The Chargers have a logjam at wide receiver. There's a handful of receivers who are all talented and offer different skills when they step on to the field. The problem is, there's only so many targets to go around. I thought it'd be interesting to break down what the skill set of a wide receiver is, and how each of the receivers for the Chargers excel at each skill set. From there, I'll determine who should really be getting the most amount of targets, based on who offers the most.
There are 4 main factors I look for when judging a receiver:
- Separation skills
- Ability to run after the catch
- Ability to catch the ball
Even though I won't cover it it here, I'd also like to point out that blocking/toughness is a good measure of a receiver, too. It's important to have the ability to go across the middle and catch a ball without "gator arming" it, plus the willingness to block and be physical at the point of attack.
Route running is all about creating separation from the defender. The best route runners know how to break press coverage at the line of scrimmage, create separation in man to man coverage, find the soft spot in zone coverage, and get in and out of their breaks quickly. They possess a combination of fluidity, quickness, body control, and instincts. They should be able to go over the middle in addition to consistently come back to the ball.
- Vincent Brown
- Keenan Allen
- Danario Alexander
This order may surprise you at first, but the receivers last year didn't do Rivers any favors when it came to creating separation. Most of the plays I watched, Malcom Floyd and Alexander came open due to the route combinations of the play or them just being bigger than the defender, not because of their ability to create separation.
Floyd especially, seemed more of a drifter that Rivers would throw open. Floyd doesn't have that quickness you look for, but with him having such a good rapport with Rivers, they connect on a lot of timing routes. Floyd is also limited to only playing the outside receiver position, due to his lack of quickness.
Going back to '11 and watching Brown, it was a different story. He showed a very good burst in and out of his routes and was able to easily create separation on intermediate routes, as well sit down in the middle of a defense when they were playing zone. For such a young player he exhibited very impressive instincts where he continuously worked the middle of the field. Watching the Raiders and Broncos game in '11 Rivers really looked for Brown on key 3rd downs and big plays, and he delivered. Look for him to have a big season this year.
Even before he's actually stepped on to the field for an NFL game, I already believe Allen can be one of the top route runners for the Chargers. His ability to run intermediate routes and find spots in the zone was probably better than any receiver coming out of the draft. He has a longer stride, but it's a quick stride, which allows him to create separation. Along with his quickness he's also strong enough to get off press coverage. Unlike Alexander and Floyd, Allen showed the ability to change his speeds and that really stood out watching him, as he was able to consistently get open even with the coverage primarily focused on him.
Running after the Catch
This is where you excel with the ball in your hands. Usually, this is where the receiver has a good initial burst to go with their quick feet. Another skill is your change of direction, can you make people miss? Lastly, the receiver needs to be able to get north and south. Picking up those tough couple yards after the catch is the difference between punting and keeping the drive alive.
- Danario Alexander
- Keenan Allen
- Vincent Brown
Malcom Floyd? Let's not kid ourselves. He's not making anyone miss, and at 6'6 200lbs he's surely not going to run over you. Floyd is more of a catch it and go out of bounds or catch a deep ball and get tackled kind of guy. Mr. Robert Meachem? No, no, no. He's more of a north south kind of player, doesn't move very well side to side.
Alexander however is very impressive after the catch. At an average of 8.1 yards after catch, he was was second in the league this year. Being 6'5 certainly helps, and he uses it to his advantage. He catches, and goes straight upfield, no dancing around. His long stride has a lot to do with that as well, chewing up yards quickly.
Allen is another long strider, but unlike Alexander he can get up to speed fast and make defenders miss him. He's quicker than a lot of receivers his size, and he also breaks many arm tackles, allowing him to gain plenty of yards after the catch. Allen does an exceptional job of fighting for the extra yards, I think he'll bring a certain toughness that was lacking last year.
Brown is the winner of the third spot by default. Some might say Royal here, but I don't think he makes the team. Brown's not exactly a slouch at getting yards after the catch. He's not going to make you miss, but working the middle of the field as well as he does, he does just as good as a job of catching it and getting immediate yards.
Speed kills and everyone knows it. Stretching the defense is key in the NFL nowadays — it keeps the defense honest — allowing your underneath receivers to work. This is an area the Chargers aren't very good at. Outside of Meachem, there isn't an explosive receiver on the team. Even though the receivers have the size and leaping ability to be big play threats in the offense, none of them feature elite speed.
