Pittsburgh Steelers fans breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week when Melvin Gordon, the star running back for the Los Angeles Chargers, was ruled out. Gordon, the fourth year back out of Wisconsin will miss the Steelers game tonight due to a sprained MCL he suffered in last Sunday’s 45-10 win against the Arizona Cardinals. Gordon is sixth in the NFL in rushing yards with 802 and fourth in the league with nine rushing touchdowns to go along with 453 yards receiving and four more touchdowns. Pittsburgh fans should not jump the gun too fast and dismiss the next man up for the Bolts, Austin Ekeler.
In 2017, the former Western State Mountaineer went undrafted even though he had over 7,000 yards rushing and receiving combined and 63 touchdowns in his four-year career at the small Division II school. The 23-year-old will look to punish another team for dismissing his ability due to his 5-10 200 size or the level of competition he faced while in college.
Once a player leaves college, the stats there are meaningless and now what counts is what a player has done in the pros. That is where Steelers fans should be uneasy.
Ekeler has a career 5.7 yards per carry average which is buoyed by his 5.8 yards per carry average on 117 carries in 2018. His value does not end there. Ekeler also has 32 reception on 39 targets so far in 2018 to go along with his four total touchdowns.
Ekeler is coming off a career-best in Week 12 with 10 receptions for 68 yards on 11 targets to go along with five rushes for 35 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. Justin Jackson did split carries with Ekeler and was also effective with seven carries for 57 yards. Those are hefty averages when looking at a Cardinals defense that has yielded 3.5 yards per carry with their sixth-best run defense unit in the NFL.
It would thrill steelers fans for Ekeler to have a similar mediocre game like the one he had in Week 7 when he started for an injured Gordon. Against the leagues fourth-best defense against the run, the Tennessee Titans, Ekeler rushed 12 times for 42 yards and caught five passes for 26 yards while snaring five of seven passes for 26 yards. Ekeler had an 11-yard rush and completion as he was bottled up for most of the day as he was kept out of the endzone.
There has only been speculation on how Ekeler will be used by the Chargers tonight or how effective his presence will be. How ready will the Steelers and their fifth-ranked defense in yards allowed be against the 8-3 Chargers? Will the Steelers be fired up or hung over from their Mile High loss last week to the Denver Broncos? Can the Steelers do a better job at containing Ekeler then the 110 yards given up to Philip Lindsay last week? Both teams are in the playoff hunt and look to solidify their position within the playoff scenarios.
Will Ekeler rub the Steelers’ noses in the fact that they bypassed him in the draft? Or will he reassure Pittsburgh fans that GM Kevin Colbert was right to seek talent elsewhere?