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Chargers Austin Ekeler

Should Chargers Draft Bijan Robinson If They Lose Austin Ekeler?

  • Justin Melo
  • March 14, 2023
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The Los Angeles Chargers granted running back Austin Ekeler permission to seek a trade, according to multiple reports. Whispers surfaced earlier this week that Ekeler was unhappy with his current contract status and was thinking about making a change. The Chargers currently lack the running back depth to make a seamless transition away from Ekeler.

General manager Tom Telesco could turn his attention to the 2023 NFL Draft. When combing through potential Ekeler replacements, drafting Bijan Robinson with their first-round selection should be viewed as a viable option.

The Chargers are entering the draft with other perceived roster holes. Additional pass-catching options are needed, although the Chargers recently restructured the contract of Keenan Allen in a move that will keep him in Los Angeles. Prior to Allen’s restructure, there had been rumors of a potential split and the Chargers drafting a first-round receiver.

Telesco has also been linked to drafting a tight end with a first-round selection. There will be several options at the position, including Michael Mayer, Luke Musgrave, and Dalton Kincaid. But Ekeler’s departure would change everything, and running back would quickly become the Chargers’ most glaring need.

Ekeler remains a focal point of Los Angeles’ offense. In 2022, Ekeler accounted for a career-high 1,637 yards and rushed for personal bests in yards (915) and touchdowns (13). A premier dual-threat back, Ekeler also caught a career-high 107 passes for 722 receiving yards and five touchdowns. It goes without saying that a departure would leave the Chargers’ offense with a massive hole to fill.

It would take someone special to qualify as a like-for-like replacement for Ekeler’s production. Robinson is truly special—a generational running back prospect, and I don’t throw that term around loosely. Furthermore, new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore just oversaw an elite Cowboys rushing attack that maximized Tony Pollard’s strengths as a runner and pass-catcher. The Cowboys averaged 135.2 rushing yards per game. Moore would love to get his hands on a talent like Robinson.

Telesco has drafted several mid-to-late round backs in recent years. None have appeared capable of filling Ekeler’s shoes. Joshua Kelley served as Ekeler’s premier backup in 2022, but saw limited opportunities, rushing for 287 yards via 69 carries. Rookie fourth-round selection Isaiah Spiller was active for just six contests and averaged 2.3 yards per carry. Larry Rountree III was a 2021 sixth-rounder that had 13 carries last season. With all due respect to the field, Robinson is in a different stratosphere.

The Chargers likely don’t want to part ways with Ekeler. He is currently scheduled to earn an underpaid base salary of $6.2 million in 2023, per Spotrac. With a potential record-breaking extension for Justin Herbert looming, Telesco may feel he lacks the financial flexibility necessary to sign Ekeler to a sizable contract.

That means going the ‘cheap’ route could appease Telesco’s demands. There’s nothing more appealing than getting an uber-talented player like Robinson on a cost-controlled four-year rookie contract that carries a fifth-year player option. Drafting Robinson may be the most viable way to replace Ekeler’s production at a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs is a first-round worthy prospect that could appeal to Telesco if Robinson is off the board.

It’s been difficult to pinpoint a logical draft fit for Robinson. The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 10 overall) and Detroit Lions (No. 18 overall) qualify, but both franchises have needs at cornerback and across the defensive line. With Ekeler and the Chargers preparing for a breakup, a new potential destination has revealed itself.

Written By

Justin Melo