- Robert Meachem
- Danario Alexander
This is why Meachem was paid $14 million of guaranteed money in the 2012 offseason, he can stretch the defense. He has elite straight line speed and eats up defenders when they play off with his stride length. There are many doubts about Meachem, but him stretching the field shouldn't be one of them. He's a legitimate vertical threat.
I wouldn't call Alexander explosive, because he does take such a long time to get up to top speed with that stride of his, but he does have the speed to get behind the defense. Last offseason when he was rehabbing, he reportedly ran a 4.41. I don't know if he plays that fast, but I don't doubt he can reach that speed once he does actually get going.
This might be the biggest area the Chargers miss VJ: his big play ability. He had 6 plays last year over 40 yards. Alexander and Floyd each had one more than I did.
This is more than just simply catching it. Having great ball skills means providing a big target radius for your quarterback, it's showing the ability to have soft, yet strong, hands. It means possessing the ability to catch the ball in traffic, when the defender is draped all over you or there is an errant throw.
Focus is a huge key here. In the NFL, drops kill, and usually a lack of focus is the reason for drops. Luckily, this is where the Chargers excel. Each of the receivers have very good ball skills, displaying the ability to make the spectacular catch to go along with the routine one.
- Malcom Floyd
- Keenan Allen
- Vincent Brown
Malcom Floyd has dropped 9 passes in the last 5 years. To put into prospective how incredible that is, 19 receivers dropped 9 or more in '12 alone. Floyd does an exceptional job of plucking the ball out of the air and winning "50/50 balls." He also provides a huge frame that allows Rivers to put the ball where only Floyd can get it. He has the best ball skills on the team, hands down.
Allen will impress people with his ball skills this year, especially those who haven't had a chance to see him much. He high points the ball well, and at 6'2 he provided his much maligned quarterback with a big catching radius. I think an important part to his game is his ability to come back to the ball and shield off defenders.
Brown is Mr. Consistent. Against the Raiders in Week 10 of 2011, he had 2 highlight-reel touchdown catches. One one of those plays, he jumped up with two defenders draped over him and came down with the ball for a score, showing very strong and quick hands.
On the other score, Brown out–jumped the corner along the sideline for a touchdown. Even at 5'11, Brown provides a big radius for Rivers, he high points the ball, and made some really tough catches over the middle of the field. The reason Brown isn't higher for me: he had a few double catches, and both of his drops were due to lack of focus.
Now that we've looked at who provides the most value, who should actually be receiving most of the targets? With Antonio Gates slowing down, I don't think he'll be second on the team with 76 targets next year. I'm not saying he'll be obsolete from the offense, but I think it'll be around the 50-60 range, creating more opportunities for the new receivers.
The last 5 years Rivers has averaged about 545 attempts per season. I'll assume about 150 of those go to the running backs and tight ends, that leaves 395 targets to split up between 5 talented wide receivers.
Here's a look at how many targets the receivers had last year, in how many snaps, and what I expect this year.
2012 Stats: 82 targets in 877 snaps played
I expect Floyd's role to diminish, and him to play around 600 snaps, with around 50 targets.
2012 Stats: 54 targets in 500 snaps played
Having played only half the season, you've got to expect that number to jump up. He's the team's number-1 receiver barring injury. I expect Alexander to play close 900 snaps, with about 85-90 targets.
This is the guy that I expect to steal snaps from Floyd. I think Brown will have close to 65 targets this year, playing over 700 snaps.
He's the wildcard. It depends how fast he can heal, and how quickly he can make his presence felt, he has the talent. I look for Allen to play much of the Brown role from 2011. He'll play around 400-450 snaps, with about 45 targets.
As much as I want him to break out, he's in a tight spot here. He's going to really have to have a big preseason and training camp. Last season he played 408 snaps, to go along with 32 targets. I think it'll be along those lines again, with each of the numbers going up just a little bit, because he'll be utilized in a better position unlike last year.
That's how I see the receivers shaking out next year. With Brown coming back it's almost like they drafted 2 wide outs, someone is going to be the odd man out, and I think Floyd, even with his consistency and rapport with Rivers, is the guy that becomes expendable. So how do you think the receiver situation ends up? Who would you like to see be featured?