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2013 Team Report: San Diego Chargers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Charlie Whitehurst, Brad Sorensen

Starting QB: Philip Rivers was one of the top quarterbacks in the league from 2008 through 2010, but has regressed in each of the past two seasons. He lacks mobility (and makes bad decisions when he has to throw on the run), so having a clean pocket to step into is important for him. He didn't have that very often last year, and the offensive line is a major concern again this season. On the plus side, Rivers has a very quick release, he understands the game, and is dedicated to studying film. He also throws an accurate deep ball when he can step into his throw. On the negative side, apart from his aforementioned immobility, he lacks the arm strength to really drive the deep outs. He'll seek to reverse his trending toward mediocrity this season, but he will need better play from his offensive line.

Backup QB: Charlie Whitehurst was drafted by the Chargers in the third round in 2006, was traded to the Seahawks for a third-round pick in 2010, then was released by the Seahawks and signed by the Chargers again in 2012. Whitehurst was somewhat of a disappointment in Seattle, having failed to challenge Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job there, but he did lead the Seahawks to a win in week 17 of 2010 to lock up the NFC West title. Whitehurst has decent arm strength, but it's unknown whether he can run the offense well enough to have decent fantasy value in the event that Philip Rivers is injured. Brad Sorensen is a project. He is a big quarterback with a strong arm, but below-average mobility and inconsistent accuracy.

Running Backs

Starter: Ryan Mathews
Backup(s): Danny Woodhead, Ronnie Brown, Fozzy Whittaker
Fullback(s): Le'Ron McClain

Starting RB: Ryan Mathews was the Chargers first-round draft pick in 2010, but he has had trouble staying healthy in each of the past three seasons. When healthy, he has a terrific combination of speed and power, as well as the strength and balance to gain yards after contact. He does not always show good run vision, however, missing holes on occasion. He has also struggled with ball security, and is not trusted as a pass-blocker. His deficiencies in the passing game make him a two-down back. He suffered two separate broken collarbones last season -- injuries that should not affect his future performance, but that are symbols of his lack of durability.

Backup RBs: The Chargers signed former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead this offseason. Woodhead is likely to be the Chargers' third-down back in 2013. He is small, quick, sure-handed, and tough, and new head coach Mike McCoy likes what Woodhead can do in the open field. If Ryan Mathews is not effective, or is slow to learn the Chargers' new offensive scheme, Woodhead could see action on first and second downs as well. Ronnie Brown was the Chargers' third-down and two-minute-drill back last season. If those roles are taken over by Woodhead this season, that raises the question of what Brown's new role might be. Brown may spell Mathews on early downs, or he may keep his role in the two-minute offense, or he may be inactive on game days if the team figures that one third-down back is enough.

Fullback: Le'Ron McClain was a productive runner early in his career with the Ravens, but since leaving Baltimore, he has averaged fewer than one carry a game with the Chiefs and Chargers.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd
Backups: Keenan Allen [R], Eddie Royal (PR) , Seyi Ajirotutu

Starting WRs: Danario Alexander was signed by the Chargers midseason and quickly became their most prominent receiver in 2012, but an ACL injury in this year's training camp will keep him sidelined in 2013. That leaves a big whole to fill at the wide receiver position, and the odds-on favorite to pick up most of the slack is Vincent Brown. Brown, a third-round pick in 2011, appeared to be the team's best receiver last year during training camp and the preseason, but a broken ankle suffered late in the preseason kept him on the shelf during the regular season. Brown is a good route-runner with excellent hands. The other starting spot will likely go to Malcom Floyd. Floyd is a tall receiver with good leaping ability and excellent hands. He is primarily a deep threat, as he lacks the quickness out of his cuts to beat tight coverage on intermediate routes. Quarterback Philip Rivers is very comfortable throwing to Floyd; the two came into the league together in 2004, and Rivers' first career touchdown pass was to Floyd.

