The Chargers fan base finally got to see what things would be like with Austin Ekeler as the lead back while Melvin Gordon was holding out during the first month of the 2019 season, and it was glorious.
In Weeks 1 through 3, Ekeler rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 208 receiving yards and another two scores. That’s 368 total yards from scrimmage and an average of roughly 123 yards per game. He went on to finish with 557 yards on the ground with three scores and fell just short of 1,000 receiving yards with 997 and eight more trips to the end zone.
Part of the reason that makes Ekeler so productive is his ability to consistently make the first tackle attempt miss. In the NFL, this is the trait that separates the “good” players from the “elite” ones. According to a recent rankings piece from Pro Football Focus, Ekeler graded-out as the sixth-most elusive running back in the NFL.
“Besides being one of the most dynamic receivers at the position, Ekeler has also been one of the toughest running backs in the league to bring down,” says author Ben Linsey. “Since joining the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Ekeler has forced a missed tackle on 22% of his touches (slotting in at fourth just behind Cook), and he’s been much better after contact than you would expect from a player listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds. As he proved last season, there shouldn’t be hesitation with his ability to handle a heavy workload.”
Football fans didn’t have to wait long for Ekeler to show you that ability to gain yards after contact this past year. In the very first game of the season, Ekeler caught a short screen pass from Philip Rivers behind the line of scrimmage pass and turned up the right sideline. He then proceeded to collide with a pair of Colts defenders before shaking both off and galloping into the end zone.
With Melvin Gordon away, Austin Ekeler is having himself a game: 113 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs pic.twitter.com/CDWVsxHijv— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 8, 2019
What about that monstrous game against the Jacksonville Jaguars this past December? The huge run up the left sideline where Ekeler broke the tackle attempt of four different defenders comes to mind.
The former Division II UDFA has earned everything throughout the first three years of his career and chances are he’ll continue to do so now that he finally has the backfield all to himself (for the most part).