SAN DIEGO -- We start our annual examination of the position groups for the Los Angeles Chargers with a closer look at the running backs. Melvin Gordon had a breakout performance in his second NFL season, partly due to the fact that Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver were unavailable after season-ending injuries. With those two change-of-pace runners out, Gordon proved that he can be a workhorse running back. But now the Chargers have to figure out a way to create more balance on offense so Philip Rivers doesn't have to throw it 40 times a game for this team to win.
Locks: Melvin Gordon, Derek Watt
Looking good: Branden Oliver
The good: Gordon finished just three yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards even after he missed the final three games with a hip strain and a knee sprain. Gordon was a third-alternate to the Pro Bowl, but was an injury replacement for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and will play in the annual all-star game on Sunday. Gordon is still wearing a brace on his injured left knee. After finishing with six fumbles his rookie season, Gordon has just two fumbles in 2016. A sixth-round selection by the Chargers in 2016, Watt finished with 130 snaps on offense, as offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt used the fullback more in his first season back with the Chargers.
The bad: For a second straight season Gordon finished the year on the injured reserve list. Gordon has 512 touches in two seasons. The Chargers have to figure out a way to lessen the load for Gordon in 2017, bringing in a runner with a similar skill set to the Wisconsin product. Woodhead has finished on the injured reserve two of the past three seasons while Oliver has finished on the injured reserve the past two years. Both players have to figure out a way to stay on healthy. The Chargers also have to get better at running the football when teams know they're going to run it, in the fourth quarter with a lead to close out games. The Chargers had just one rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, tied for worst in the NFL.
The money: Gordon is scheduled to make $1.4 million in base salary in the third year of his rookie deal while Watt is slated to make $540,000 in the second year of his rookie contract. Oliver is a restricted free agent and Williams is an exclusive rights free agent; both should be back. Woodhead, McCluster and Hillman are all unrestricted free agents. The Chargers missed having Woodhead on the field last season, particularly in the red zone -- an area of the field where Woodhead strives. The Chargers should bring Woodhead back if the price is right.
Draft priority: It's not a necessity, but either through the draft, free agency or someone currently on the roster, the Chargers could use another bruising runner. Williams showed a glimpse of being able to fill that role in the final game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. Another player who could make some sense in the draft is Jamaal Williams of BYU. At 6-foot and 220 pounds, Williams finished with 1,375 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns his final season with the Cougars.