Backup WRs: Keenan Allen was the Chargers' third-round pick this offseason, and is considered to be relatively NFL-ready for a rookie. He is known as a smart receiver and a fluid athlete who runs good patterns. He should be in the mix for playing time immediately, perhaps in the slot. Eddie Royal was a free-agent acquisition in 2012, but did not make an impact on offense. Royal will compete with Keenan Allen to man the slot position. Seyi Ajirotutu has spent a few previous seasons with the Chargers, so he and Philip Rivers are familiar with each other. Ajirotutu has an excellent combination of size and speed, and could get regular playing time as a deep threat.

Tight Ends

Starters: Antonio Gates
Backups: Ladarius Green, John Phillips

Antonio Gates' days as a perennial fantasy stud are over, but he still has the potential to be a fantasy starter. Between 2004 and 2010, Gates was a top five fantasy tight end for seven consecutive seasons. He slipped to #7 in an injury-shortened 2011 season, and then further slipped to #12 last year. He was not as effective beating double teams in 2012 as he had been in previous seasons, and he also dropped more catchable balls than usual. He is still a premier redzone threat, however, so his fantasy value has not vanished. Ladarius Green is not much of a blocker, but he is a natural receiver with the speed to run downfield patterns. He could be used in the slot when both he and Gates are in the game together. John Phillips, the former Dallas Cowboy, should take over Randy McMichael's role: he is a decent receiver on underneath routes, but will be used primarily as a blocker.

Place Kicker

Nick Novak: The Chargers re-signed kicker Nick Novak in March. In 13 games last year, his second year relieving Nate Kaeding, Novak hit 18 of 20 field goals with the misses coming from 54 & 55 yards. He'll be working with returning co-specialists holder/punter Mike Scifres and long snapper Mike Windt, who was re-signed and is coming off IR. The Chargers dropped to 23rd in kicker scoring opportunities last year after ranking in the top ten for four straight years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ronnie Brown, Lavelle Hawkins, Danny Woodhead

Running back Fozzy Whittaker started the season as the kick returner, before being released to make room on the roster for an offensive lineman. Danny Woodhead briefly took over the job, but now appears to be the backup to wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins. Hawkins had a good season in 2012 for Tennessee, with over 29 yards per kick return, but has sometimes been left inactive this season. Ronnie Brown has handled kickoffs when that has happened.

Punt Returners: Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen

Even amidst a disappointing first season with the team, receiver Eddie Royal handled all of San Diego's punt return duties when healthy. He remains under contract, and should remain the team's primary option for handling punts. Should Royal falter or become injured, San Diego would likely use punt returns as a way to get the ball into the hands of their 3rd round rookie receiver, Keenan Allen.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT King Dunlap, LG Rich Ohrnberger, C Nick Hardwick, RG Chad Rinehart, RT D.J. Fluker
Key Backups: T Michael Harris, T Jeromey Clary, T Brandyn Dombrowski, G Johnie Troutman, G Stephen Schilling, C Colin Baxter

As these rankings go to press, rumors are swirling that free agent tackle Max Starks, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, could sign with the San Diego Chargers. Should this move occur, Starks would start at tackle and boost this club's fortunes up to twenty-ninth in the rankings. This story illustrates that the problem with the Chargers line isn't just a lack of top talent, but also a lack of cohesion. The Chargers have one starter from last year Nick Hardwick. Hardwick is a former Pro Bowler and does a very good job on the interior of the line. However all the other starters are new, and that fact doesn't change if they sign Max Starks. Left tackle King Dunlap is probably best as a swing tackle, as he had a rough season in relief of Jason Peters last year in Philadelphia. Dunlap is a massive player but can't move quickly enough for the league's speedier pass rushers. Rich Ohrnberger and Chad Rinehart are two backup caliber players who are getting a chance to start in San Diego. Ohrnberger could have a battle at right guard with Johnnie Troutman, formerly of Penn State. First round selection D.J. Fluker is a natural at right tackle with his massive frame and should help the team immediately. Fluker actually received comparisons to former Chargers great Marcus McNeill during the draft process, so it's fitting he wound up in San Diego. Swing tackle Mike Harris received money through the league's performance based bonus system, indicating that he outperformed his contract last year. Steve Schilling and David Molk are former Michigan linemen, and are best left as depth. Overall this line starts the year as the league's worst, and that seems pretty harsh for Chargers fans. However this line can rise in the rankings if the team adds more talent via free agency and if Fluker lives up to his billing.

