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2014 Team Report: San Diego Chargers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Kellen Clemens, Brad Sorensen

Starting QB: Philip Rivers, entering his eleventh season with the Chargers, is the team's leader and most important player. He had a bounce-back season in 2013 under new head coach Mike McCoy: he set a personal record for pass completions (387), led the league in completion percentage (69.5%), and was fourth-best in the league in both passing yards (4,478) and passing touchdowns (32). Largely due to Rivers' accuracy, the Chargers led the league last year in third down efficiency (49%) and ten-play drives (39). A model of durability, Rivers has started every game in each of his eight seasons as the starter. During that time, he's been top-ten fantasy QB in six of eight seasons. Rivers lacks mobility, but he has a quick release and throws accurately when he can step into the pocket, making him a dependable mid- to low-end fantasy QB1.

Backup QB: The Chargers signed Kellen Clemens, formerly of the Jets and Rams, to take over as the backup quarterback. Clemens filled in for the injured Sam Bradford over the second half of the 2013 season and was was surprisingly serviceable. Clemens is not a dynamic playmaker, but he can manage the offense and is expected to be an upgrade over Whitehurst. Brad Sorensen was the Chargers' seventh-round pick a year ago, and he had a strong enough 2013 preseason to make the final 53-man roster. It is not certain the the Chargers will carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster again, so Sorensen will need another impressive preseason to stick around.

Running Backs

Starter: Ryan Mathews
Backup(s): Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, Branden Oliver [R], Marion Grice [R], Kerwynn Williams
Fullback(s): David Johnson, Zach Boren

Starting RB: The Chargers traded up to select Ryan Mathews in the first round of the 2010 draft, but his future with the team is uncertain as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. When he's been healthy, he has generally played well. He has a terrific combination of power and straight-ahead speed, and is a versatile runner who can run up the gut or get outside and turn the corner. His main two problems have been ball-security and injury-proneness. Several inopportune turnovers early in his career have left him with a reputation as a fumbler (although he has been better in that area in more recent seasons). And he has played through injuries, or sometimes failed to play through them, for the majority of his NFL career. An ankle, an elbow, a collarbone (twice), a knee -- Mathews has been almost constantly banged up. If he can stay healthy and play well in 2014, he could lock up a contract extension with the team. If not, he could be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Backup RBs: The Chargers have plenty of depth at running back, and will likely carry four running backs on the 53-man roster. They signed Donald Brown away from the Colts this offseason, and Brown seems to be in line to be Ryan Mathews' primary backup. Brown averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season, substantially outperforming his teammate Trent Richardson, the number three overall pick in 2012. Brown, a former first-round pick in his own right, could be the Chargers' back of the future if Ryan Mathews is not brought back in 2015. Danny Woodhead, a free-agent acquisition last season who came over from the Patriots, proved to be an extremely versatile weapon on offense. Woodhead is short, but well built, and was used occasionally as an inside runner, even at the goal line. But his greatest asset is his quickness in space, and he is a savvy receiver out of the backfield. Branden Oliver is an undrafted rookie, but he's played his way into the fourth spot on the RB depth chart. He is short and quick, reminding some observers of Darren Sproles, though he's not as fast as Sproles. Marion Grice was extremely productive at Arizona State, but he's an underdog to make the final roster as long as Oliver keeps outperforming him.

Fullback: David Johnson is listed as a tight end on the Chargers' roster, but he's been lining up at fullback during the preseason, and he's made an impact as a blocker. He won't have fantasy value in his own right, but could contribute to the value of the Chargers' RBs.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd
Backups: Eddie Royal, Vincent Brown, Dontrelle Inman, Tevin Reese, Seyi Ajirotutu, Tobias Palmer.

Starting WRs: Keenan Allen was a bright spot for the Chargers during his rookie year. A third-round pick, Allen worked his way up the depth chart into a starting role and fell just short of winning offensive rookie of the year. He led all rookies with 1,046 yards receiving, and was the best receiver on the Chargers by far. He lacks exceptional deep speed, but runs sharp routes and has soft hands, and enters the 2014 season as the Chargers' clear WR1. Malcom Floyd is the other starter. He suffered a scary neck injury early in 2013, but has been cleared to play and has looked good in training camp. Even when Floyd has been fully healthy in the past, however, he has never cracked the top thirty as a fantasy WR in any of his ten seasons in the league.

