Chargers need to find a reliable number two running back
July 14, 2022
While it has been fun these first two seasons with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert flinging the football all over the field with amazing accuracy, the Chargers would be well-advised to find a No. 2 running back to help their star running back, Austin Ekeler and take a little pressure off Herbert.
Ekeler is fully aware of his limitations at running back. In 2021, Ekeler had a career high of 206 carries in 16 games, a career high in rushing yardage with 911 yards, a career high in first downs with 53, and a career high in rushing touchdowns with 12. He added 70 receptions and 8 receiving touchdowns, giving him a career high of 20 touchdowns in 2021. Ekeler is listed at 200 pounds, but he is closer to 190.
For Ekeler to hold up for a 17-game season, the Chargers need a reliable back-up running back. In his sixth NFL season and at the age of 27, it is critical for the Chargers to find a consistent back-up running back that could step in to give Ekeler a rest, or step in case of an injury and be an effective short yardage back.
The current roster features third year running back Joshua Kelly and second year back Larry Rountree III. Neither running back has been able to establish himself as the No. 2 guy. The answer may be rookie running back Isaiah Spiller, a fourth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M. Spiller, a first team All-SEC selection in 2020 and a second team All-SEC selection in 2021, Spiller has been a star in the top college football conference in America.
Spiller, 6′ 1″, 215 pound running back, is described by Ourlads Scouting Services as, "an ideal number two back. A do-it-all back who can factor on every down in any situation. Runs big when he needs to and shows elusiveness on all occasions. Can shake his way free from traffic but knows when to run behind his pads with force and determination. Excellent hands that sees the ball in on the move and immediately evades tacklers after the catch."
Ekeler was impressed with Spiller in mini-camp. "One thing that has impressed me is him in the meeting room these couple of days," said Ekeler. "We have a little thing where we go through our scripts before we go out to practice. He's vocal, he's in there. He's showing that he knows what his job is, things like that. He's still making mistakes. He's still learning, but as a rookie, it's a lot of time that you need to put in for the repetitions and just seeing it."
Ekeler added that, "It's really nothing that you can simulate in the classroom when you get onto the field. All those guys are going to have to continue to grow. I'm glad, Spiller's vocal. He's voicing his questions and things like that."
With Ekeler's experience as a back-up running back earlier in his career, he understands the importance of hard work and staying ready. "There's an individual aspect where I have to take care of myself and make sure that I'm contributing to the team so that I have value to this team and I can stay around," said Ekeler. "Then, there's the team aspect where I also want everyone else on the team to do well so that we can win games. There's different layers. You have to have a different mindset about each layer."
Ekeler continued, "As a leader, as a guy that has been around for a while, I need to bring all my guys with me. I need everyone in my room to be doing the best that we can. Not only for themselves on the field, but themselves as a person in general so that they feel like they took advantage of the opportunity and put everything out there."
Whoever emerges as the number two running back needs to be prepared to perform this season. Hebert has thrown for more yards (9,350) and touchdowns (69) in his first two seasons than any other quarterback in NFL history. But it is always helps to have a good rushing attack to fall back on in case of an injury to Herbert or in case the weather or defense dictates running the ball.
The addition of first round draft pick right guard Zion Johnson should help the running game. The Chargers frequently ran left last season behind left tackle Rashawn Slater and left guard Matt Feiler, and the defense knew it. Johnson's addition should add toughness to the right side of the offensive line. If Kelly and Roundtree do not step up, then hopefully the rookie star from Texas A&M will follow the wisdom of Ekeler and take "advantage of the opportunity and put everything out there."