As camp begins to wrap up in Oxnard, the focus now shifts to Los Angeles for three important days of competition. It's been tough to get a legitimate look at the running back position during the non-tackling sessions, making it difficult to gauge how the depth pieces are performing at the position.
Luckily, this past week in Denver allowed for some more clarity.
There's no surprise at the top of the depth chart with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard leading the way as a dual backfield full of potential. Elliott's power running style and Pollard's electrifying speed complement each other to keep defenses off balance.
However, there is plenty up for grabs behind the dynamic duo as three former undrafted free agents battle for potentially just one roster spot.
Rico Dowdle is the other returner who shined in 15 games as a rookie in 2020 before missing the entire 2021 season due to a hip injury. He also missed some time during minicamp because of a knee injury and another few days of training camp with an illness. When healthy, Dowdle is an explosive back and a special teams contributor that has played well enough to keep his job as the third running back on the depth chart. He still appears to be the front runner for now, but not without a challenge.
Rookie Malik Davis has been a pleasant surprise in Oxnard and controlled the carries while Dowdle missed some time. Davis took full advantage of the extra snaps in practice showing his value as a ball carrier and a receiver out of the backfield. He led the team in rushing with 51 yards on eight carries and was tied for a team-high three receptions for 16 yards as well. Both numbers better than Dowdle's performance against Denver.
Aaron Shampklin has also shown burst as the third tailback in the bunch. His best work came in the joint practice against the Broncos with multiple runs and receptions for first down yardage. The Harvard product finished second on the team with 4.6 yards per carry and continued the momentum he built in Oxnard as a possible option moving forward as well.
Collectively, the ground game tallied 5.0 yards per carry and finished with 141 rushing yards during the preseason opener in Denver. A number that was a credit to the run blocking up front and the strong running from running back position.
With Kellen Moore keen on using two-back sets significantly this season, Elliott and Pollard could be on the field together often. Because of this, the need for a reliable third tailback would be crucial in some early down and red zone scenarios. Making that position on the depth chart even more valuable for whoever emerges.