Backup WRs: Eddie Royal started the 2013 season with five touchdown receptions in the first two games, but was mostly unhelpful to his fantasy owners after that. If neither Vincent Brown nor Malcom Floyd are impressive during training camp, Royal could be in the mix to start on the outside, but he is generally better suited to the slot. Vincent Brown looked great during the 2012 preseason until breaking his ankle. He missed the entire 2012 season and didn't look right during 2013. He appeared to have lost his explosiveness, and was a disappointment last season. Nonetheless, he'll have a shot to work his way into the rotation if he can bounce back and regain his pre-injury quickness out of his cuts. The two dark horse candidates to make a splash on offense are Tevin Reese and Dontrell Inman. Reese is tiny, but super fast. If he lives up to his potential, he will remind people of DeSean Jackson. He could become an immediate deep threat. Inman was undrafted out of Virginia, but has been a productive member of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts for the past two seasons. He is a lanky receiver who's improved his route-running while in the CFL, and could work his way into the rotation if he continues to improve.

Tight Ends

Starters: Antonio Gates
Backups: Ladarius Green, John Phillips, Jake Byrne, Ryan Otten

Antonio Gates led the Chargers with 77 catches last season, finishing as a top-ten fantasy tight end at 33 years of age. There are a few reasons to suspect a sharp decline in 2014, however. First, while Gates is still an effective receiver, he was atrocious as a run-blocker last season, and his ineffectiveness in the running game could lead to diminished playing time. Second, Ladarius Green looked better than Gates last season both as a receiver and as a blocker, so the Chargers may be looking to get Green on the field more. Green has more big-play ability than Gates at this point in their respective careers (as evidenced by his back-to-back 80-yard games in weeks 11 and 12 last season), and the Chargers will look to get him more playing time. John Phillips was used primarily as a blocker last season, and will likely make the team again and play a similar role.

Place Kicker

Nick Novak: Kicker Nick Novak had the best and most productive season of his NFL career in 2013, hitting 34 of 37 field goals and adding 42 extra points. Of the three misses, two were blocked. This year he’ll be working with returning co-specialists holder/punter Mike Scifres and long snapper Mike Windt. Also in camp is undrafted rookie punter Chase Tenpenny (Nevada). The Chargers have ranking in the top ten in kicker scoring opportunities for five of the past six years, including 3rd last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jacoby Jones, Chris Davis

The Chargers kick return game had been poor for some time, before finally showing life last season when the team turned to rookie Chris Davis. Davis had 19 returns with a 25.1 yard average, though was not able to break a return for more than 25 yards. San Diego further upgraded the position this offseason by signing return ace Jacoby Jones. Jones was third best in the league in average yards per kick return last season and should take over the primary returner job immediately.

Punt Returners: Jacoby Jones, Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen, Chris Davis

Though both Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal performed very well as punt returners in 2014, the return duties should shift this year to Jacoby Jones. Royal played at a level equal to Jones earlier in his career but had recently declined in production before improving again last season. Jones has twice as many punt return touchdowns and still has an ability to break long returns that Royal hasn't shown as often in recent years.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT King Dunlap, LG Chad Rinehart, C Nick Hardwick, RG Jeromey Clary, RT D.J. Fluker
Key Backups: T Michael Harris, T Willie Smith, G Johnnie Troutman, G/C Chris Watt [R]

The Chargers’ offensive line grades out as a below average unit going into preseason. They have a bunch of solid players but none of them can be considered elite. The line’s best player is likely right tackle D.J. Fluker. During an eventful rookie season Fluker had more than his share of pancake blocks and even stepped in at left tackle after King Dunlap got injured. Going into his second year, Fluker is right there on the borderline between good and special player. With Dunlap back in the lineup, Fluker will be able to play his natural right tackle position and focus on taking the next step- in his progression. On the other side, Dunlap is a good not great vet who relies on his bulk in most situations. At 6’9” Dunlap is literally a tough man to get around. At left guard, Chad Rinehart is a solid but upgradable player, and the Chargers hope they have found that upgrade in gritty third round pick Chris Watt out of Notre Dame. Watt is known as a smashmouth player who loves to mix it up in the run game. At the other guard position, a similar dynamic is in place between solid (but not great) starter Jeromey Clary and second year man Johnnie Troutman. In short, the Chargers have options at the guard position, and will be hoping that the young guys step up this preseason. Finally, Nick Hardwick returns for his eleventh season with the Chargers, after briefly considering retirement in the offseason. While Hardwick is a great many seasons away from his 2006 Pro Bowl honors, he is still a pretty good center and if the young guys start, his veteran leadership will be priceless. In terms of depth, Michael Harris and Willie Smith should duke it out for the swing tackle role, and it’s basically a pick-em at this time. Overall the Chargers line has some interesting youth at the guard position and if these players can crack the starting lineup, their ranking can improve greatly.

