Austin Ekeler Backup: We Broke Down The Chargers Running Back Situation

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sony michel

Austin Ekeler can’t get all the touches in the Los Angeles Chargers backfield, can he? So we must determine who the main Austin Ekeler backup is.

The battle to be the No. 2 running back in the Chargers room took a new turn when the Chargers signed five-year veteran Sony Michel (doesn’t it seem like he’s been around longer than that?). Michel has won two Super Bowl rings in his career and was an unsung hero in the Rams’ Super Bowl run last year.

To make room for Michel, the Chargers waived Larry Roundtree III.

NFL experts (and fantasy football players) believe the Chargers will put up big numbers on offense this year led by quarterback Justin Herbert. Ekeler didn’t play at all in the pre-season. Last year he had 1558 total yards and a whopping 20 touchdowns.

Who is the No. 2 back now in Los Angeles for the Chargers? Let’s break it down and see what each candidate brings to the spot.

Joshua Kelley

Kelley was the Chargers leading rusher in pre-season with 74 yards on 16 carries. The Chargers did everything they could for him to win the job.

Taken by the Chargers in the fourth round out of UCLA in 2020, Kelley showed some flashes his rookie year playing behind Ekeler and appearing in 14 games and scoring two touchdowns. Last year his workload was reduced as Ekeler took off and Justin Jackson (now with the Lions) had a solid year. The issue with Kelley has been ball security. He’s fumbled three times on 144 carries in his NFL career. For context, Michel has fumbled four times on 743 carries.

Is he the No. 2 guy? He was until the Chargers signed Michel. Kelley had a strong pre-season for the Chargers. He’s a lot like Ekeler in that he can run the ball well between the tackles and is a good wide receiver. The Chargers throw the ball to their running backs a lot, and Kelley may be more of a traditional third-down back. But with Michel showing up, Kelley is at least relegated to split Ekeler’s leftover opportunities.

Sony Michel

Michel was a first-round pick out of Georgia by the Patriots and immediately made an impact his rookie season rushing for 931 yards as the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2018.

He followed that up his second year with 912 yards, but then Tom Brady went to the Bucs. Cam Newton was the Patriots quarterback (remember that?) Michel hurt his quad. James White took over for that year and you know how things work in New England. If you can’t play, you’re gone.

Michel came over to the Rams in a trade and took over the spot, becoming a starter in Week 13 because of injuries. He signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins but was surprisingly cut after pre-season.

Is he the No. 2 guy? It usually takes NFL players a while to get used to schemes when changing from one team to the other, but not running backs. The job is all pretty much the same. See the hole, run through the hole. He has nine days to learn the Chargers’ offense. It is worrying, like, why have the Pats, Rams and Dolphins all given up on him? Is it always a numbers game? It can’t be. But I think he is the No. 2 guy for the Chargers going into the opener with the Raiders.

Isaiah Spiller

When the Chargers lost Jackson to the Lions, Spiller seemed like the obvious fill-in. The Chargers drafted him in the fourth round out of Texas A&M. In college, Spiller was a beast, rushing for 2,993 yards in his three-year career. You know, if you can do it against SEC competition, then you can do it in the NFL.

Charger fans were eager to see Spiller on the field, but we’ve only had a glimpse. He ran 10 times for 34 yards in the first preseason game against the Rams, and then sprained his ankle in the pre-season loss to the Cowboys. Honestly, there isn’t that much to go on, but early impression is he runs with a little more power than Kelley but isn’t quite as fast.

Is he the No. 2 guy? Spiller came back to practice on Tuesday, but you know NFL teams don’t reveal much in the way of injuries. He could have lost a limb in the pre-season and coaches would have called it a ‘soft tissue’ injury. What is important is that Spiller has lost valuable practice time with his injury. Ekeler – and now Michel – are going to start getting the reps in practice. My guess is that the Chargers wanted Spiller to be the No. 2 guy, but it hasn’t happened yet and since he’s a draft pick, he was going to stick on the roster no matter what. I don’t see Spiller contributing until maybe mid-season.