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Austin Ekeler may still be RB1 for Chargers

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NFL: DEC 29 Chargers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Early at the NFL Scouting Combine last week we heard LA Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn mention that “we need a guy with him” in regards to running back/receiver* Austin Ekeler. But ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry expanded on that comment in an article this week, seeing Ekeler as a “17-to-20 touch-per-game guy” after speaking to people at the combine.

I saw a lot of concern over comments from Anthony Lynn about wanting “another guy” back there with Austin Ekeler. Now, we don’t know yet whether Melvin Gordon (or Ekeler) will definitely return to the Chargers, but my take after speaking with folks is that the Chargers do see Ekeler as a 17-to-20 touch-per-game guy. They just won’t all be runs. In fact, they, not surprisingly, love Ekeler out of the backfield, lined up in the slot, etc. And those plays work best when you have another running back in the backfield (Justin Jackson?). In other words, Ekeler (assuming he’s back with the Chargers) will still be a fantasy star in 2020, and the comments about needing “another guy” were overblown and taken out of context.

Berry is basically echoing what our own Micheal Peterson already said about Lynn’s comments:

To me, this obviously sounds like they want to continue using Ekeler in the same manner that they did in 2019, when he was moved all over formations while Gordon stayed in the backfield. I think this is an easy strategy to continue for the Bolts as Justin Jackson is more than capable of shouldering the load on the ground. Lynn also noted that he thinks Jackson has the best instincts out of all the running backs. That bodes well for the former seventh-round pick and his chances of an increased workload in 2020.

For his career, Ekeler is averaging 8.6 yards per target and 4.8 yards per run. If you gave him 100 target and 100 runs over the course of a season, and he reached even slightly below those numbers, Ekeler could have 800 receiving yards and 450 rushing yards, for a really good total of 1,250 yards.

100 runs would be between 6-7 carries per game and the Chargers averaged 22.8 carries per game during the regular season. Ideally, maybe they want to be in that position of running it 25 times per game, leaving roughly 18 carries for Justin Jackson and company. If you give Jackson 14 carries per game, Ekeler seven carries, then you maybe only need a goal line back or Troymaine Pope to tote the other four, if necessary.

Ekeler is a restricted free agent but it seems as though the team is also talking about him in a way that makes you believe they have no intentions of seeing him leave.

This makes, as you probably expected, running back a low priority target in free agency and the draft. In spite of the comment that LA “needs a guy” with Ekeler, there’s no reason to think that guy isn’t Jackson or a market-depreciated re-signing of Melvin Gordon.

*sidenote: The position called “running back” is outdated. There are running backs. There are also receiving backs. There are H-backs. When you’ve got players like Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara doing what they’re doing out of the backfield, you can’t put them in the same category as players who used to regularly be used for 300-400 rushing attempts. There’s maybe something more specific to call Ekeler than a “running back” and doing so would help simplify the needs moving forward. Which in the Chargers is, ummm, more of a running back.