As we near the start of training camp on July 30, we’ll preview each position for the Los Angeles Chargers. Next up are the running backs.
Melvin Gordon – Gordon answered critics in a major way last season, authoring a breakout sophomore campaign ending with Pro Bowl honors. Now, he enters his third season firmly entrenched as one of the game’s elite running backs. Gordon carried the ball 254 times for 997 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in 13 games. He also caught 41 passes for 419 yards and another pair of TDs. Overall, Gordon ended the year with 1,416 total yards from scrimmage, which ranked 10th in the NFL and 16th on the Bolts’ all-time single-season list. Blessed with a rare combination of size and speed, the 6-1, 215-pounder’s three rushes over 40 yards ranked second in the league while his seven of at least 20 tied for sixth. Gordon’s 10 rushing touchdowns were also the seventh most in the NFL.
Branden Oliver – One of the most popular players in the locker room returns after missing the entire 2016 campaign with an Achilles injury suffered in the preseason. It marked the second straight year he missed significant time due to injury. “BO” enters his fourth season looking to recapture the magic from his rookie campaign in 2014. The 5-8, 208-pound rusher went from an undrafted unknown to the team’s leading rusher, appearing in 14 games with seven starts. A dual-threat, Oliver ran for 582 yards and three touchdowns that year while snaring 36 receptions for 271 yards and another score.
Andre Williams – Perhaps the most physical back on the roster, Williams looks to parlay a strong finish in 2016 into a meaningful role in 2017. The former fourth-round pick of the New York Giants got his first true action with the Bolts during the season finale, turning heads with his bruising style. He carried the rock 18 times for 87 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. In 33 career games, Williams has rushed for 1,065 yards on 323 carries with eight touchdowns.
Kenneth Farrow – After earning a roster spot as an undrafted free agent a year ago, Farrow served as Gordon’s primary backup for the majority of the season. He appeared in 13 games with a pair of starts before a shoulder injury landed him on IR in Week 16. Farrow finished with 60 carries for 192 yards as well as 13 receptions for 70.
Kenjon Barner – The Bolts injected speed into their running back stable this offseason with the addition of Kenjon Barner. A lightning fast 5-9, 195-pound product out of Oregon, he’s carried the ball 61 times in 31 career games for 260 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per attempt. He’s also caught 18 passes for 71 yards. Barner is fresh off his best season in the NFL, setting career-highs in games played (13), average yards per carry (4.8) and touchdowns (two) before a hamstring injury ended his season in early December.
Derek Watt – While he’s the only true fullback on the roster, Watt isn’t just a blocker. He proved last year he can get the job done with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 53-yard catch-and-run against the Denver Broncos. The 6-2, 234-pound Watt ended his rookie year with four catches for 83 yards. The team also fed him the ball on occasion in short-yardage situations.
Austin Ekeler – An undrafted 5-9, 195-pound rookie out of Western State, Ekeler turned heads in 2015 when he led Division II football in all-purpose yards per game (203.9) as a junior.
We’re Keeping Our Eye On…
Ricky Henne: There are few Chargers I root for more than Branden Oliver. I can’t wait to see him back on the field in the regular season after some tough-luck injuries kept him sidelined since midway through the 2015 campaign. Oliver brings juice as a powerful rusher between the tackles as well as an able receiver out of the backfield. While Melvin Gordon is a proven bell-cow back in this league, adding Oliver back into the mix will help keep number 28 fresh while not missing a beat.
Hayley Elwood: I’m very interested to see which RB will earn backup honors. The phrase “backup honors” may sound like an oxymoron, but as Ricky mentioned, Gordon is a bell-cow back. So now, it’s time to find the guy who can add depth to that position and contribute effectively when his number is called. There is so much competition. Whether it’s Branden Oliver, Andre Williams or Kenneth Farrow, each one of the other running backs brings something unique to the table. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out come camp.