COSTA MESA, Calif. -- We start our annual position-by-position look at the Los Angeles Chargers by examining the running back position heading into the offseason. Starter Melvin Gordon had his best season as a pro, and rookie Austin Ekeler proved he could be an impact player in this offense. However, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn still was not satisfied with a running game that averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, No. 26 in the NFL.
"I'll tell you that right now: it's not where it needs to be," Lynn said. "We started out way too slow in the run game. I think I learned some things -- to do some things differently with the personnel we had here vs. what I've had in the past. I think it'll only get better going forward. The run game did pick up, but it's not where it needs to be right now, in my opinion."
Locks: Gordon, Ekeler
Looking good: Derek Watt
The good: Gordon played a full, 16-game season for the first time in his three-year NFL career, finishing with a career-high 1,105 yards and 12 total touchdowns. Gordon's 1,581 total yards from scrimmage was No. 5 in the NFL. He finished with a career-low one fumble in 2017 after fumbling eight times in his first two seasons. Only Todd Gurley (25) and Ezekiel Elliott (25) have more touchdowns than Gordon's 24 over the past two seasons. Undrafted rookie Ekeler totaled 260 rushing yards, 279 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.
The bad: The Chargers struggled to run the ball during the first half of the season, averaging just 89 rushing yards a contest through eight games -- No. 25 in the NFL. Ekeler fumbled twice at critical times in losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs. Oliver never got into a groove in 2017, finishing with just 83 rushing yards and averaging a career-low 2.4 yards per carry in eight games played.
The money: Gordon is scheduled to make $1.9 million in base salary in the final year of his rookie deal. The Chargers likely will pick up his fifth-year option. Watt is to make $630,000 in the third year of his rookie deal, and Ekeler will earn $555,000 in the second year of his rookie deal. Williams is a restricted free agent. Oliver is an unrestricted free agent and likely will move on in free agency, seeking a new home to jump-start his career.
Draft priority: The Chargers could use another running back with skills similar to Gordon's to spell the Wisconsin product. And this year's draft has a wealth of talented runners. Prospects who could make sense for the Bolts include USC's Ronald Jones II, San Diego State's Rashaad Penny and Georgia's Nick Chubb.