Free agent additions: WR Travis Benjamin, G/C Matt Slauson, NT Brandon Mebane, CB Casey Hayward, S Dwight Lowery
Free agent departures: RB Donald Brown, TE Ladarius Green, G Johnnie Troutman, DE/DT Kendall Reyes, ILB Donald Butler, ILB Kavell Conner, CB Patrick Robinson, S Eric Weddle
Early Draft selections: DE Joey Bosa, TE Hunter Henry, C Max Tuerk, ILB Joshua Perry
Offense: The Chargers drafted Philip Rivers in 2004, and didn’t have a losing season in 9 years afterward (in 2012). Unfortunately, they never could quite get past the Patriots. Since then, the Chargers have been very average, and they are dangerously close to 0 Super Bowl appearances with their franchise QB. Rivers is now 34, but he still has a few very good seasons left while he plays out the remainder of the 4 year contract he signed last year.
The biggest problem for the Chargers last season was injuries on their offensive line (40 sacks given up). LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, and RG DJ Fluker all missed time last year, and probably had some lingering issues even when they were playing. The Chargers are betting big that all 3 will remain healthy and play well, because they did not feel the need to draft a young OT at No. 3. The Chargers were able to obtain Matt Slauson, who plays either center or guard, after the Bears cut him for some reason, so at least they got a little better there.
Rivers will have plenty of weapons if he has time to find him. Keenan Allen was playing very well last season (725 yards in 8 games) before an injury (lacerated kidney) “cut” his season short. The Chargers also signed deep threat Travis Benjamin away from the Browns, and still have the ageless Antonio Gates. He needs to stay healthy (not at all a given) because it is currently unknown what second rounder Hunter Henry will bring to the team.
Rivers will need help from his running game, which was the 2nd worst in the NFL last season, but it does not look like it will be any better. Melvin Gordon sure looked like a bust in action (3.5 YPC), and is returning from a microfracture surgery. Therefore, expect to see a lot of Danny Woodhead, a small back who is a very capable receiver out of the backfield.
Defense: It’s all about Joey Bosa here. Bosa is not the best fit for the 3-4 scheme the Chargers run. The Chargers will use him on the line to improve a run defense that allowed 4.8 yards per rush. Bosa would be better suited as an edge rusher, but if he does his job stopping the run as a rookie, that may come with time. Rounding out the line are Brandon Mebane (signed from the Seahawks), and Corey Liuget, who suffered through an injury riddled 2015 season. At edge rusher, the Chargers have Melvin Ingram (10.5 sacks) and Jeremiah Attoachu (6 sacks), who both played well. Ingram has had injury concerns before, which may explain the Bosa pick. At inside linebacker, the Chargers have Denzel Perryman and Manti Te’o. Te’o isn’t very good unfortunately, and he is the weakness in the front seven.
The secondary lost a Charger mainstay, safety Eric Weddle. His replacement, Dwight Lowery, is a big downgrade. The other safety, Jahleel Addae, is prone to dumb penalities, so safety will be a big weakness for the Chargers this year. At corner, the Chargers are much better. Jason Verrett may be one of the best in the game. Brandon Flowers is talented, but admitted that he grew ‘fat and happy’ after signing a big contract last year. If he stays that way, the Chargers stole Casey Heyward away from the Packers. Heyward is smaller and won’t offer much in terms of tackling, but he is an excellent cover corner.
Special teams, schedule, and intangibles: The Chargers probably have the worst homefield advantage in the NFL (I say probably because I need to see the LA Rams first). On Monday night against the Steelers, it sounded like a Steelers home game. Since 2011, the Chargers are 15-25 as hosts.
The Chargers will need to get better at returning kicks (20 yards per return), punts (4 yards per return), and covering kicks (27 per return) and punts (10 per return).
Josh Lambo isn’t very accurate, going 26-32 while going 4-5 from 50+. He also missed on FOUR extra point tries.
Mike Scifres used to be the best punter in the league, but has been struggling recently as we has 27th in net yardage.
The Chargers have many winnable games, including: the NFC South (minus Carolina), the AFC South (minus Houston), as well as the Browns and Titans. They also figure to perform better against the AFC West.
Position Ratings (out of 5 stars):
Summary: With the Cavs winning a championship, ESPN decided that San Diego is now the most tortured sports city. There’s only one team that can break that (while they are still around), but it probably won’t happen this year. That being said, the Chargers are an improved team who won’t be easy to beat. With a little luck on the injury front, they will outperform my prediction and have a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Prediction: 8-8 (3rd AFC West)