The Chargers have spent much of the last few years as an afterthought in the AFC West. Last year they finished the year 5-11, a slight improvement from their 4-12 record in 2015. Injuries and consistency have been the two biggest weaknesses of the Chargers. Just last year they lost key pieces like Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Brandon Flowers, Stevie Johnson, Jason Verrett, Dexter McCluster, and Manti Te’o all to injury. The rest of the AFC West stayed relevant and in the playoff race while the Chargers were left to use guys like Kenneth Farrow (currently fighting for fifth string) as an emergency running back. Despite the pitfalls, Philip Rivers remains one of the league’s best passers, and with a multitude of new offensive weapons who are healthy, maybe the Chargers won’t be this year’s afterthought.
|Russell Okung, OT||Danny Woodhead, RB|
|Mike Williams, WR (Draft)||Brandon Flowers, CB|
|Forrest Lamp, G (Draft)||D. J. Fluker, OG|
|Dan Feeney, G (Draft)||King Dunlap, OT|
|Manti Te'o, LB|
The Chargers were fairly quiet in the offseason, adding only one key free agent in Russell Okung. Okung spent the majority of his career with Seattle before going to Denver last year. Now with the Chargers, he'll replace King Dunlap, who was a walking injury for the Chargers. Dunlap was a great talent, but he could never stay on the field. Okung has only missed five games in the last three years and managed to play all 16 games last year. It's a welcome sight for the Chargers offensive line who graded out as second worst in pro football focus' 2016 final rankings.
The addition of Mike Williams in the draft was a surprising one, considering the Chargers already had a good offense. However, adding the consensus best receiver in the draft to an already loaded team does sound inciting. Sadly, Williams is currently battling a back injury, and the team expects him to make his NFL debut sometime in October.
|1||@ Denver Broncos|
|2||vs Miami Dolphins|
|3||vs Kansas City Chiefs|
|4||vs Philadelphia Eagles|
|5||@ New York Giants|
|6||@ Oakland Raiders|
|7||vs Denver Broncos|
|8||@ New England Patriots|
|10||@ Jacksonville Jaguars|
|11||vs Buffalo Bills|
|12||@ Dallas Cowboys|
|13||vs Cleveland Browns|
|14||vs Washington Redskins|
|15||@ Kansas City Chiefs|
|16||@ New York Jets|
|17||vs Oakland Raiders|
The Chargers have the challenge of being in the toughest division in the AFC, and possibly all of football. All four of these teams could find themselves in the playoffs, it's just a matter of who takes the divisional games. The Chargers open the season in only one of two primetime games on their schedule. The Chargers do have a pseudo-prime time game this year as they travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys for the Thanksgiving afternoon game.
The Chargers have a big opportunity to win some home games this year; six of their eight home games feature teams who failed to make the playoffs in 2016.
Three players to watch: Keenan Allen, wide receiver
It may seem kind of obvious to put Allen here, but there is a real concern over what he can do if and when he's healthy. Heck, with Allen only playing nine games in the last two seasons, many NFL fans have forgotten all about the star wide receiver. The fact that Allen is back and healthy after recovering from his ACL injury is great news, but his injury may have been a blessing in disguise.
In 2015, before Allen went down with a lacerated kidney, he was the center piece of the offense. He was on track to break Marvin Harrison's all time reception record. He looked unstoppable, which is why there was so much hype on him heading into 2016. The ACL tear happened, but the Chargers offensive fire power didn't disappear. They found out they had a great running back of the future in Melvin Gordon. Rivers gained a rapport with guys like Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, and Tyrell Williams. We saw how good Hunter Henry could be as well.
If Allen never went down with that injury, who knows what the Chargers offense would look like today. They were a much more complete team without him, and as a result, they now have a multitude of offensive weapons. Allen's role in this new-look offense remains to be seen, but my guess is that he will still be a strong possession receiver.
Branden Oliver, running back
It may seem weird to highlight a backup running back, but Oliver is another guy who is now healthy and very forgotten in this offense. Oliver was the new hotness back in 2014 when he climbed his way up the depth chart and became the starter. In his seven games started, he drew comparisons to Darren Sproles. Oliver is only 5'7" and 208lbs, but he has a great skill set.
We've seen how valuable the backup running back position can be in (formerly) San Diego with Danny Woodhead. Now that Oliver is back from his Achilles injury which sidelined him for all of 2016, he's ready to take the backup role. I'm sure he'll be used a bunch on third down, and he should see a lot of targets come his way. Just another friendly weapon that Rivers gets back after being absent last year.
Jason Verrett, cornerback
Verrett has been a premier cornerback for the Chargers in his young career. After being rated as the second best cornerback in 2015, Verrett was sidelined with an ACL injury for most of 2016. Are you seeing the pattern of injuries yet?
Regardless, reports out of camp have been good and the Chargers are planning on having Verrett back for the start of the regular season. With healthy pieces and their defense intact, the Chargers actually look pretty good. Verrett only played for the first four games last year, so he never got a chance to play with Joey Bosa, who didn't play until Week 5. Adding on to that, fellow cornerback Casey Hayward, who joined that Chargers in 2016, led the league in interceptions with seven. I really see a high ceiling for this defense, and they could come out of nowhere to surprise people.
If you couldn't tell by now, I really like this Chargers team. I've seen their struggles these last few years like everyone else, but so many people forget how many good players keep getting injured on this team. The general outlook is that the Chargers are just divisional bottom feeders and nothing more, but that's why this year they're going to shock the world.
I have the Chargers finishing 10-6 and winning the AFC West in a tiebreak over the Raiders. That's right, the Chargers have divisional champion potential. Ultimately, I have the Chargers losing to the Titans in the first round of the playoffs, but it's still a major improvement from a team who has only won nine games in two years. I think the sky is the limit for this team so long as they can stay healthy. Pro tip to Chargers players: try not to break any mirrors or walk under any ladders.
How do you think the Chargers will do this year? Let us know in the comments below!
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