NFL

The Los Angeles Chargers Just Lost Their $24.5 Million Star

Throughout the 2020 NFL season so far, the Los Angeles Chargers have already dealt with several injuries to key players, and they’re only four weeks into the year. However, they now have another one to add to the list as it appears that star running back Austin Ekeler is most likely going miss a good amount of time.

Austin Ekeler was poised for a breakout year

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Since signing with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent out of Western State University in Colorado, Ekeler has been a nice surprise for the Chargers. He hasn’t been the team’s lead back as they also had Melvin Gordon in the backfield the past few years, but he still proved to be a very talented back for LA.

After gaining 539 yards from scrimmage in 2017, Ekeler racked up 958 yards from scrimmage in 2018. He ultimately had 554 rushing yards that year and became an extremely valuable weapon in the passing game, recording 39 catches for 404 yards.

During the 2019 season, Ekeler was even better for the Chargers. With Gordon’s contract holdout making its way into the season, Ekeler ultimately started in eight games in 2019. He ended up racking up 1,550 yards from scrimmage (993 receiving yards) and 11 rushing and receiving touchdowns on the season.

Ekeler eventually signed a four-year, $24.5 million deal with the Chargers during the offseason, and Gordon ended up leaving the Chargers and signing with the Denver Broncos. This set Ekeler up to have a breakout year for the Chargers in 2020.

Through the Chargers’ first three games this year, Ekeler had 236 rushing yards, 142 receiving yards, and one touchdown.

The Los Angeles Chargers lost their $24.5 million star

The Los Angeles Chargers just lost their $24.5 million star. Will the Chargers be able to replace Austin Ekeler and his production?
Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers leaps past Jeremy Chinn of the Carolina Panthers for a touchdown during the first half of a game on Sept. 27, 2020. | Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

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During the first quarter of the Chargers’ 38-31 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, Ekeler had to be helped off the field. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that he was spotted with crutches and a brace after the game to “help him with the hyperextended knee and hamstring injury he is thought to have suffered.”

Following the game, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn did not appear to know the severity of the injury.

“I’m not sure how bad it is, but it looked pretty bad,” Lynn said, according to NFL.com.

On Monday, Schefter reported that Ekeler is expected to miss four to six weeks with a hamstring injury and a hyperextended knee, according to a source. He is reportedly seeking a second opinion on his injuries and timeline, though, per Schefter.

Additionally, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that he has a Grade 2 hamstring strain. He had previously reported that Ekeler is likely to go on Injured Reserve with a hope of returning this season.

So, it doesn’t appear that Ekeler will miss the rest of the season, but it does look like he will miss some time. Who can step up in his place?

Who can step up at running back for the Los Angeles Chargers?

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It is going to be tough for the Chargers to find someone to replace Ekeler’s production.

They have Joshua Kelley, who they drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL draft. He has 174 rushing yards and 84 receiving yards so far this year. LA also has Justin Jackson, who they drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft. Jackson just has eight rushes for 13 yards this year, and two catches for 12 yards.

Austin Ekeler can still have an excellent season for LA once he returns. It will be difficult for the Chargers to replace his production, though, for what looks like will be the next month or month-and-a-half. One of these guys will have to step up.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference; Contract numbers courtesy of Spotrac