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2022 Chargers Position Recap: Running Backs


Welcome to Part 4 of our 2022 positional recaps, a series that will run through the next few weeks and highlight all 10 Chargers position groups. We'll focus on key stats, big moments and look ahead to the 2023 season.

Austin Ekeler has turned into a touchdown machine.

The Chargers running back led the league with 18 total scores in 2022, including 13 touchdowns on the ground.

Add in Ekeler's 20-touchdown season from a year ago when he tied for the league lead, and he has found the end zone a whopping 38 times in two years. The next closest players are Joe Mixon and Davante Adams with 25 apiece.

Fellow running back Joshua Kelley marvels at what his teammate has been able to accomplish.

"It's wild because he's just so elite. You see a lot of guys across the league get some much recognition with All-Pros and Pro Bowls, and he's a guy that should be in that conversation," Kelley said. "He's probably the most complete back in football right now. Running, catching, all the stuff we see him do on film is crazy.

"For me, honestly, it's just a pleasure to really watch and learn from him," Kelley added. "I don't know how long I'm going to play with him but there's a lot of things I've taken from his game and seen how he approaches the mental side of football. It's been really dope to see. Him breaking records and getting those touchdowns, it's not a coincidence."

Ekeler had a big statistical season in other areas, too. He set a Chargers single-season record with 107 receptions and set a personal-best with 1,637 yards from scrimmage.

But while there were plenty of strong moments overall, the Bolts offense had an uneven season on the ground, ranking 30th in both rushing yards per game (89.6) and yards per carry (3.77).

Kelley also showed promise in his third season in the league. Although he spent four games on Injured Reserve in the middle part of the year, he also clearly established himself as the Chargers No. 2 running back.

Veteran running back Sony Michel was added just before the start of the season and played in 10 games, but was released before the postseason.

Rookie Isaiah Spiller appeared in six games but was limited at the beginning of the season with an ankle injury.

Overall, there is plenty of promise with this group.

Ekeler is among the top playmakers at his position and Kelley showed potential to take on a larger workload, too. Spiller — and fullback Zander Horvath — both surely learned plenty during their rookie seasons.

Yet as the Chargers head into the 2023 offseason, finding a way to boost the rushing attack will be a top priority.

"I feel like that was more out there," Kelley said of the run game. We've got to get to that level and accomplish what we have the potential to do and what we're capable of doing."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley added: "For me, it's getting back to the technique, fundamentals and the mindset of how we want to do things. I think that we can definitely improve in that area for next season."

Take a look back at some of the best Chargers photos in monochrome from the 2022 season

Notable Number

Ekeler showed plenty of elusiveness in making defenders whiff in 2022, ranking 13th overall with 43 missed tackles forced, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Memorable Moment

Strangely enough, Ekeler was actually held out of the end zone in the Chargers first three games of the season. (That means he actually scored 18 touchdowns in 15 games, which is even more impressive).

But entering Week 4 with the Bolts siting at 1-2, the Chargers needed a big performance from their running back on the road in Houston.

Ekeler delivered, scoring three times including twice on the ground in a 34-24 win. He set the tone early and finished with 109 total yards on 19 touches to pace the offense.

Ekeler's big day jumpstarted a three-game win streak that helped stead the Chargers season in the early going.

Regular-Season Statistics

Austin Ekeler

Rushed for 915 yards and 13 touchdowns on 204 attempts (4.5 yards per carry); hauled in 107 receptions for 722 yards and five scores; started 17 games and played 734 offensive snaps (61.6 percent)

Joshua Kelley

Rushed for 287 yards and two touchdowns on 69 attempts (4.1 yards per carry); hauled in 14 receptions for 101 yards; played in 13 games and played 270 offensive snaps (22.7 percent)

Sony Michel

Rushed for 106 yards on 35 attempts (2.9 yards per carry); hauled in nine receptions for 53 yards; played in 10 games and played 125 offensive snaps (10.5 percent)

Isaiah Spiller

Rushed for 41 yards on 18 attempts (2.3 yards per carry); hauled in three receptions for 13 yards; played in six games and played 53 offensive snaps (4.5 percent)

Larry Rountree III

Rushed for 19 yards on 13 attempts (1.5 yards per carry); hauled in two receptions for 14 yards; played in four games and played 25 offensive snaps (2.1 percent)

Zander Horvath

Rushed for eight yards on four attempts (2.0 yards per carry); hauled in five receptions for eight yards and two touchdowns; played in 15 games and played 110 offensive snaps (9.2 percent)

2 Questions for 2023

1. What vision does Kellen Moore have for the run game?

The Chargers on Monday announced they have agreed to terms with Kellen Moore to be the team's new offensive coordinator.

It's safe to say that the run game will be a focal point for Moore.

Staley said in his year-end press conference that he wants a coordinator who can marry the run and pass games better together. That means having more of a threat of a ground game, even as Justin Herbert's right arm carries the offense.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said after the season that having a competent run game will keep opposing defenses honest.

"If you look at where our rushing numbers will be — like I said, they're never going to be high rushing numbers, as far as terms of yards — but yards per carry should be better," Telesco said.

That will be a top priority for Moore as he begins his new role with the Bolts. 

2. Does Kelley carve out a bigger role for himself?

Kelley took a step forward in 2022, as his 4.2 yards per carry was a yard better than his previous career best.

He showed burst, decisiveness and power while toting the rock, but a lack of team production on the ground perhaps limited his rushing attempts.

Ekeler has proven he can do it all offensively, but a step forward from Kelley could take some pressure off him … and also possibly take the Chargers offense to a better level.

"What I did this year, there's some good things," Kelley said. "Some things I'm definitely happy about. But I want to take that next step and be elite.

"That's where my goal is. I have confidence, skills and experience now," Kelley added. "I just want to be elite. Going into this offseason, that's my focus."

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