The Chargers had a rollercoaster at the running back position due to numerous injuries in the 2020 season. During last offseason, they rewarded Austin Ekeler with a four-year contract extension, and he became the man in the back field. He suffered an injury last season, but he should come back strong and it will be interesting to see who emerges as the second back.
Locks: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley
On the bubble: Justin Jackson, Darius Bradwell
Free agents: Kalen Ballage
The good: The Bolts have running back Austin Ekeler, and he has been electric since he came into the league in 2017. Expect new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to use Ekeler in different spots the way the team did in 2018 and 2019. Last season, it felt like offensive coordinator Shane Steichen went away from that, and it hurt the offensive production as a whole. Ekeler, in the future, should line up as a receiver, and they should move him with pre-snap motion at times. Coming off a 181 touch, 933 yards, and three touchdown season, expect the Chargers to use their number one back more. Kalen Ballage came in the middle of the season and added a boost at running during Ekeler's injury. He might not be back this season.
The bad: There was no clear number two. It was expected that Joshua Kelley or Justin Jackson, but it wasn’t because both running backs struggled. Kelley was terrific in his first two games of the season, then was derailed after fumbling against the Panthers, then the Bucs in consecutive weeks. He got his touches cut while Jackson was hampered by the injury bug. This is a new coaching staff, so Kelley for sure will get another chance to prove himself. Jackson had a better ending of 2020, but does he fit Lombardi’s system? That will be the real question.
The money: Ekeler accounts for $5.75 million of the cap. Kelley will be at $975k, and Jackson at $920K.
Draft priority: Running back isn’t the biggest need for the Chargers heading into 2021, but they need a power back. The Bolts aren’t very good in short yardage running situations. If they could add a power back to the speed that they have, it could change their offensive dynamic. Late in games, when teams try to bleed out the clock and the defense is tired, having a big back can finish off the game. Expect the Chargers to add another back in free agency or the draft.