Team Defense

The Chargers defense was a unit that improved throughout the year and they'll look to carry that improvement into 2013. The team is strong up the middle with linebacker Donald Butler and safety Eric Weddle as the best players on the defense. Weddle is arguably one of the top safeties in the league while Butler continues to improve as a 24 year-old middle linebacker. The defensive line is extremely young and showed glimmers of greatness in 2012. Where the team may struggle is on the outside. There are question marks galore at the cornerback position and the team is very short on pass rushers. Dwight Freeney was brought in as a free agent but it remains to be seen what kind of impact he can make in a 3-4 defense Depth may also be an issue for the Chargers defense. There may not be a lot of big plays out of this unit so they'll have to rely on a bend but don't break philosophy. This could generate a lot of tackles for the linebacking corps, especially if the defensive line improves.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Cam Thomas, DE Corey Liuget, DE Kendall Reyes
Backups: DE Jarius Wynn, NT Kwame Geathers

Starting DL: Cam Thomas will enter his fourth year out of North Carolina and his first as the unquestioned starter. Thomas has improved in each of his first three seasons and at 6'4" 335 pounds he has the body if he can continue to improve. Corey Liuget had a breakout season in his second year out of Illinois. He logged seven sacks and batted down nine passes in his first year as a full-time starter. On the opposite side of the line will be Kendall Reyes. Reyes only started 4 games as a rookie but he had 5.5 sacks. Much like Liuget and Thomas, Reyes's still has room to grow and if all three continue to develop the defensive line could be a strength for this team.

Backup DL: The Chargers added Jarius Wynn in free agency but still has questionable depth all along the line. They'll need the starters to remain healthy as there is really no one amongst the reserves that you could see stepping into a full-time role if someone went down to injury.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Donald Butler, ILB Manti Te'o, OLB Jarret Johnson, OLB Dwight Freeney
Backups: OLB Larry English

Starting LBs: The middle of the Chargers linebacking corps should be solid with third year starter Donald Butler and rookie Manti Te'o. Butler has yet to produce huge numbers but with the defensive line improving you get the feeling that could be just around the corner. In two years in the league he has five career sacks and two interceptions. A better goal for Butler may be 100 tackles, a number he almost crossed in his rookie season. Te'o will like join Butler in the starting line up and there will not be many more second round picks with more eyes on them. The biggest concern with Te'o is whether he's fast enough to play at this level but his instincts should help bridge the gap. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson came to the Chargers last season after nine successful seasons with the Baltimore ravens. Johnson is not flashy but he's solid with the biggest concern being how much he has let in the tank. His 40 total tackles last year was his lowest total in six years. Melvin Ingram's ACL injury opened the door to the Chargers bringing in Dwight Freeney as a free agent. Freeney struggled in the 3-4 once Indianapolis made the switch but said after the signing he was confident the Chargers would use him correctly. This likely means they've promised at least some sets with four down linemen on passing downs.

Backup LBs: Larry English will be ready to take over should Melvin Ingram prove to be incapable. English was a first round pick himself and it's his inability to stay healthy that led the Chargers to draft Ingram in 2012.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Derek Cox, CB Shareece Wright, SS Marcus Gilchrist, FS Eric Weddle
Backups: CB Steve Williams, FS Darrell Stuckey

Starting DBs: Derek Cox comes to the Chargers as a free agent from the Jaguars. Cox has been outstanding when he's been on the field. In 12 starts last season he permitted only one touchdown. Staying on the field had been a problem for Cox though. After starting 16 games as a rookie in 2009, he's combined for 29 starts in the last three seasons. With the Chargers' lack of quality corners, they need him to stay healthy. Starting opposite the ever steady Eric Weddile is Marcus Gilchrist. Gilchrist was the slot corner for the Chargers in 2012 but has moved to strong safety. Eric Weddle has been a stud at free safety for five years and he's showing no signs of slowing down. His 97 tackles in 2012 were his most since 2008.

Backup DBs:

Last modified: 2013-12-11 15:32:58