Was Chris Chambers a #1 WR? (Donald Miralle - Getty Images)
When I start to ask myself that question the thing that pops into my head is: What exactly is a #1 Wide Receiver? As I begin to scour the depths of my brain for the answer to that, my minds drifts back to before Vincent Jackson was putting up big numbers. Vincent Jackson was supposed to the be the #1 WR in 2007, but things were not going smoothly, so the team traded for Chris Chambers. He'd put up big numbers during his time in Miami and even made a Pro Bowl. He was the de facto #1 for the rest of that season that ended in a division title. But, Chambers wasn't some dominating force. He was a nice receiver. He could run deep routes and make great catches, but not that well. He could secure the ball over the middle, but didn't have good hands. He scored a lot of touchdowns, but wasn't a big red zone target. It was weird, somehow the offense still clicked with him as the number one guy.
The man Chambers replaced was Keenan McCardell. He had five 1,000 yard seasons and 2 Pro Bowls on his resume before coming to the Chargers. He was the #2 option in Jacksonville and the #2 on a Tampa Buccaneers team that he helped win a Super Bowl here in San Diego. But his last year in Tampa he took over that #1 role, got 1,000 yards and a Pro Bowl spot with Keyshawn Johnson missing a chunk of the 2003 season. The Chargers traded for him part way through 2004 and he did well even though Eric Parker led the WR corps in receptions and yards. The next season he put up #1 numbers, but fell back to Earth in 2006. A season where the Chargers won 14 games, but Vincent Jackson was stepping onto the scene and reliable Eric Parker was back racking up catches and yards. I think McCardell was thought of as a #1 and maybe even ran the routes of the #1 WR, but he never really was an elite WR. That being said, the team won a lot of games with him in that role.
The other big factors during these times were 3 fold. 1. Above average QB Play. 2. LaDainian Tomlinson. 3. Antonio Gates. The QBs were good enough to make their WRs better. The RB did most of the heavy lifting on the offense. The TE was really the #1 threat in the passing game.
So, getting back to present day...
The Chargers still have above average QB play. They do not have LaDainian Tomlinson, but as we talked about recently, Ryan Mathews is being groomed to fit that mold. And Antonio Gates is still around, albeit in a slightly different capacity than he once was. They also have a group of guys at the WR position that are not pushovers.
The WR corps is not the 1998 WR corps (For those that need a reminder, that was Bryan Still, Charlie Jones, Mikhael Ricks and Ryan Thelwell). There's a little more pedigree to this group. Malcom Floyd has had enough great games to show you that the ability is there. Robert Meachem is a former first pick with all the tools to be productive in this offense. If you compare what he can do to what Keenan McCardell or Chris Chambers could do at their age, you can see the potential. Eddie Royal is a very useful catch and run guy when healthy and the Chargers have seen this first hand. Vincent Brown showed us more in one game than many 4th WRs show in their entire careers.
The group looks useful and Gates is not going to the retirement home just yet. There's no reason to think that they can't cobble things together like the 2006 team did with McCardell, Parker and Jackson. Or in 2007 with Chambers, Jackson and Buster Davis. Or the 2004 team with McCarddell, Parker and Caldwell. This is not a big issue. However, the question was really whether they'd have a #1. And that is what we'll be watching and waiting to see in 2012.