Austin Ekeler

Chargers To Be Without Gordon, Ekeler?

With a win over the Chiefs on Thursday night, the Chargers can take a step closer towards winning the AFC West title. Unfortunately, it sounds like they’ll go into the game without their two best running backs. 

The Chargers are not optimistic that Melvin Gordon (knee) and Austin Ekeler (neck, concussion) will be ready for this weeks’ game, head coach Anthony Lynn tells Steve Wyche of NFL.com (on Twitter). Instead, the Chargers are planning to use rookie running backs Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome in the backfield.

Gordon has been sidelined since sustaining a grade 2 MCL sprain in Los Angeles’ Week 12 matchup with Arizona. Since then, Jackson has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Chargers. He averaged eight yards per carry in Weeks 12 and 13, but had just 12 yards off of seven carries in Sunday’s win over the Bengals. Newsome, meanwhile, has not touched the ball in the last two games.

If the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Thursday, they’ll clinch the AFC West title, allowing them to rest their best players over the final two weeks of the season. Even in that scenario, the Chargers are all virtually assured a place in the postseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Notes: Raiders, Hill, Ekeler, 49ers

The long-anticipated Reggie McKenzie departure leaves the Raiders in search of a replacement, but Jon Gruden is not certain to be involved in the interview process that will lead to his new decision-making partner/lieutenant.

I know Mark (Davis) is going to accumulate a list of names and candidates, and I’m sure we’ll discuss those people later this week,” Gruden said (via ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez). “Right now, I don’t have any idea. … I’m not revealing any candidates because I don’t know of any.”

Jaguars player personnel director Chris Polian, Lions exec Jimmy Raye III and former Gruden Buccaneers coworker Mark Domenik have been loosely connected to the Raiders’ vacancy thus far. The team may want an executive who can push back against Gruden when necessary, per SI.com’s Albert Breer. College scouting director Shaun Herock is now filling in for McKenzie as GM, and Davis views Herock as a key organizational piece going forward. Gruden stopped short of proclaiming McKenzie’s right-hand man, player personnel director Joey Clinkscales, would have a long-term role. But Clinkscales remains in his post following McKenzie’s firing.

Here is the latest from the West divisions:

  • With a home game against the Chargers and a road tilt in Seattle, the Chiefs have a tough back-to-back assignment coming up. Their top wide receiver likely will not be 100 percent for those games. Tyreek Hill said Sunday, via NBC Sports’ Peter King, his foot was “bad.” Hill left Sunday’s overtime win because of injury but returned, and Andy Reid expects the deep threat to play against the Bolts on Thursday. The Chiefs possessed a top-flight skill-position quartet, powering Patrick Mahomes‘ MVP candidacy, this season. But they are now without Kareem Hunt and Sammy Watkins, the latter likely out until the playoffs. Hill has not missed an NFL game due to injury. A Hill absence would make Kansas City vulnerable against a Chargers team that would move into an 11-3 tie atop the AFC West with a win. That said, the Chiefs would still hold the divisional-record tiebreaker and keep the top spot.
  • Chances for a Thursday recovery for Austin Ekeler aren’t as good. The second-year Chargers running back suffered a bruised nerve in his neck, per Eric Williams of ESPN.com, and although he played through similar discomfort earlier this season, Ekeler not playing appears to be the most likely scenario. “It’s football, yeah, but there’s a lot of life after football, too,” Ekeler said Monday. Melvin Gordon is expected to return from his MCL injury, however.
  • The 49ers drafted N.C. State’s Kentavius Street shortly after he tore his ACL in a pre-draft workout with the Giants, but the rookie defensive end may be on the verge of practicing, Kyle Shanahan said Monday. Street is on the 49ers’ NFI list and will not play in a game this season, though, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports (on Twitter). Still, practice work would help as Street prepares for a hopefully healthy 2019 offseason.
  • In case you missed it, Doug Baldwin is inactive for tonight’s Seahawks-Vikings game. Baldwin, who’s battled a knee injury most of this season, is now dealing with a hip problem.

Injury Updates: Ekeler, Roethlisberger, Jackson, Reed

While Week 14 wasn’t nearly as bad as recent weeks in terms of carnage, there were still some significant injuries to big players today. The Chargers are already dealing with the loss of running back Melvin Gordon to an MCL injury, and may now be without his backfield mate Austin Ekeler for a while. Ekeler aggravated the stingers he’s been dealing with in the team’s win over the Bengals today, a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The Chargers play in Kansas City this Thursday night in a huge game for playoff seeding, and Schefter writes that “the short week will make it tough” for Ekeler to play.

Here are more injury updates from around the league:

  • Ben Roethlisberger missed most of the second half in the Steelers‘ loss to the Raiders with a rib injury, but is expected to be fine and play next week against the Patriots, Schefter writes in a separate tweet. Joshua Dobbs filled in for Roethlisberger today, and Big Ben’s absence ended up costing the team the game as they scored zero points with Dobbs under center. The Steelers are just 7-6-1 and in danger of falling out of the playoffs with a very tough upcoming schedule, so they’ll need Roethlisberger at full strength.
  • In the same tweet, Schefter notes that X-Rays on Lamar Jackson‘s ankle came back negative and that he’s expected to play next week against the Buccaneers. Jackson missed the final plays of the Ravens’ thrilling overtime loss to the Chiefs today, and Robert Griffin III filled in. If Jackson’s ankle ends up becoming an issue, it would further complicate the murky situation between him and Joe Flacco.
  • The Redskins have had some of the worst injury luck in the league, and got even more bad news today. Tight end Jordan Reed sprained his foot, Schefter notes, and will presumably miss some time. Reed has been plagued by injuries the past few years, but had been able to stay healthy so far this year. He’s dealt with foot injuries in the past, so this could very well wind up ending his season. The Redskins are looking to finish strong with new quarterback Josh Johnson, and this will make things significantly more difficult for the offense.

Austin Ekeler Out For The Year

The Chargers offense has many weapons, but perhaps the most surprising of the team’s playmakers will not be active for another game this season. Running back Austin Ekeler broke his hand in last night’s AFC West affair against the Chiefs and will be out for the year, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Austin Ekeler (Vertical)

The undrafted rookie out of Western State had gone from unknown to a key part of the Chargers offense in a short period of time. Ekeler carved out a nice role as the team’s passing back when starter Melvin Gordon was off the field. The 22-year-old lined up all over for head coach Anthony Lynn, affecting the game both on the ground and through the air.

Ekeler averaged 5.5 yards per carry, rushing for two touchdowns. The scat back also caught 27 balls for 279 yards, which included three scores. Through 14 weeks, Ekeler ranked as the 16th best passing back in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

Losing their surprise rookie performer is a rather big blow for a Chargers team that has been streaking over the past month with the hopes of securing a playoff spot. Expect Gordon to become even more involved in the Chargers offensive gameplan with Ekeler no longer available. Although, running back Branden Oliver seems like a sure bet to somewhat step in for Ekeler during the final two weeks of the season. Los Angeles is certainly not lacking weapons, but this injury puts another damper on the team’s postseason chances coming off a big loss on Saturday night.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chargers Sign 15 Undrafted Free Agents

The Chargers announced that they’ve reached agreements with 15 undrafted college free agents. The full list is as follows: