The Chargers ranked 30th in rushing yards and yards per carry in 2022. The running game is an obvious area for improvement in 2023, and Austin Ekeler’s uncertain future adds confusion to how the team will fix things moving forward.
While fans may expect improvement to come in the form of a rookie selection, a look at Tom Telesco’s draft history may indicate he’s more inclined to lean on in-house options.
In his ten previous drafts, Tom has drafted six running backs. Additionally, he’s drafted two fullbacks, although Zander Horvath’s athletic profile could justify him being viewed as a bruiser running back as well.
Of those six running backs, one was drafted in each of the last three years, and all remain on the roster. Justin Jackson and Melvin Gordon finished out their rookie deals with the Chargers and then left to other clubs. Only Marion Grice was released and not re-signed to finish his rookie deal or exclusive-rights free agent years.
With added perspective, the selections of Joshua Kelley, Larry Rountree, and Isaiah Spiller in consecutive years is the only time Tom has drafted running backs three years in a row. With the potential of Kellen Moore expanding Zander Horvath’s role, the betting odds should probably be against Telesco dipping his toes back in the running back waters.
Perhaps Telesco jumps on Bijan Robinson if he’s available at pick 21, desperate to “hit” on a day one running back after getting very little production out of his four “swings” on day three since selecting Gordon. However, Telesco’s draft philosophy likely views Isaiah Spiller as a redshirt rookie adding a wrinkle to the potential one-two punch we saw out of Ekeler and Kelley before Kelley’s MCL sprain last year.
Here is what Telesco said about Spiller at his recent press conference:
“Like a lot of players from last year’s draft, they have a full offseason in the program. We like Isaiah,” Telesco said. “We liked him a lot when we drafted him. He’s a 225-pound running back who is 5-foot-11 and has great vision, can make people miss. He was stuck behind some players last year and he will get a chance to come in, compete and earn a job this year.”
If Telesco is looking at immediate contributors in 2023, he may also look to free agency as he did last year with Sony Michel. Ezekiel Elliott would be an obvious pairing on a deal that reflects a deflated running back market as it would reunite him with Kellen Moore and he could step right into a similar time-share he had with Tony Pollard. Additionally, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt also headline two available free agents that have had very productive careers and are still on the right side of 30.
How likely do you think it is that Telesco selects a fourth running back in as many years?