If I told you that a lone running back on the Los Angeles Chargers — let’s say his name rhymes with Austin Ekeler — has scored 38 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, you’d probably think this guy was one of the best players currently in the NFL. The word “superstar” might even come out of your mouth. What if I said that he’s so far ahead of the pack over that span that the next closest player to his touchdown total is 12 scores behind?
Yeah. Exactly. Those aren’t just fantasy football stats. Those are 38 real-life touchdowns that he’s scored he’s scored for the real-life Chargers. Yet somehow, some way. there are analysts out there that are discrediting Austin Ekeler’s credibility (Gasp! Who could have guessed it was him I was talking about!) as one of the best players in the NFL.
Here’s the thing: You don’t accidentally fall into the end zone 38 times in two years. Players don’t say “Whoops! I got into the end zone!” over three dozen times in a 34-game span. It takes a number of variables to make that happen and the biggest one is the ability and talent of the player holding the football.
NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus just became one of the most-egregious offenders of the recent anti-Ekeler rhetoric among the media this week after refusing to place the Chargers’ RB1 among his most recent “Superstars Club” entering the 2023 season. In fact, zero new running backs joined the group that currently contains Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, and Jonathan Taylor after both Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara were given the boot following the 2022 season.
Now that’s a solid list, but Ekeler literally scored the same exact amount of touchdowns as Taylor during the 2021 season (20) and then followed it up with 18 more in 2022. Taylor missed six games this past season and only scored four rushing touchdowns while healthy. I feel for the guy and believe he’d have crushed it once again were he 100 percent all year, but I don’t think you get to cherry-pick which players do and do not deserve dings to their reputation due to factors outside of their control.
Taylor got hurt and was clearly less productive due to injuries, yet he remains. Cook recorded over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns but gets bounced because the team cut him following the season? You have to make it make sense.
Taylor scored 30 touchdowns in a two-year span to begin his career and made it in to the club. Ekeler scores eight more in a different two-year stretch and he’s kept out because Hanzus just isn’t “feeling” it?
I’ve stretched out this lead-up a bit too long so lets go ahead and read what Hanzus had to say about Ekeler in his article:
“I really want Austin Ekeler to make me pay. I want that man to have another monster season, then see me at radio row at next year’s Super Bowl, take a printed copy of this article and performatively stuff it in my front pocket like Bill Cowher did to that poor ref once upon a time. I would deserve such public humiliation. After all, how can a man with 38 total touchdowns the past two seasons alone (12 more than any other player in football) not qualify as a superstar? Is the stink of the Bolts’ 27-0 playoff collapse rubbing off on my analysis here? I sure hope not, but I can’t be certain. Ekeler is a wonderful two-way player, the best all-purpose back in the world not named CMC. But a true superstar? I’m not there. It brings me some peace that a slice of the general public agrees.”
For all we know, Taylor could simply fail to ever return to his production-level during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. We literally do not know what will happen and it’s a flawed line of thought to continue holding players up based on what we predict they’ll do as opposed to what they’ve done already.
You can hold Ekeler back for the lack of pure rushing production if you want, but eight more touchdowns is certainly worth more than a couple hundred rushing yards in the grand scheme of things. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to hold injuries and other factors against certain, you have to do the same with everyone. And what level of production does Ekeler need to hit this season to finally breakthrough to the other side? Is it 15 touchdowns? No running back currently in the superstar club has accomplished three consecutive seasons with 15 or more touchdowns.
What about 12 total touchdowns? Only Henry has accomplished that feat during a three-year span. Heck, I’d say 10 touchdowns should be a realistic threshold as it’d make Ekeler the only other back in the superstar club other than Henry to achieve that feat in three-straight campaigns.
If that doesn’t get the job done, then I don’t know what to tell you. That bar is way too dang high, if that’s the case.