Former Chargers Star Taking On Additional Role With New Team

Are the Commanders misusing Austin Ekeler? The former Los Angeles Chargers RB is reportedly taking on a shocking role with his new team.
Austin Ekeler has been used as a kick returner this offseason.
Austin Ekeler has been used as a kick returner this offseason. / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Just like with any NFL offseason, the Los Angeles Chargers saw several players depart for new homes this spring. One of the more prominent names of the bunch was Austin Ekeler, who joined the Chargers in 2017 and served as the franchise's No. 1 running back for the last five seasons.

After Los Angeles opted not to re-sign him in March, Ekeler made the move to Washington on a two-year, $11.43 million deal. While the 29-year-old's play last season left something to be desired, Chargers fans are curious as to how he'll perform with his new team this fall.

As it turns out, the Commanders are seemingly planning to use Ekeler in a shocking way.

Chargers News: Commanders to use Austin Ekeler as Returner?

As the Commanders' mandatory minicamp opened on Tuesday, Washington insider Nicki Jhabvala is reporting Ekeler is "in the kickoff returner mix." The decision to use the seven-year veteran in a special teams role is surprising given that he hasn't returned kicks since his rookie campaign.

As an undrafted rookie in 2017, Ekeler fielded five kickoffs and returned them for 85 yards (17.0 yards per attempt). While it was far from the worst performance, the Chargers quickly discovered that the former Western State product excelled more as a running back than he did as a return specialist.

During his time with the Chargers, Ekeler turned 990 carries into 4,355 and 39 touchdowns. He also excelled and was one of the league's best pass-catchers out of the backfield, hauling in 440-of-556 targets (79.1%) for another 3,884 yards and 30 TDs. In total, the versatile dual-threat finished three of the last five seasons with at least 1,550 scrimmage yards and 11 total scores.

But while Ekeler as a return seems like a miscast, it likely has more to do with the NFL's new kickoff rules if anything. The new rules put more of an emphasis on returning the ball, meaning we could see teams using more unconventional returners as they experiment to find what does and doesn't work.

Ekeler is projected to split backfield duties with Brian Robinson Jr., meaning that using him as a returner could help him stay warmed up as an RB. Players can take time to readjust if they've been on the sidelines for too long and keeping Ekeler active by deploying him on kickoffs could help mitigate that risk.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles fans won't get a chance to see Ekeler in his new (potential) role next season. The Chargers aren't scheduled to meet the Commanders at any point during the regular season, meaning Super Bowl LIX is the only way that Ekeler can face his former team.

Considering how the Chargers (+5000, T-18th) and Commanders (+15000, T-29th) are both Super Bowl longshots, we might have to wait a while for the reunion.

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