. I think Jamaal Williams is the guy I am keeping an eye on for this roster. He is a really solid player who just hasn’t gotten a full opportunity yet. He comes without any major injury concern and has not really produced to the best of his ability yet. I think the Packers could lose him as they look to pay Jones, and have standout rookie AJ Dillon on the roster as well.
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All is not lost with the group of players the Chargers already have. Austin Ekeler returning to health should be a big boost. While he is not the solution to the rushing touchdowns issue, Ekeler is definitely a big-time playmaker in the passing game. They drafted former UCLA star Joshua Kelley last year and he certainly started out the season with a few nice games before he started fumbling. Kalen Ballage is a free agent but he showed some spark after the team lost Justin Jackson to injury in the middle of the season. Kelley and Jackson should be back as backups and depth pieces. The Chargers could bring back Ballage to battle with those two in training camp.
Overall, the Chargers should not be content with the results of their run game, especially considering how committed they were to running the ball. The draft does not present a strong enough class in my opinion, although there always seems to be a day three or undrafted player that makes a strong impact each year so someone could surprise us. The free agency class has tons of options to wade through, even if some of the top guys sign with their respective teams. Not that the guys on their roster are hopeless now, they just need the right environment. The Chargers should bring in someone who can truly complement what they have in Ekeler. They need a physical and efficient presence to take some pressure off of Herbert and the passing game.