Chargers.com will break down each of the team's position groups leading up to 2020 training camp. This week, it's the running backs.
After a season in which he amassed 1,550 total yards and 11 total touchdowns, Ekeler was rewarded with a multi-year extension in March. At 25, the undrafted free agent from Western State is now the veteran of the Chargers' running backs room - and one of the most versatile offensive weapons in football.
"First and foremost, I think just him as a person - unbelievable kid," running backs coach Mark Ridgley said of Ekeler this offseason. "And the thing that I've been using him for as a motto for our young guys is just where he came from and how he got to where he is. I think he's a perfect example of coming in with nothing and look what he has now after these last few years."
Ekeler caught 92 passes in 2019, second to only Carolina's Christian McCaffrey among running backs. What's more remarkable was his catch percentage: 85.2 percent on 108 targets - tops in the NFL (minimum 51 targets).
On the ground, Ekeler made up for 36 percent of the Chargers' 366 rushing attempts last season. With Melvin Gordon's departure to Denver, it remains to be seen whether Ekeler will see an uptick in rushing attempts, or if Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and perhaps others can help to fill that void.
Jackson made the most of his limited touches to start the 2019 season. Through the first three weeks, Jackson had 142 yards on 18 carries (7.8 yards per carry). He also had a touchdown called back in Week 2 at Detroit due to holding.
A calf injury, though, derailed Jackson's hot start and kept him out of action until Week 9. He played in only four more games, rushing for 58 yards on 11 carries.
Northwestern's all-time leading rusher has flashed plenty in two NFL seasons. Injuries weren't an issue in Evanston; he didn't miss a game in college. Entering year three as a pro, the Chargers are hoping they'll be able to see what Jackson can do with a consistent workload.
"This year's a big year for Justin," Ridgley said. "We've got to find a way to get him on the field and have him contribute. I think everyone in here saw what he can do when he's healthy."
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The Chargers selected Kelley in the fourth round (No. 112 overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft. Born in Inglewood, Kelley will start his professional career playing his home games at SoFi Stadium.
Kelley transferred to UCLA from UC-Davis in 2017. In 2018, he rushed for 1,243 yards, including a 40-carry, 289-yard performance against crosstown rival USC. Kelley followed that up with another 1,000-plus-yard campaign in 2019, earning team MVP honors in both seasons.
"You watch them in the fall, then you see them in an all-star game against the best seniors in the country," general manager Tom Telesco said after the draft. "It was nice to see him really step up, too. That's part of our evaluation process. He's a very well-rounded running back and we're looking forward to seeing him get in the mix."
There are touches up for grabs in the Chargers' running backs room. Gordon had 162 carries and 42 receptions last season (204 touches). Kelley was the workhorse at UCLA with 458 carries and 38 receptions in two seasons.
Rounding Out the Room
Second-year running back Derrick Gore returns after spending training camp and preseason with the Chargers in 2019. In Los Angeles' preseason finale against San Francisco, Gore had 12 rushes for 64 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Darius Bradwell is also on the team's 90-man roster. The undrafted free agent rushed for 2,062 yards and 17 touchdowns in four seasons at Tulane.