One of the biggest areas of need for the San Diego Chargers headed into this offseason was at wide receiver. Keenan Allen emerged as a star in his rookie season, but Malcolm Floyd was injured in Week 2 and missed the rest of the season while Vincent Brown struggled to contribute. Eddie Royal and Seyi Ajirotutu are reliable when called upon but there was a clear desire at Chargers Park to bring in more weapons for Philip Rivers. They drafted former Baylor speedster Tevin Reese and Marion Grice, a running back who was a force in the passing game at Arizona State in addition to being the workhorse back. But Tom Telesco and Co. weren't done there, signing a large group of undrafted rookie wide receivers. Do any of them have a chance at making the regular season roster? We evaluated them below, but first let's take a look at a few other undrafted wide receivers who Chargers fans may remember.
In 2011, Walters caught the attention of those who watched him in preseason action. He was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2010, but a hamstring injury forced him to miss training camp and the preseason, prompting the Chargers to release him and eventually sign him to a futures contract. In 2011, he finally got his chance in San Diego, and performed well, tying Vincent Jackson with 10 receptions during the 2011 preseason. Walters scored once and finished with 122 yards (2nd only to VJ). Walters actually made the regular season roster but fizzled out to the tune of three receptions for 27 yards in 2011. San Diego let him go before the 2012 season started. Walters is now a Seahawk; he even had one start last season, but did not have a stat line.
In 2012, Mike Willie caught our attention with a gaudy 22.5 average per reception in the preseason and a fairly spectacular TD catch. Willie did pretty well in the 2013 preseason too, scoring twice on six receptions. His performance was overshadowed by Dan DePalma, the 2013 eye catching receiver (he finished only behind Green and Gates in receptions with 10 during the preseason, leading all wide receivers in catches before going on the IR right before the final cuts). Willie was signed to the 2012 Chargers practice squad, but was released before the 2013 season. He is now a member of the Ravens but has yet to record a catch in a regular season game.
The New Guys
(6-foot-1, 182 pounds)
Hatfield had issues with injuries while he was at Oregon State. When healthy though, he flashed track star speed and decent hands. His total stat line in college was unimpressive: 20 receptions in 4 years for 234 yards and 4 TD’s. This goes against the usual pattern for a FA receiver. Most of these guys come from small schools where they put up huge numbers; Hatfield went to a big school and was never even a starter. Still, the 24-year-old has shown persistence and an excellent work ethic in rehabbing a broken leg in 2009 and a broken thumb in 2011. He is on the small side, but did win his state’s 100 meter hurdles title in 2008 and posted a 4.44 second 40 yard dash, so he has speed to work with.
His only touchdown of the 2013 season came in a blowout loss, but you can see at the bottom of the screen the speed that allowed him enough separation to haul in the catch.
Hatfield does a great job of getting off the line quickly and making his break early, giving him separation from the cornerback, and not allowing either the corner or the safety to catch up with him. At this point in the game, backups were playing and allowing the touchdown to Hatfield almost seemed merciful by Washington, but that's all there is to show for his 2013 campaign.
Chances that Micah Hatfield makes the final roster: 5%. It's a shame that Hatfield never really got a chance to excel in Corvallis, as he was stuck behind star Brandin Cooks and consistent threat Richard Mullaney for the duration of his career. He won't make the team but could be a candidate to sign to the practice squad.
(6-feet, 188 pounds)
Speaking of small schools and big numbers, Torrence Allen went to West Texas A&M where he racked up 3,098 yards and 24 TD’s in his last two college seasons. I could not find any tape of him, but his draft report was not positive. Allen has toughness and a strong work ethic, but is not elusive, needs work on his use of hands and is not a great route runner. His mediocre speed gives him issues in getting separation and he's not strong enough to avoid being diverted off his routes by big corners. To top it off, he has little special teams value.
Chances Torrence Allen makes the final roster: 5%. He grades out as a slot receiver, not suited for the outside. If I had to guess at a receiver that won’t make it past the first cut out of the rookie free agent receivers, it would be Allen.
