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Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler named a top duo in the NFL

Ekeler led all running backs with 621 yards after the catch in 2021.

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

One of the most common topics to use for rankings across the media landscape has always been the concept of duos, trios, etc. More specifically, we always see a ton things like “best wide receiver trios” or “coach-quarterback” duos.

In a new rankings post at CBS Sports, NFL analyst Jared Dubin took to the task of broadening the concept of top duos before ranking the top pairs in the league, regardless of what position they play or if they’re a coach. Essentially, the players included on such an all-encompassing list aren’t just among the best in the league, but their synergistic relationships with each other help transcend them to a whole new echelon of value.

Of course I wouldn’t be reporting on this if there wasn’t a pair of Chargers players included, right? Quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Austin Ekeler were ranked as the ninth-best duo of any kind in the NFL, according to Dubin. They landed just ahead of a pairing from the Cowboys in linebacker Micah Parson and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and right behind the combo of quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans from the Buccaneers.

Here’s what Dubin had to say about the Herbert-Ekeler connection:

“Herbert has quickly established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and while he has two excellent receivers to whom he throws the ball quite often, his true partner in the offense is Ekeler. One of the most efficient and effective pass-catching backs in the NFL, Ekeler is capable of not just working in the checkdown game, but as a primary target for his quarterback. Despite his slight stature, he packs surprising power in his legs, and he’s tough to take down on the first attempt. Herbert can hit every spot on the field with his throws due to his otherworldly arm strength, but his accuracy and ball placement on underneath and perimeter throws to Ekeler allows him to create yards after the catch with incredible frequency.”

Since he entered the NFL, no running back has a higher receiving grade from Pro Football Focus than Ekeler (94.2). Since taking over as the starting quarterback, Herbert and Ekeler have started 25 games together. In that span, Ekeler has totaled 123 catches for 1,047 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. If any of those numbers seem a tad low, remember that Ekeler missed five games with Herbert during the 2020 season due to a hamstring injury.

Ekeler’s career-high for receiving yards (993) may have come via the arm of Philip Rivers, but the difference between that 2019 season and now is that the Chargers are no longer finding themselves down by two-plus scores late in games. Herbert and the Chargers are able to involve Ekeler at a high level without being forced into it by a negative game script and the results speak for themselves, a la their inclusion on this list.