As the Chargers prepare to open training camp July 29, they are receiving high praise from pundits who believe the team actually has a chance to not only challenge for the AFC West title, but also make a return to the playoffs after a three year hiatus. Most base this belief on the free agent acquisitions and draft picks General Manager Tom Telesco made during the off-season in addition to the Chargers playing a week schedule thanks to finishing 2016 with a 5–11 record.
Here is a closer look at a few articles regarding the team overall and some key player rankings as the franchise returns to Los Angeles.
ESPN’s Mike Clay recently wrote the Chargers are his pick to win the AFC West in 2017. A big reason why Clay believes a team with a 9-23 over the past two years can rise from the bottom of the division to the top is the law of averages — he is banking the injury bug that has plagued this team the last four years ends this season.
Said Clay, “It may be hard to believe after four consecutive seasons of bad luck, but regression to the mean in the injury department is inevitable and has to be baked into any prognostications for the 2017 season.
Clay lists three main reasons why he ranks the Chargers roster above its rivals in the division, each is listed below.
They have the division’s easiest schedule, and their rivals have flaws
“The AFC West is sure to be a challenge and is arguably the league’s toughest division. The Raiders, whom I loved last year, are pretty stacked offensively, but failed to fill defensive voids (specifically up the middle) that cost them last year. The Chiefs’ defense has transitioned from “dominant” to “good” and the Broncos’ outstanding defense is unlikely to overcome a below-average offense with quarterback question marks.
“Granted, all four teams have a shot, but helping push the Chargers over the top is the division’s easiest schedule, which includes unique matchups with Cleveland and Jacksonville. Anthony Lynn was a hot commodity during the coaching carousel and is in place as the team’s new head coach. Gus Bradley (defense) and Ken Whisenhunt (offense) form a strong one-two coordinator punch.”
They have one of the league’s top cornerback duos
“In analyzing the Chargers’ personnel, its best to start with the defense, which is one of the most intriguing units in the NFL.
“Verrett is back from last year’s knee injury, and the 26-year-old lockdown corner join Casey Hayward to form one of the league’s top duos at the position. Hayward dominated while shadowing a ridiculously tough slate of wide receivers down the stretch last season. From Week 6 on, he limited the opposition to 41 receptions, 564 yards and one touchdown on 71 targets. Depth is an issue at corner, but the Chargers are sitting pretty at the top with Verrett and Hayward.”
They have one of the league’s best pass-rushing duos
“Bosa didn’t play until Week 5 last year, but it didn’t take long for the 2016 first-rounder to show his dominance. He racked up 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss on 538 snaps. Bosa will be bookended by 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram who just re-upped for four years and $66 million.
“The Chargers have drafted and developed a strong core with talented veterans and/or emerging stars at nearly every position. They have the best team on paper in the AFC West and are primed for a return to the playoffs in 2017.”
In addition to the list mentioned above, Clay includes quarterback Philip Rivers (one of the best in the business), running back Melvin Gordon, a much-improved offensive arsenal under Rivers’ direction and a solid defense surrounding Bosa and Ingram as contributing factors for his prediction.
However, Clay writes the offensive line could be the defining factor to success.
The lingering concern
“The big question for this Chargers team is the offensive line, but the good news is that it should be better than last year’s underwhelming unit. Los Angeles signed Russell Okung away from Denver to play left tackle. Meanwhile, the team selected two of this year’s top rookie interior linemen, Forrest Lamp (second round) and Dan Feeney (third). Both are expected to play a significant role — likely as the starting guards — on a line that also includes right tackle Joe Barksdale and center Matt Slauson.”
Blake Hoffman () — in two recent articles Hoffman ranked all 32 NFL starting quarterbacks and running backs from worst to first. He has the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon No. 13 and No. 8, respectively. Per Hoffman —
“He may not have the best looking passes, but Rivers continues to get the job done for the now-Los Angeles Chargers. Always at or near the top of the passing yards list despite throwing to a bunch of receivers you’ve never heard of (aside from Antonio Gates), Rivers has an uncanny ability to make the most out of nothing. Even though he offers zero mobility/athleticism, Rivers remains one of the premier pocket passers in the game.”
Those he ranked ahead of Rivers include — Cam Newton (12); Kirk Cousins (11); Mathew Stafford (10); Dak Prescott; (9); Andrew Luck (8); Derek Carr (7); Russell Wilson (6); Ben Roethlisberger (5); Matt Ryan (4); Drew Brees (3); Aaron Rodgers (2) and Tom Brady (1).
“Few players in NFL history have had more of a roller coaster first two seasons than the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon. The former Wisconsin Badger never looked comfortable during his rookie season, averaging an abysmal 3.5 yards per carry while somehow never finding the end zone on 184 carries. Its safe to say things could only go up for Gordon in 2016, and they certainly did. An unfortunate ACL injury to Danny Woodhead turned Gordon into an every-down back, and Gordon made the most of the opportunity. While he still needs to improve in pass protection, Gordon excels in virtually every other category and has firmly asserted himself as a cornerstone for LA’s newest franchise.”
Running backs ranked ahead of Gordon include — Adrian Peterson (7); Donta Freeman (6); Demarco Murray (5); LeSean McCoy (4); Ezekiel Elliott (3); David Johnson (2) and Le’Veon Bell (1).
Zach Pereles of Shutdown Corner — recently ranked the Chargers’ running game No. 13 of all 32 NFL teams.
“This ranking is due almost entirely to the huge across-the-board improvement Gordon showed in his sophomore year,” Peerless said. “Even as the team around him struggled, Gordon produced consistently and is only going to get better, especially with the Chargers focusing on the offensive line in the draft.”
Pro Football Focus (PFF) — ranked Melvin Gordon No. 5 on their list of the top 32 fantasy running backs.
Sam Monson (PFF) — named every teams best player and a young player who could possibly supplant him. The picks for the Chargers were DE Joey Bosa and TE Hunter Henry, respectfully.
“It’s difficult to overstate how good Joey Bosa was right off the bat, it was like he was only picking up in the NFL where he left off in college,” Monson wrote. “No player in the past ten years has recorded more total pressures in their first twelve games in the league than Bosa’s 59, and he played both left and right side of the line, moving between defensive end and outside linebacker for the Chargers. Bosa could become one of the game’s best players quickly.
“Unless he has a significant step back in performance, it’s hard to imagine anybody on the Chargers roster challenging him for that top spot, but Hunter Henry has the ability to be special in his own right. He gained 1.99 yards per route run as a rookie, good enough for sixth in the NFL, and caught 76.6 percent of the passes thrown his way.”
The Endzone: In an article ranking the 32 NFL defenses, PFF named second-year linebacker Jativis Brown the Chargers ‘secret superstar.’ Selected in the fifth round in the 2016 NFL Draft, Brown started just seven games as a rookie last season but still tallied 79 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 6 passes defensed. Described as ‘a missile at the LB position,’ PFF gave him an 80.8 player grade, best for No. 27 in the NFL amongst linebackers, and an 81.7 coverage grade, No. 22 in the league.
Per PFF: “The former Zippy was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft and has already made a significant impact during the limited time in his rookie season and created a strong tandem with Chargers linebacker Korey Toomer.”