Chargers training camp has been underway for a while now, but the question remains: who will back up star running back Austin Ekeler? There are two incumbent backs on the team currently, Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree, who they selected in back-to-back drafts in 2020 and 2021. However, the Chargers selected Isaiah Spiller with the number 123 Pick in this year’s draft and he should play a significant role this year. Spiller was ranked within the top three of the runningback class this year by many and judging by the pick, they’re trying to find the next great one-two punch with Ekeler. Let’s evaluate each of the candidates that could fill that role behind Ekeler.
Spiller was selected this year to be a dynamic threat out of the backfield for the Chargers. During his three years at Texas A&M, he averaged 5.5 yards a carry and 8.1 yards per reception. After watching some of his film, he’s got great vision burst and lateral speed. He had some flashes of Le’Veon Bell‘s game and looking at the stats seems like he’s more of a pure rusher. In the preseason opener against the Rams, Spiller performed great and had the most carries compared to the other two backs, averaging 3.4 yards per attempt. Although that number isn’t super inspiring, he definitely passed the eye test, as he was great in traffic and fought to get his yards.
Kelley racked up 2303 yards and 24 touchdowns in his two years at UCLA. Now in his third season, he faces the most competition and uncertainty of his career. Staley also mentioned that Kelley’s pass protection abilities have improved, which is critical for a running back to stay on the field and keep his quarterback upright. During the first preseason game, Kelley was doing well on the first drive and averaged the most yards per attempt (5.3) out of all three backs, even though he had limited attempts. There’s been a lot of buzz about Kelley’s explosiveness and that was definitely on display last week. His newfound comfortability as a pass catcher has been one of the most pleasant surprises of camp. Kelley seems to have taken the number two role as of now, most likely because he has the most experience in the offense.
Larry Rountree III
Rountree joined the Chargers following three seasons as one of the most productive backs in the SEC, scoring 3,720 yards and 40 touchdowns. Last season, he opened the season as the second back on the depth chart but eventually finished as the fourth back behind Kelley and the now-departed Justin Jackson. Roundtree barely got any action in the first preseason game, and it’s looking as of now that he’ll play a role behind Spiller and Kelley.
While many assumed that Spiller would come in and assert himself for the second spot on the depth chart, Kelley seems to have been the most consistent and explosive back among this group thus far. He needs to finish the preseason strong but he should be expected to carry the torch behind Ekeler, at least for now. Spiller has displayed an innate ability as a pass catcher and will definitely have a role in that regard, similar to how Jackson was used throughout the season before establishing him as the clear-cut number two. The only real question mark remaining is if the Chargers value Rountree’s special teams value to keep him on the final 53-man roster.