Fantasy Football 2020: A Look at the Los Angeles Chargers Backfield

by Alex Kurpeski


The Thunder + Lightning For The Bolts Backfield


With the departure of Melvin Gordon, the Los Angeles Chargers will be guaranteed to field a new leading-rusher for the first time since 2014. As great as Austin Ekeler was in fantasy football last season (RB4 in PPR leagues), the receiving specialist averaged just 4.2 YPC on 132 rushing attempts. At just 5’10, 200 lbs, Ekeler is far too undersized to be toting the ball 20+ times per-game, thus the Bolts must figure out who will compliment him in their backfield. Ekeler should be on the field for 80-90% of passing downs minimum, as he was PFF’s highest-graded receiving back in 2019. As a member of a platoon with Melvin Gordon last season, Ekeler produced numbers as a pass-catcher that would have made him the WR12 in PPR formats. The former undrafted free agent caught 92 of his 108 targets for 993 yards and 8 touchdowns, working as Philip Rivers’ go-to checkdown in the passing game. While Rivers is now gone, it would be shocking to see Ekeler’s volume in the passing game diminish too much, as he should absorb some of the targets vacated by Gordon. 


There’s a decent chance that the Chargers roster will consist of only three running backs, as coach Anthony Lynn has never been one to carry a multitude of backs. The biggest questions that will need to be answered revolve around the usage of Justin Jackson and fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley, as one of these two players will likely usurp Gordon’s role as the big back in the team’s platoon. Jackson has looked impressive with limited touches in the past, averaging 6.9 YPC last season as the tertiary back in the team’s rotation. At 6’0, 200 lbs, Jackson is not quite the bruiser that Gordon was, nor is he as decisive of a one-cut runner. The former Northwestern standout’s biggest strength as a back is his burst when he hits the open field, turning on the jets once he sees some daylight. While he may have the advantage of knowing the system better than Kelley, it’s possible that the former UCLA star bumps Jackson out of the RB2 role during the preseason. 


Joshua Kelley


Speaking of Kelley, he’s one of my favorite value picks in the third round of rookie drafts, as the opportunity in front of him is incredible. At 5’10, 220 lbs, Kelley should have every opportunity to take on the role of the ‘thunder’ to Ekeler (and Jackson) who fit the mold of ‘lightning’. He was extremely productive for the Bruins, rushing for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. While he won’t do much damage as a receiver, Kelley could have an immediate role as a grinder between the 20’s, perhaps being used as the goal line back for the Chargers. 


Let’s take a quick look at some projections for this backfield’s touch distribution: 


Austin Ekeler


  • 701 rushing yards
  • 180 ATT
  • 5 rushing TDs
  • 103 receptions
  • 1,115 receiving yards
  • 5 receiving TDs
  • 344.6 fantasy points (RB1-5)


Justin Jackson


  • 256 rushing yards
  • 73 ATT
  • 0 rushing TD
  • 13 receptions
  • 94 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving TD
  • 54 fantasy points (RB64-76)


Joshua Kelley


  • 424 rushing yards
  • 120 ATT
  • 4 rushing TDs
  • 5 receptions
  • 37 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 75.1 fantasy points (RB55-62)


Maybe my projection for Ekeler is a bit high. But with his performance last year in a platoon with Gordon it’s hard to think he won’t catch more than 100 passes this season. Beyond him, Jackson and Kelley may have flashes of production but I feel like the margin will only grow between them and Ekeler.

Agree or Disagree? Let us know!

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