Austin Ekeler ready for star turn as Chargers' lead running back

Austin Ekeler is no longer Melvin Gordon's sidekick. Instead, the running back is getting his own show to star in.

After a breakout 2019, the dual-threat running back should have a big role in the Chargers' offense with Gordon's departure. Ekeler believes the extra focus won't disrupt his production.

"Now I am the starting running back but that doesn't mean my game is going to change," he said on Monday, via the Associated Press. "There is more of a spotlight on my name, but the offense is a similar dynamic."

In 2019, with Gordon missing the start of the season due to a holdout, Ekeler showed he could be the lead back. For the campaign, the pint-sized runner galloped for 557 yards on 132 carries with three touchdowns and added 92 receptions for 993 yards and eight TDs.

Ekeler's 224 total touches placed him 24th overall in the NFL last season, while his 1,550 all-purpose yards ranked ninth. Put simply, Ekeler did more than most backs with few opportunities.

The 25-year-old believes he's underestimated because he's not a traditional back.

"I feel like people have a hard time ranking me. When they think running backs, they usually think of rushing yards and touchdowns," he said. "I feel like I am efficient when I have the ball in my hands in terms of production."

In 2020, the expectation is that after the Chargers handed him an extension, Ekeler should see the bulk of the work alongside Justin Jackson and fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley.

A lightning bolt in space, Ekeler is an ideal modern-era pass-catching back who can do damage in the passing game, taking advantage of mismatches in space while still working as an early-down runner. Whether the Chargers believe he can tote the rock all three downs for 16 games remains to be seen.

Ekeler's production will be interesting to track early in the season, with L.A. expected to employ a run-heavy scheme with Tyrod Taylor behind center. One big part of Ekeler's game was being an outlet for Philip Rivers in past years and taking short passes for long gains. How those opportunities will arise in a revamped offense will determine whether Ekeler stacks another career-best year.

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