Brelan Chancellor (5-foot-9, 188 pounds)
Another Texas boy, Chancellor played his college ball about 25 miles from my house, at the University of North Texas. Whereas Torrence Allen has limited special teams value, returning kicks and punts is Chancellor’s best skill set. He was one of 10 players last year to score on both a punt and kick-off return. He also rushed for 2 TD’s in the Mean Green’s win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Finally, he was named Conference USA’s Special Team Player of the Year for 2013. He doesn't have the ideal height of a wide receiver, but his 41 inch vertical jump and giant hands help make up for his lack of size.
It is for his special team prowess that I give him an outside shot at still being in a Charger uniform in September. Very little is listed in his college team’s bio page about his receiving, but does extoll his all-purpose yards and excellence as a returner. With the Chargers looking for alternatives to Woodhead and Keenan Allen in return duties, there may be an opportunity for Chancellor, especially if Tevin Reese has issues in the return game.
Here's an example of the type of game-changing ability Chancellor can bring to special teams. Keep in mind that this is not against weak competition, but rather SEC power Georgia. Watch that last burst of speed that made two Bulldogs collide into each other.
It's important that he did that against such a power program. Playing at a small school like North Texas, rare are chances to play nationally ranked teams, and when Chancellor did, he had a knack for making a big play or two. Against LSU in 2012, he racked up 114 yards and two touchdowns, scoring one of them on an 80 yard catch-and-run. Here's another return showing off his quick feet and blazing wheels.
Chancellor ended up getting tackled before reaching the end zone, but the move he put on the opposing team's gunner is filthy, and those kind of moves would be a welcome sight for a Chargers punt return man.
Chances Brelan Chancellor makes the final roster: 20%. I saw him play in a few games and it looked to me like he has a real knack for kick returns. Give him a few yards to work with and he is a threat to take it to the house at any given moment. If any of these WR's in this group make the team, it'll be Chancellor.
(6-feet, 194 pounds)
Herndon is another receiver from a big school (Arkansas) that did not put up eye-catching numbers or have many starts in his career. In fact, he was so under the radar going into the draft that there was not a draft profile on him at NFL.com. (There was for Allen and Chancellor, but not for Hatfield either.) The reports from his pro-day were that he showed some nice speed (4.44 in the 40 like Hatfield), but also dropped several passes. That is not a recipe for success in camp.
Here's one of the few highlights from Herndon's collegiate career, hauling in a touchdown pass on a trick play. Watch his route at the bottom of the screen.
Notice that he didn't even need to gain any separation, he simply ran a stop and go route. The cornerback bit on the trick play and Herndon had all the room he needed.
Chances Javontee Herndon makes the final roster: 5%. He played for a good program at Arkansas and was able to contribute, but his skills just don't translate well to the NFL. He likely won't be wearing the Chargers uniform in the 2014 season.
The Other Guy
(6-foot-3, 205 pounds)
The only other new receiver in camp is Dontrelle Inman. He is not a rookie, having not been able to make the Jaguars roster in 2011 (I should stop right there), and moving to Toronto to play for the Argonauts in 2012 and 2013. He has the talent to succeed up in Canada, but he's not quite good enough to hang with the NFL. With the number of returning proven receivers on the roster, Inman will have to really impress to avoid a future not involving Canadian Dollars.
So Who Is The Next Walters or Willie?
If I were a wagering man, I would put my money on Hatfield. The leg injury is 5 years in the rear view and did not effect his speed last season. I've watched his game film last year and he runs good routes, shows intelligence, and has an ability to line up in multiple locations. I also believe that if he does not attract our attention in preseason, he too will go the way of Walters or Willie by playing in Canada or elsewhere.
The one player out of this group that might have a shot at making the Chargers roster is Chancellor, and that would be as a returner. He will have to show immediate production in the preseason in his opportunities.
Unless these guys make huge strides in training camp and preseason to impress coaches, don't expect any of them to make the 53-man-roster come September. The joker in the deck is (of course) health, but barring major injury, the best chance of seeing these guys in a Chargers uniform after preseason would be if they were re-signed to the practice squad.