While Melvin Gordon’s holdout continues, the Los Angeles Chargers don’t look like they need to worry about the running backs who are actually in the locker room.
With no trade or contract extension coming, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that holdout Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will be returning to the team around midseason, in time to be eligible to play, be paid and most importantly, be eligible for free agency in 2020.
In the meantime, it looks like the Chargers’ run game will be just fine without him despite Gordon’s status as one of the NFL’s top running backs.
Los Angeles’ ground game totaled 125 yards in 21 combined attempts in Sunday’s Week 1 30-24 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts, with the one-two punch of Austin Ekeler (12 carries, 58 yards, one touchdown) and Justin Jackson (six carries, 57 yards) handling the bulk of the rushing duties. But it was Ekeler’s contributions in the passing came that proves that Gordon’s absence can be weathered for as long as it takes.
Ekeler caught six passes on seven targets for 95 yards and two additional touchdowns, while his rushing score sealed the Chargers’ overtime victory. And it’s that skill as a receiver that will make Ekeler a bigger and bigger part of Los Angeles’ offensive game plan in the ensuing weeks.
Gordon has been useful in the Chargers’ passing game in his previous four seasons, with over 400 receiving yards in each of the last three, but he’s clearly not the same kind of receiving option Ekeler appears to be, with Ekeler picking up a quarter of Gordon’s typical yearly receiving production in just one game.
Further, the Chargers’ run game wasn’t the centerpiece of their attack against Indianapolis, with 21 combined carries. More touches for Ekeler (and for Jackson, who averaged 9.5 yards per carry on his eight runs, albeit augmented by a long run of 24 yards) could yield Gordon-like production.
It’s clear that the Chargers feel comfortable in Ekeler and Jackson and thus didn’t cave to Gordon’s attempt to hold their feet to the fire and trade him or extend his contract. It’s not quite “Gordon who?” territory just yet, but Week 1’s showing proves that he’s not irreplaceable.