Film Study: Rookie RB Austin Ekeler

When Austin Ekeler stepped onto the turf at Folsom field for the Pro Day on Colorado University's campus, he knew he faced long odds. There as part of a group of ultra-small school players generously allowed by the university to work out for NFL talent evaluators after the CU players had finished their workouts, many scouts had already left by the time he took the field.

Ekeler would go on to impress the handful of scouts who remained with his impressive athleticism and measurables, earning himself an invite to Chargers camp as a priority UDFA. Last week, Ekeler defied all odds and made the 53-man roster ahead of more established veterans like Andre Williams and Kenjon Barner, who were cut. A great read on Ekeler and his unlikely journey from Western State Colorado to the NFL can be found here.

On to the film breakdown. Today, we'll be taking a look at Ekeler's performance in the 4th and final preseason game against the 49ers in which he received extended run. It has to be noted he was playing against mostly subpar defenders, many with no business being on an NFL roster, and benefitted from more than a few missed tackles. That being said, the performance was undeniably impressive.

Ekeler's first run of the night, on the first play of the 2nd quarter, went for 18 yards. He showed impressive burst and decisiveness, cutting back inside to hit the hole hard without hesitation. He has very quick feet and displays an impressive ability to stay upright and gain yards after contact for his size.

On the very next play, Ekeler took the handoff for 11 yards, again displaying impressive burst and finding an incredibly small hole to his left and squeezing through the narrow gap. He shows off his high football IQ here as well toward the end of the run, while some backs may have the urge to bounce it outside to the left towards the sideline after getting to the second level, Ekeler wisely cuts back to the right to take the guaranteed first down.

On the Chargers first play of the 2nd half, Ekeler ripped off another 11-yard run. Here Ekeler again shows great elusiveness and excellent technique, bending his knees and keeping a low center of gravity to allow him to weave through traffic and in between defenders easily. His vision and ability to identify gaps is impressive for someone playing his first games against high level competition, and it never looks like the game is moving too fast for him.

Ekeler showed good hands as a pass catcher, making several catches for long gains including this one and looked good in space, although it is a bit hard to evaluate since there are numerous missed tackles due to playing against subpar defenders on each of his receptions.

It wasn't all perfect. Here, Ekeler fails to hit the hole inside the tackle right away, instead looking to bounce it outside before realizing there was nothing there and cutting back inside. Although it's a short gain, Ekeler again does a great job gaining yards after contact, especially for his size, avoiding a potential stuff by keeping his legs churning and falling forward for extra yardage.

The one area in which he really struggled, as do most rookie running backs, was pass protection. It's the one thing Ekeler will have to clean up if he wants to earn regular season playing time. Playing at Western State he likely never went up against any NFL caliber pass rushers, and on this 3rd and long play he got absolutely bulldozed by the blitzing linebacker, who was able to land a hit on QB Cardale Jones and cause the throw to sail out of bounds.

The Bottom Line: It was an impressive preseason finale for the overlooked rookie. A player with a background like Ekeler really has to make an incredible impression with coaches and the front office to make a 53-man roster ahead of more established veterans, which he clearly did. If he can continue to build on the high football IQ and excellent elusiveness he showed this preseason,  it wouldn't be surprising if he's challenging Branden Oliver for #2 duties soon.


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