Every year, there are a handful of unheralded players who end up playing a much bigger role for their team than anyone would have expected prior to the season. Now it doesn’t happen for every team unfortunately, but the Chargers have had some pretty good luck in that front in recent years.
CBS Sports Tyler Sullivan recently took to highlighting one “sleeper” on each NFL team that he believes has a chance perform well over expectations in 2023. For the Chargers, that player is second-year running back Isaiah Spiller.
“It looks like Austin Ekeler will remain with the Chargers despite a tumultuous offseason that featured a trade request,” says Sullivan. “Even as Ekeler may continue to dominate the carries, Spiller should still be a prospect to monitor. He came into his rookie season with a lot of fanfare, but that didn’t translate into on-field production. He only appeared in six games and logged 54 yards from scrimmage. That said, Spiller now has a season under his belt and an entire offseason to gear up for his sophomore campaign. Most importantly, the Chargers didn’t select a running back at the 2023 NFL Draft, so there isn’t a ton of competition around him. Ekeler doesn’t seem like he’ll be long for L.A. beyond 2023, so the club could give Spiller an increased role in Year 2 to get him ready to ascend to the full-time role in the seasons to come.”
Spiller was a surprise pick in the fourth round of the 2022 draft after the Bolts also selected a running back in the previous two drafts. After believing neither Josh Kelley nor Larry Rountree were the answers behind Ekeler, Spiller was expected to be that player. But contrary to that belief, it was Kelley who showed immense progress a year ago as he swiftly wrenched the backup job from the hands of the other two.
But will a year of professional experience under Spiller’s belt allow him to make a push past Kelley? That remains to be seen, but it’s tough to see the Chargers completely give up on a fourth-round pick so early, especially when he’s done an excellent job in pass protection.
If anything, I expect to see a ton of Spiller and Kelley during this year’s preseason slate and it should arguably be one of the most-interesting training camp battles of the year.