It’s still early in the offseason but the remaining few months prior to the 2021 season will be spent on looking forward to the new campaign and that brings with it continued offseason rankings of positions, coaches, entire teams, and other miscellaneous lists that enable analysts to rank them from worst to first.
In PFF’s most-recent set of rankings, author Sam Monson took to ranking the top-32 running backs in the league entering the 2021 season and Chargers fans will be happy to hear that Austin Ekeler was (rightfully) ranked near the top at 11th overall.
The only backs listed above Ekeler are (in descending order): Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Saquon Barkley, Chris Carson, Josh Jacobs, and Kareem Hunt.
For some added context as to why Ekeler lands at 11th, here’s what Monson had to say:
“The highest PFF receiving grade over the last two seasons belongs not to Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, or any other big-name superstar but to Austin Ekeler, whose 93.6 grade is streets ahead of the competition. Ekeler also has the most receiving touchdowns and explosive plays in that time.”
Short, sweet, and convincing, if you ask me.
The only thing that is truly keeping Ekeler from the upper-echelon of NFL backs is his lack of notable production as a runner. He finished with 530 yards in 10 games played, which would have put him on a 16-game pace for a career-high 848 yards.
Behind a new offensive line and coaching staff, Ekeler’s production on the ground is sure to reach new heights this season, but if new offensive coordinator decides to utilize him in the same manner as the Saints used Alvin Kamara, the 1,000-yard rushing mark is likely out of the picture. In four seasons, Kamara has still yet to reach that mark, himself.
At the end of the day, Ekeler is an offensive weapon, just like Kamara, who can threaten a defense from anywhere he lines up. He’s done it from the slot, in the backfield, and out wide. I’d be vehemently surprised if this wasn’t going to be the case under Lombardi and Brandon Staley.
For a little more added assurance that Ekeler could — and should — be utilized as the elite dual-threat he is, Kamara has recorded at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns in three of his first four seasons in the NFL. The one year he didn’t reach those marks, he finished with 1,330 total yards and six touchdowns.
I think Ekeler will be just fine this season, and we’ll see him much higher on this list a year from now.