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Why Branden Oliver is the Chargers’ breakout player this season

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Even with Melvin Gordon, there’s a big role in store for the Chargers’ other running back. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White explains.

Oakland Raiders v San Diego Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

I guess you could say I think this will technically be Brandon Oliver's second breakout season. See, in 2014, as an undrafted rookie free agent, Oliver burst onto the scene to start 14 games for the San Diego Chargers. He ended up running for over 580 yards and also caught 36 balls.

Those numbers may not sound all that impressive on paper, but it was the way he played that jumped off the screen when he ran the ball.

This guy [Jon Gruden voice] is only 5'8 but he's built like a brick shit house (country saying) weighing in at around 200 pounds. Not only was he able to run around and past guys, this dude would actually try to truck stick their asses from time to time.

He wasn't quite as fast as Darren Sproles, the dynamic 5'6 running back who had some great years playing for the Chargers, but their running styles were very similar. Oliver ran with that same kind of fearlessness and passion when he had the ball in his hands. He was definitely able to house long runs, best evidenced by a game against the Jets that first season when had a run and caught a pass for over 50 yards.

It looked as if the future was very bright for the young Mr. Oliver, but it turns out fate can be a real asshole.

In 2015 Oliver started the season as a backup after the Chargers selected Melvin Gordon in the first round and never had more than 10 carries in any of the first eight games he played. To make matters worse, he suffered a turf toe injury that ended his season prematurely.

Fast forward to last preseason and just when it looked as if Oliver might've been ready to push Gordon, who was coming off a somewhat disappointing rookie campaign. Oliver blew out his Achilles and was lost for the entire 2016 season.

I still believe in Oliver.

After seeing him in the first preseason game against the Seahawks he looked every bit as quick and fearless as a runner as he did back in 2014. With the injuries he’s dealt with, it was important to see him out there running full speed and challenging would be tacklers.

Gordon is on a little more solid footing now after a bounce back season in 2016, but Oliver looks to be a prime candidate for a third down back role, a la Sproles.

If he can nail down that role and stay healthy this season, I think Oliver will become a big part of the Chargers' offense. It won't be easy for him, as a backup, to top his rushing total from 2014, but I'm betting he will be able to best his yards per carry average of 3.6 per. I also expect him to end up with more than the 36 receptions he had that year as well.

Mostly, I'm just pulling for him because Branden Oliver is a great example of why we shouldn't judge a player by his size, but rather his heart. That's why he is my choice for the Chargers breakout player of 2017.