Allen Park — Melvin Gordon who?
The Los Angeles Chargers two-time Pro Bowl running back is in the midst of a holdout with no end in sight, all but ruling him out of this Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.
Normally, that would present a distinct advantage for an opponent, but Gordon's backup, little-known Austin Ekeler, is proving to be a handful in the starting role.
Ekeler has spent his entire pro career with the Chargers after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Western Colorado University in 2017. Don't worry if you haven't heard of the school. Most people haven't. The Division II program has fewer than 3,000 student enrolled.
But Ekeler isn't an unknown for the Lions, even though the teams haven't met during his career.
"He’s a guy who’s worked his tail off, made a name for himself," Lions safety Quandre Diggs. "He came from the bottom and I’m sure he has an underdog mentality each and every week that he shows on film. ...You can tell by the way he runs the ball, he’s a good player."
Used sparingly as a rookie, Ekeler still managed to make an impact that year, averaging 5.5 yards on 47 carries, while catching 27 of 35 targets and scoring five total touchdowns. His playing time nearly doubled last year, and so did the production — 5.2 yards per carry on 106 carries to go with 39 receptions.
For now, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder is being relied upon to lead the Chargers' backfield rotation in Gordon's absence. And after one week, the team might be comfortable making that swap permanent, as trade options are pondered.
In a 30-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Ekeler racked up 154 yards from scrimmage and found the end zone three times. The dual-threat weapon will present a challenge for the Lions, who gave up 137 combined yards to Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson in a Week 1 tie.
"I think what he did the other day was really just take over an opportunity," Lions coach Matt Patricia said of Ekeler. "He’s explosive and he’s dynamic. He’s got great lower-body strength, so he breaks a lot of tackles. Certainly, when you have an opportunity to turn a play in to a dynamic, explosive play, he’s able to do that. You can see that through the course of the game."
Ekeler is complemented by Justin Jackson, a second-year back out of Northwestern. Like Ekeler, Jackson was used sparingly as a rookie, but was effective with his opportunities. That carried over to the start of this season, when he churned out 57 yards with his six carries against the Colts.
"He’s another guy that’s got good power and good speed," Patricia said. "The two of them I thought just did an outstanding job in the run game."