Team Defense

The Chargers unit as a whole was fairly devoid of playmakers in 2013 and it's unclear how much that will change this season. They had no player with more than 5.5 sacks and no one on the team topped 2 interceptions. They're hoping to have a healthy Dwight Freeney to aid the pass rush, but at 34 years old it's unclear how much he has left in the tank. They used their first two draft picks to add cornerback Jason Verrett and outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu. They'll need both players to contribute soon. Donald Butler should be steady at inside linebacker and there is some belief that Manti Te'o could be better in year two. Eric Weddle is still the clear star of the defense at free safety. Brandon Flowers was an offseason addition at cornerback that helps this defense a ton. If Flowers can return to his pre-2013 self he could help the entire defense, giving the pass rush time to get to the quarterback. For this unit to be successful they'll need some contributions from their rookies and they'll have to hope the sum of the parts is better than the individuals.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Sean Lissemore, DE Corey Liuget, DE Kendall Reyes
Backups: NT Ryan Carrethers (R), DE Kwame Geathers

Starting DL: Liuget led the Chargers with 5.5 sacks in 2013 and has 13.5 sacks in his 3 years in the league. Liuget can play inside and outside and his 300 pound frame is good against the run. Kendall Reyes was second behind Liuget with 5 sacks in 2013 in his second year in the league. Reyes is another big body on this line that still has room for improvement. Lissemore came over from Dallas last year and played in all 16 games. He's a rotational player entering his 5th year out of William and Mary.

Backup DL: Carrethers was the team's 5th round pick out of Arkansas State. He's a big man at more than 330 pounds but he's never faced competition like he's going to see in the NFL. Carrethers is more of a clogger than someone that is going to get penetration. Geathers was an undrafted free agent that played 7 games for the Chargers last year. At 6'6" and 335 lbs. he has the size he needs but he has a long way to go before he's a consistent contributor.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Melvin Ingram, OLB Jarrett Johnson, ILB Manti Te'o, ILB Donald Butler
Backups: OLB Dwight Freeney, Jeremiah Attaochu OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB Melvin Ingram,

Starting LBs: Ingram was a 2012 first round pick that missed most of 2013 with a torn ACL. He only has 2 sacks in his career thus far and 2014 will be a huge season for him to try to deliver on his potential. Johnson spent a majority of the year as a backup in Baltimore and will be back to that role in 2014 if Attaochu can deliver on his promise. Donald Butler has been the most consistent member of this linebacker corps, averaging more than 8 tackles a game when he's on the field. Butler is entering his 4th year in the league and should be fairly reliable in the tackle department even though he's all but allergic to the big play. Manti Te'o will be hoping his sophomore year goes a little better than his rookie year. Te'o looked overmatched at times last year though he did show some improvement as the year wore one and had ten tackles in week 17.

Backup LBs: Freeney missed nearly all of 2013 with injuries and hasn't topped double digits in sacks since 2010. It would be a major surprise if he were to return to form in 2014 at 34 years old. He looks more like a situational player at this point in his career.Attaochu was taken in the second round this year out of Georgia Tech. He used his quick first step to rack up 12.5 sacks last year at Tech but he needs to get stronger this summer if he wants to win the job out of camp.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Brandon Flowers, CB Shareece Wright, FS Eric Weddle, SS Marcus Gilchrist
Backups: CB Jason Verrett, CB Steve Williams, CB Richard Marshall

Starting DBs: Eric Weddle is the one sure returning thing in this secondary, as he has been for the last 6 years. Weddle is a tackle machine and also has the ability to make the big play. His 2 interceptions were down from his career high of 7 in 2011, but they still led the team. Finally, the Chargers have a true #1 CB in Brandon Flowers. Flowers struggled at times last year in Kansas City but he's by far the most talented cornerback on the team and instantly makes this defense better. Once again there will be a lot of competition at cornerback but 4th year man Shareece Wright seems like a good bet to lock up one job. Wright started 13 games last year and had 56 tackles. Gilchrist started all 16 games last year and tied Weddle with 2 interceptions. Gilchrist has played corner and safety and is good against both the pass and run.

Backup DBs: Jason Verrett will play a lot, but at 5'9" it may be mostly in the slot. Verrett has great speed and good ball skills, something this secondary is lacking. Steve Williams was the team's 5th round pick last season but spent the year on the IR. Williams was a solid corner at Cal in college, but like Verrett he lacks size. Last year was Marshall's first in San Diego and he started 6 games. He'll be in the battle for a starting job but he lacks the upside of Verrett and Williams.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 20:46:12