We're at the halfway point of the season and if you told me in August that the Chargers would be 2-6 right now I would've blocked you, reported you for spam, and probably slapped you for stupidity. Yet, here we are. There hasn't been a lot to cheer for this year, so I reached out to the BFTB staff to see what player they've been most impressed/surprised with this season. It's easy to name the guys you're disappointed in, we could write 5,000 words about that. Picking players from a 2-win team was a little more challenging, but here are the bright spots.
I've long been a fanboy of Keenan Allen. His rookie year he showed the league that he's not someone you can guard 1-on-1 even if he's not the type of receiver that is going to run by you with speed. Last year many will suggest he had a down year. I think he was open just as often. I thought what really hurt him was his usage as far as the types of routes he was running. Defenses just sat on all his routes. Last year he was targeted over 10 yards 43 times. This year he was already up to 27 targets over 10 yards. That made him much less predictable and in turn made him a tougher cover. This year Allen caught 93% of his passes that were catchable, which speaks to his reliability. He was among the league leaders in yards after catch and DYAR before getting hurt. Even with the time he's missed, Keenan is tied for 6th in 3rd down receptions that went for a 1st down. Surprised? No, because I expected him to return to his rookie year. I'm impressed because he was playing at a higher level than ever. Allen took showed he can be a true number 1 receiver in this league.
Honorable mention: Joe Barksdale, Jerry Attaochu, Patrick Robinson
Josh Lambo. At 17/19, he's a 60-yard miss from being in the top-10 for FG percentage. Not bad for a rookie. He is only 17/20 on XP, and that needs to improve, but it hasn't lost us a game yet. There are some scary stats about adjusted return yards, but, let's be honest, our ST are bad this year. The only way he affects that stat is to kick out of the endzone, which he has done far more than Novak. Furthermore, even if he did, he'd only be average. The teams that excel in that category combine a kick shallow enough to tempt a return, with the ST talent to get the guy down short of the 20. We don't have it. The decision to keep him already looks sound, and could look genius if he works out the kinks on those XP tries.
Chris Hairston. When he was signed, I thought he was somewhere between a camp body and an end of roster guy you hoped would never see the field. What he's actually been is one of the few bright spots on an offensive line devastated by injury. And he's been that bright spot despite fighting through injuries himself. He is a quality player that's perhaps being asked to do more than his skill set should be asked to do, but he has continuously stepped up and played as well as could be hoped.
Jerry Attoachu - He has shown some flashes of superior athleticism. If he improves on technique, he has a chance to become a premier pass rusher. He has also shown enough strength to hold an edge and does not run himself out of as many plays as Melvin Ingram does.
The player I am most surprised with this year is #00, Mr. Nobody Onthisteam. Am I surprised Phillip is having a career year? No, he's put this team on his back every year down the stretch. This year he's had to do it since week 2. Looking at the rest of the roster, I can't say anybody else has upped their game other than Keenan Allen. He solidified his place as Wr1 with his torrid pace before his injury. But these two are supposed to play at this level. No surprises here in 2015 for me. Yet.
Keenan Allen - It is a tragedy that he got hurt. I honestly did not expect him to come back after a sophomore production dip to the level that he did. He was able to get open at will this season. Yes some of that comes from Rivers, but Keenan actually did mature and devote himself to the game like we were being told he did all off season. Keenan was on pace for 134 receptions (would have been best all time for the Chargers) for 1450 yards (which would have been 2nd all time for the Chargers) and 8 TD's... Oh and combine that with the fact that he was 2nd best in the NFL with a drop percentage on catch-able balls of only 1.5% according to PFF. Keenan was going to have an All-Pro season and would have for once lived up to the lofty pre-season hype that stars often get.
Jerry Attaochu. Of all of the OLB on this roster, he has taken the biggest step forward. Outside of the raiders game he has shown steady growth as a pass rusher and as an edge setter and has quietly become one of the best two or three players on the defense. Hopefully they blow out the coaching staff and find a DC who can really maximize his abilities because he seems like he has the ability to become a playmaker with proper coaching.
Running out of names here. I guess I'll go with Jason Verrett. Yes, I know he received near universal praise in the offseason but that kind of talk typically makes me even more wary. Also, I guess I didn't expect him to be this good this fast. He's just 14 games into his NFL career and he's already capable of shutting down Antonio Brown and was on his way to doing the same to Alshon Jeffrey before a groin injury removed him from the game. He has had some lapses but more often than not the guy is lights out. His first half performance against Chicago was phenomenal as he recorded that 68-yard crazy dance inducing pick six in addition to three passes defended against the exact type of receiver he was thought to struggle against coming into the league. His play has me this close to recommending the Chargers just pick the best guy out of TCU every year, regardless of position, fit, or need. Now if he could just stay healthy...
Danny Woodhead. I know this seems like a cop-out, but watching Woodhead play is an oasis of inspiration and intelligence in an desert of dispiriting and stupid. Even despite his slightly off game against the Bears, Woodhead is the one player on offense I consistently trust to make the right block in pass protection, run a pass route exactly as the coaches and Rivers expect, and manufacture 4 yards on a running play no matter how small the crease is. He doesn't take plays off, doesn't make mental mistakes, and doesn't shy away from physical play. Very few guys on this current roster are what I want in a football player - Woodhead might be the best example on the Chargers of everything a football player should be.
Joe Barksdale. Though he had a rough start to the season and pretty bad series against the Bears, Barksdale has been the one constant on that entire Offensive Line. When Joe Barksdale was initially signed before training camp some had thought he would be the Swing Tackle behind D.J. Fluker. By the time camp broke he had earned a starting spot on the Offensive Line. He's not only been asked to flip around and play both Tackle spots, among this Offensive Lineman shuffle that would make Cupid proud, but he has played more snaps than any other Tackle in the NFL. Add on top of that that he's been playing like a Top 10 Right Tackle in the league. I won't even get into his guitar playing; I might start laying it on a little too thick.
D.J. Fluker. I know he has had his issues with mental mistakes, and injuries, but I have been thrilled with that I've seen from Fluker as a guard. It's obviously a better fit for him, not having to try and speed himself up to keep pace with Von Miller and Tamba Hali, and nearly every decent run the Chargers offense has had this year has been behind a monstrous block by Fluker. If the Chargers can ever figure out why their offensive linemen are all injured, and if they can ever get an adequate center in there, this offensive line has some serious run-blocking potential.
You tell us, who has been the most surprising/impressive football player on the Chargers this year?