The LA Chargers are a team stuck in football purgatory. They’re a team without a concrete fan base following their move to LA and will play in front of just 27,000 fans in a soccer stadium in sub-urban LA next season. They have never won a Super Bowl and their last championship was in 1963. They are a team that has made the playoffs just once this decade, however, the rest of the NFL-universe seems to be sleeping on exactly what has been going on down in San Diego and now in LA.
The Chargers have predominantly been an after thought in football’s strongest division. Yet every year a team puts together a stellar campaign which leaves pundits and analysts questioning – how did they not see it coming? Case in point? The 2016 Atlanta Falcons.
Despite firing Mike McCoy and cleaning house this past off season, including quite literally moving cities – the LA Chargers could be somewhat of a sleeping Super Power in the AFC. They have a young defense that looks ready to explode onto the scene, and an under-the-radar great veteran QB, who has one the most talent play-making corps of any team in the conference. Are the LA Chargers a sleeping Super Power in the AFC?
The Chargers did a nice job this off-season bringing in another play-maker for QB Philip Rivers to work with and improving an awful offensive line. The addition of 7th overall pick Mike Williams gives Rivers yet another big bodied play maker. In 2007 when the Chargers reached the AFC Championship game, Rivers played jump ball with the 6’5″ Vincent Jackson, 6’4″ Antonio Gates and a compliment of other receivers to match the Chargers strong run game that was led by future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.
In 2017, Rivers is still playing at a high level but now has 6’2″ Keenan Allen returning from a knee injury, blazer Dontrelle Inman (6’3″) who’s coming off a near-1,000 yard season, speedster Travis Benjamin, big-play threat Tyrell Williams (6’4″) who posted over 1,050 yards and 7 TDS in 2016 AND new rookie Mike Williams. Williams is another large receiver who is built like a pro-typical X-receiver and who’s game reminds me of Dez Bryant. He’s 6’4″, 240lbs and ran a 4.51 at his pro day. The Chargers have one of the best WR groups in the NFL with young explosive playmakers who threaten to blow the lid off defenses on any play.
This receiver group is complimented by future Hall of Famer TE Antonio Gates and last years 2nd round selection, TE Hunter Henry. Henry looked good in 2016 and led the team with 8 TDs in just 10 starts. At 6’5″, Hunter Henry is yet another tall playmaker that other teams with smaller DBs and less-mobile LBs will struggle to match up with.
The Chargers offensive line struggled tremendously last season and Pro Football Focus had them ranked as the second worst in terms of pass-blocking efficiency. There’s no point in having all these big play weapons if the O-line can’t block long enough for the receivers to develop their routes and break free of coverage. General Manager Tom Telesco got rid of the unreliable King Dunlap and instead handed Russell Okung a four-year, $53m contract. Okung struggled in pass-protection last season for the Broncos but the former Seattle Seahawk and 2010, 6th overall pick has always been an excellent run blocker.
D.J. Fluker was let go and will be replaced by either 2nd round selection, Forrest Lamp or 3rd round pick Dan Freeney. Forrest Lamp was a 4-year starter at Western Kentucky and one of the best offensive linemen in the 2017 Draft. While projected as a Guard, with Orlando Franklin already on the roster, there is the potential for Lamp to battle Joe Barksdale for the starting RT spot. Dan Freeney was also a four-year starter and should immediately improve the line’s run game if he sees playing time at either Guard position. Matt Slauson should start at Center and he is a solid NFL starter. The LA Chargers have overhauled their offensive line and turned it from a position of weakness to an asset.
The team’s star RB Melvin Gordon should benefit from better line play and FB Derek Watt entering his second season. Anthony Lynn has also flown under the radar as one of the best run-game coordinators in the NFL, as he oversaw potent run games with the Jets and Bills. As offensive coordinator and eventually interim head coach in 2016, Lynn crafted the NFL’s no.1 rushing offense which averaged c.15 yards more per game on the ground than the 2nd place Dallas Cowboys. 2017 looks to be another big year for Melvin Gordon.
The LA Chargers have an extremely talented Defense that does not get enough attention due to the past success of both the Broncos and Chiefs in their division. While Denver boasts the NFL’s best Defense, the Chargers are not far off and look to have a superstar in the making in 2016 3rd overall selection, DE Joey Bosa. Bosa missed playing time in 2016 due to a contract dispute but the Defensive Rookie of the Year still wowed with 10.5 sacks in just 12 starts. Bosa looks like a stud and looks every part a perennial All-Pro pass rusher. Bosa alongside edge rusher Melvin Ingram could be bad news for opposing Guards and Tackles. What’s equally troubling is when teams also have to account for Brandon Mebane eating up blocks inside.
The Chargers also have plenty of depth at Edge rusher with 2014, 2nd Round pick Jeremiah Attaochu flashing potential during his limited starts. The team has athleticism and depth in abundance at the linebacker position. Jatavis Brown played well during his rookie campaign and looked like a steal lasting till the 5th round. The Chargers are extremely young at linebacker with fellow 2016 draftee Joshua Perry competing in a corps that includes 2015 draft selections Denzel Perryman and Nick Dzubnar. Journeyman Korey Toomer (a veteran in the room at 28) rounds out the group.
One of the NFL’s best edge rusher duos in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are complemented by one of the best cornerback duos. Jason Verrett will return from injury (missed all of ’16 after making the Pro Bowl in ’15) and pair with Casey Heyward – he’s coming off a 7 INT and Pro Bowl 2016 campaign. The decision to release veteran Brandon Flowers illustrates the confidence front office has in the young players behind Verrett and Heyward. I believe Desmond King was a steal in the 5th round and can contribute Day 1.
Safety is a potential area of weakness, however, Jahleel Addae played well when healthy. Dwight Lowery brings a veteran presence, but the Chargers will need to get production out of the current safeties on the roster for this not to become this young Defense’s Achilles heel.
First time Head Coach Anthony Lynn has plenty of talent to work with. He has a young and talented roster, who’s youth and athleticism he’ll hope will mirror what Atlanta achieved last season. His defensive coordinator was the man who constructed the Legion of Boom and Seattle’s dominant Defense that went on to win a Super Bowl after he left. Lynn also has an offense coordinator who took the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl with just a 9-7 record. As a first time Head Coach, Lynn will need to lean on former Head Coaches, Gus Bradley and Ken Whisenhunt’s experience and expertise.
The LA Chargers have plenty of talent and over the past three seasons have added explosive young play makers to give Philip Rivers his best shot at making a Super Bowl since the San Diego Chargers lost to the Patriots in the 2007 AFC Championship Game. The Chargers have only made one Super Bowl in their history (a 49-26 drubbing at the hands of Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers in 1994). Yet every year the stars seem to perfectly align for a surprise wild-card team which has put together back-to-back great off seasons but the results of which have not yet shown up on the Gridiron. Could 2017 be the year of the Chargers?
The folks down in LA may just have a sleeping sports Super Power on their hands, and its not the Dodgers or Clippers…
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