ESPN came out with their annual future power rankings, where they predict how teams will fare over the course of the next 3 seasons. I wrote about this last year and San Diego ranked 25th. A lot has changed in a year. New general manager, new head coach, new offensive philosophy. The roster and past two drafts(as far as we can tell) have been noticeably better and you can see the early results from Tom Telesco running the show.
16 spots later, and this year's team came in ranked 9th. The 1st bar graph is from last year, and the 2nd bar graph is from this year.
Drastic improvements everywhere. The roster still has holes, but not to the point where players who shouldn't be playing are getting a majority of the snaps. Philip Rivers was tied for the fourth highest grade moving forward for the next 3 years. Rivers didn't play at the level we were use to seeing him play at in 2012, and you see the difference when El Captain is allowed to maximize his skill. The Chargers were tied with the 4th highest draft grade. That's lofty praise early on for the front office. The coaching came tied for 13th around the league, which is probably fair. I'm very interested to see if 1st year offensive coordinator Frank Reich makes the tweaks I think he will. Also interested to see how the defensive staff handles and develops the current talent moving forward.
The overview: The Chargers enjoyed the largest year-over-year gains in the rankings in rising 16 spots. That included a 15-spot gain in drafting (thank you, Keenan Allen and D.J. Fluker) and a 15-spot gain in overall roster composition (Allen and Fluker had something to do with that, as well). San Diego gained 12 spots in the QB rankings, as Philip Rivers regained his footing after a troubling 2012 season. Voters weren't particularly concerned about the Chargers' ability to carry on offensively after losing coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to Tennessee. Frank Reich will take over for Whisenhunt, and coach Mike McCoy's offensive pedigree should provide protection. --Mike Sando
The dilemma: This team had some of the worst secondary play I have seen in quite some time in 2013, particularly at the corner position. The Chargers have to find a long-term solution, so they'd better have gotten it right with the drafting of undersized and somewhat injury-prone CB Jason Verrett in the first round of the 2014 draft and with the signing of free agent Brandon Flowers (who was released by the Chiefs, a team that isn't exactly loaded at the position). --Louis Riddick
The secondary isn't as big of a concern anymore, in my opinion. It's been well documented why Flowers was released and how he fits as a Charger. Adding Verrett to pair with Flowers solves a ton of issues on the back end. It's almost like they get another draft pick as well with Steve Williams coming back from injury. If this group can stay healthy, we could be looking at the best San Diego secondary in years.
The youth movement: The Chargers got just 173 snaps from Dwight Freeney in 2013, and, given that he's 34, they can't count on the Freeney of years past in 2014. Recent second-rounder Jeremiah Attaochu could play a big role in the next few years if he can develop his pass-rushing arsenal. The Chargers couldn't cover anybody in 2013, as Louis noted, and got immediate help in rookie Verrett, but coverage problems often start up front. Pressure wasn't consistent, and Attaochu could be a part of the solution. --Mel Kiper
I agree that Attaochu will play a big role, I just don't see it happening this year. Unless he's one of those players who you can't afford to keep off of the field. I don't know how well Freeney will play, but I think having his presence alone will be helpful for Attaochu and Melvin Ingram to learn. Ideally, Freeney will teach both how to rush the passer and how to be effective at getting after the quarterback. If John Pagano can get creative as a play caller, this defense has a shot(health permitted) to be what fans thought it would be last year, a top 12 unit.
Also, let's not forget about Kendall Reyes. This is a big year for him, the team needs him to bounce back in a big way. There aren't many bodies at the defensive end position, and interior pressure might be more important that edge pressure. It doesn't seem like Telesco feels this way with the way he's constructing the team, but if Reyes plays like he did last year, it might be time to look for a replacement.
Funny how last year the worldwide leader didn't think San Diego was anywhere near a playoff team. Now they're a lock for the next 3 years. The roster is much better now, and I still think it has a ways to go before we can really get comfortable with banking on this being a playoff team. Last year I asked is this team headed in the right direction. I think the 2013 season/off season has made it pretty clear that they are. What are your biggest worries moving forward for the roster?