San Diego Chargers: Full Position Breakdown and Depth-Chart Analysis at RB
The San Diego Chargers had their sights set on unleashing a three-headed monster at running back in 2014, but before they could even make it to the bye week, injuries had slain that monster.
Going into next season, the Bolts have a new three-headed monster, one that is hopefully able to withstand the punishment of all 16 games, and then some if need be. But if not, there are options to choose from. Considering how many backs San Diego went through last year, it would be in the team's best interest to get a long look at the six who are in place.
Let's see how the running back position stacks up in San Diego.
Weight: 215 pounds
Expectations are high for the Chargers' first-round draft pick, as he's expected to handle the bulk of the carries next season following the departure of Ryan Mathews. According to Eric Williams of ESPN.com, Gordon has looked "as good as advertised" during offseason workouts, and he seems to be picking up the nuances of San Diego's offense rather quickly, building a case as to why he should be the starter.
Even so, Gordon won't be alone in carrying the workload, as Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver figure to play a large part in the rushing attack. In time, Gordon will develop into that bell-cow back, but he'll get there gradually.
Weight: 200 pounds
Experience: Eighth season
Assuming he comes back 100 percent healthy from the ankle injury that ended his season prematurely, Woodhead presents the Chargers offense with the receiving dimension it was desperately missing a year ago. No back on San Diego's roster could even come halfway close to the number of receptions (76) Woodhead produced in his first year with the Bolts, and not having that security blanket took away from what Philip Rivers could accomplish when surveying the field.
But with Woodhead back on the practice field and getting back into the swing of things, the Chargers should feel good about his outlook for next season. He opens up the playbook, and he's not a bad mentor to have on hand for Gordon.
Weight: 208 pounds
Experience: Second season
Despite the similarities they may share in appearance—mainly height and jersey number—Oliver insists he's not trying to be like ex-Chargers running back Darren Sproles, according to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune. He'd rather forge his own path, and if next season is anything like his rookie campaign, Oliver is well on his way in doing so.
As if making the roster as an undrafted free agent wasn't hard enough, Oliver was forced into a starting role just a few weeks into the season when the team lost both Ryan Mathews and Woodhead to injuries. During that time, he assumed the role of featured back and played it well, stringing together back-to-back 100-yard rushing games along the way.
Even with Gordon taking the majority of the carries in the rotation, Oliver has shown enough to be a viable third option in the ground game, both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
Weight: 207 pounds
Experience: Seventh season
As poorly as he may have played last season, the Chargers aren't rushing to any conclusions with Brown. He didn't produce nearly enough as the team might have hoped when injuries piled up at running back, but the 28-year-old still has some supporters within the organization.
General manager Tom Telesco has expressed full confidence in Brown with a similar backing from offensive coordinator Frank Reich, per Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and while there's no guarantee the Chargers carry four backs on the active roster next season, Brown's experience and versatility make him a strong candidate for them to do so.
Weight: 220 pounds
Nicknamed "Quake" for his heavy-set frame and powerful running style, Edwards isn't one to shy away from contact, but he also possesses nimble feet for a big man, which fueled his efforts in becoming Ball State's career rushing leader in yards, touchdowns and carries. His 40-yard dash time at the combine (4.80 seconds) was among the lowest at his position, but he managed to improve on it at his pro day (4.64).
With any luck, Edwards has the chance to follow down the path of another standout Mid-American Conference rusher to make the Chargers as an undrafted free agent—Branden Oliver. Gordon, Woodhead and Oliver are entrenched as the starting trio in the backfield, but should injuries interfere like they did last season, San Diego will need to have alternates on hand. Look for Edwards to build a case for the practice squad.
Weight: 225 pounds
Smith carries with him the title of heaviest running back on the Chargers roster, and based on his pro-day 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds), he might be the fastest rookie on the team as well. Smith was the third option on a West Virginia squad that lives to throw the ball, but in the 80 rushing attempts he saw last season, he averaged 5.6 yards with five touchdowns.
Like Edwards, Smith is also known by a nickname, though not as intimidating as the "Quake" moniker. His Mountaineers teammates referred to him as "Toto," like the small dog in The Wizard of Oz. Why? Because he hails from Kansas.
Don't let the nickname fool you, though. Smith is a big bruiser with sneaky straight-line speed. The competition between him and Edwards will be fun to watch in training camp, as both are likely competing for a spot on the practice squad with the possibly of being promoted in case of injury or as the fourth back behind Oliver.