The Chargers Running Back Dilemma
America is a land of opportunity. Some seek and find great fortune while others are stuck somewhere in the middle, trying to survive in a competitive society. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is currently seeking a fortune from either the owners of the Chargers or the owners of another organization. While this drama is playing out, his back-ups are vying for the starting spot. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are reliable back-ups who now have the opportunity to prove themselves as starters in the NFL. How is this battle playing out so far in the preseason?
Austin Ekeler played at Western Colorado University from 2013 to 2016. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored seven touchdowns as a freshman. The following year he set the world on fire with 2,093 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. He led Division II in yards per game (203.9) and scored 19 touchdowns as a junior. He rushed for 1,495 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior and was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is Division II’s version of the Heisman Trophy. Upon finishing his collegiate career, Ekeler went undrafted and was signed by the Chargers shortly thereafter.
Justin Jackson attended Northwestern from 2014 to 2018. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten as a freshman while rushing for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was even better as a sophomore by rushing for 1,418 yards. He was consistent his junior year with 1,300 yards and 12 scores. He added another 1,311 yards and 11 touchdowns to his resume as a senior. When he finished his college career he had become the school’s all-time leading rusher with 5,440 yards including bowl games. As a result of his accomplishments, he was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Chargers.
Early NFL Career
Ekeler has been getting more attention over the years. Over the course of his career, he has made a name for himself as a physical player who can break away from defenders the closer he is to the end zone. He rushed for 260 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in 2017. He was better in 2018 with 554 rushing yards and three touchdowns on more than twice as many touches. He has also recorded 66 receptions, 683 yards, and six touchdowns since entering the NFL.
Jackson rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. He caught 15 passes for 135 yards too. While he saw minimal action, his 4.1 yards per carry is promising.
In their first preseason game competing for the starting spot, both played well. Ekeler rushed five times for 40 yards while Jackson rushed five times for 22 yards and one touchdown. While his carries were few, Jackson showed good physicality with his opportunities, particularly in off-tackle plays. Ekeler also caught three passes for 29 yards while Jackson was held catch-less for the day.
The second game of the preseason was a bit different. This time Jackson had the upper hand, rushing eight times for 33 yards. Ekeler rushed just three times for a paltry nine yards in the second preseason game. Both only caught one pass for less than ten yards.
Interestingly, Jackson’s best runs were off-tackle on most of his runs. Due to his performance, the Chargers may use them as a one-two punch with Jackson running outside while Ekeler runs inside while catching passes. Regardless of their decision, it appears both are taking advantage of the opportunity and could cause serious problems for opposing defenses.
Overall, the team would like nothing more than having Melvin Gordon rejoin them before Week 1, but if that does not happen, they seem to be in capable hands.