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Chargers 90-in-90: RB Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler leads the NFL in total touchdowns from 2021-2022 with 38. He’ll look to do it again under the play-calling of new Chargers OC Kellen Moore.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Austin Ekeler hails from a small, little town in Colorado called Eaton. He attended Eaton High School where he played all four years for the school’s varsity football team. As a 5’5 freshman, Ekeler rushed for 454 yards and eight touchdowns. Just like this bone structure and physical stature, his production grew exponentially over the next three years. By the end of his prep career, Ekeler had rushed for 5,232 yards and 71 touchdowns. He averaged 9.81 yards per carry and also added 581 receiving yards and 10 more scores through the air.

A player with Ekeler’s high school production in any notable U.S. city would have earned some amount of recruiting interest. But Eaton, Colorado apparently isn’t on any big school’s radar since Ekeler earned zero stars from any of the recruiting sites such as Rivals or 247Sports. Due to this, Ekeler chose to accept one of his just four total scholarships to Western State University as it was the only school who would allow him to stay at running back. The other wanted him to shift to defense.

By the end of this career summary, you’re going to see “production” as a common theme throughout Ekeler’s entire career.

As a freshman at Western State, Ekeler earned nine starts and rushed for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns. His efforts earned him the RMAC Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2013. He pushed that rushing total to 1,676 yards to go with 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. Over his final two collegiate seasons, Ekeler rushed for 3,132 yards and 34 touchdowns. He also recorded 638 receiving yards and five receiving scores. In all, he accumulated 5,857 rushing yards, 55 rushing rushing touchdowns, 1,315 receiving yards, and eight receiving touchdowns. In each of his four season while at Western State, Ekeler was named a First-Team All-RMAC selection.

Once again, despite the incredible production, Ekeler was not highly sought after as a potential NFL prospect. He was not invited to the NFL Combine and wound up performing for scouts at the University of Colorado pro day. After measuring in at 5’8 5/8, Ekeler posted a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash to pair with an elite short shuttle time of 6.92, a 40.5” vertical, and a 10’8 broad.

After going undrafted in 2017, Ekeler signed as a undrafted free agent with the Chargers. Following a strong preseason that included great performances on special teams coverages, Ekeler not only earned a spot on the Chargers’ initial 53-man roster, he found himself some actual playing time as a rookie. In 16 games, he rushed for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns with his first NFL carry going for a 35-yard touchdown agains the Eagles.

In year three with the Chargers, Ekeler paired with former first-round pick Melvin Gordon to make up the Chargers’ one-two punch in the backfield. While Gordon was the thunder on the ground, Ekeler began to find his groove as a pass-catching back for former quarterback Philip Rivers. He ended the 2019 season with 993 yards receiving, still a career high to this day.

Ahead of the 2020 season, the Chargers chose not to re-sign Gordon to a second contract as they pivoted to Ekeler as their starter going forward. The year did not go as planned for Ekeler who sustained a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games. He managed just three total touchdowns and 903 total yards of offense.

Ekeler truly broke out in the NFL with a 2021 season to remember. With Brandon Staley in his first year as the Chargers’ head coach, Ekeler scored 20 total touchdowns (12 rushing, eight receiving) to tie the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor for the league lead. That included a career-high 911 rushing yards to go with 647 receiving yards.

The 2022 season was more of the same for Ekeler. With 13 rushing touchdowns and five receiving, he once again paced the entire NFL with 18 touchdowns. His 1,637 yards of offense also set a new high mark for his career. Finally, his 107 receptions broke the franchise’s single-season record for receptions by a running back, previously held by LaDainian Tomlinson.

Basic Info

Height: 5’10
Weight: 200
College: Western State
Experience: 6
Years with team: 6

Contract Status

“Austin Ekeler signed a 4 year, $24,500,000 contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, including a $6,000,000 signing bonus, $15,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $6,125,000. In 2023, Ekeler will earn a base salary of $6,250,000, while carrying a cap hit of $9,100,000 and a dead cap value of $1,500,000.” -

The Good

Ekeler has quickly become one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL. With 38 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, he’s far-and-away been the most-consistent scorer at his position during that span. Since the 2019 season, Ekeler’s been one of the most-reliable pass catchers for his quarterback, whether it’s been Philip Rivers or Justin Herbert.

Off the field, Ekeler is a huge advocate for local communities and helping those less fortunate through his Austin Ekeler Foundation.

The Bad

Over the past two seasons, Ekeler has nine total fumbles. Five of those came during the 2022 season which was also the most by him in a single season. As well-rounded as his game is, being able to limit those incidents will pay dividends in the long run.

Ekeler forced just five missed tackles in 2022 in 204 total attempts. That’s the least in a single season he’s ever posted in a career with his previous career low being nine from 2018. The same goes for drops. Ekeler had a career-high nine drops in 2022 amid his 127 targets.

Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2023?

Ekeler is the Chargers’ bonafide RB1 for another season as he looks to produce elite numbers once again, but this time under Kellen Moore’s new scheme. With the continued progression of backup Joshua Kelley, there’s a chance we see Ekeler move around the offensive formation a bit more this season than years past. In what could be Ekeler’s final season with the Chargers, expect him to put up another strong year in hopes of signing a new contract in 2024.