A lot of unforeseen things are going to happen this upcoming year. You "Stans" aside, who in their right mind would've predicted Branden Oliver would lead the team in rushing a year ago? No way you'd have convinced me that Malcom Floyd would have more receiving yards than Keenan Allen or Kavell Conner would have the 5th most tackles on the team. So, here are my 5 bold predictions for this upcoming Chargers season.
5. Jahleel Addae leads the team in interceptions
While this might seem like a ballsy pick, Brandon Flowers led the team with a mere 3 interceptions last year. The thought process here is a combination of teams trying to attack the middle of the field, and Addae finishing at least 2 or 3 of the plays that number 38 from last year did not. With Addae's usage, he'll have a shot to make plays as a deep center-fielder, in man-to-man coverage, and as a robber taking away short to intermediate routes. If he catches like 38, these points are moot. Addae earned the starting position across from Eric Weddle with much improved play this preseason. He has a big opportunity ahead of him.
4. Branden Oliver will have the most yards from scrimmage
I cannot stress how big of a deal the upgrades across the offensive line are. Melvin Gordon or Danny Woodhead could easily make this prediction look foolish midway through the year. Still, I'm rolling with Oliver here. I thought Oliver plateaued last year after a hot start. The line did him no favors while he also lacked creativity. I think having another year under his belt will greatly benefit him, as will not having to be one of the top-5 weapons defenses focus on. Oliver is full throttle all the time and coaches love that. I believe he will maximize his touches to a point where it truly is a "running back by committee" approach, and then Sprolbert will just edge out Gordon by years end.
3. Kyle Emanuel will start over Jerry Attaochu before midseason
This might seem like a copout if you believe Attaochu will get hurt before then. Based off what the defense needs, I truly believe Emanuel brings more to the table than Attaochu does. They're both very, very green. There's no doubt I'm overratting Emanuel's preseason. If he didn't miss as many tackles as he did, he would've had a handful of tackles for loss. Emanuel is much more stout against the run and he could bump Melvin Ingram back to where he belongs, the weak side. Ingram guesses a bit too much and doesn't maintain his gaps like Emanuel does on the strong side. On the weakside at "Jack backer," he can freelance and continue to just out-athlete guys like he did in the preseason. Emanuel, from a technical standpoint, is the closest thing to Jarret Johnson this team has. Emanuel is a better athlete than Attaochu, too. Without getting caught up in the 40, Emanuel ran his 3 cone at .18 tenths faster and his short shuttle a whopping .4 tenths faster than Attaochu. He good.
2. The offense will be one of the 3 best in the NFL
This is from a DVOA standpoint. The team was 2nd in 2013, and dipped to 11th last year. That's somewhat of an impressive feat considering all the injuries the team went through. I mentioned the improvements along the offensive line, Stevie Johnson is a substantial upgrade and having Gordon and Woodhead in the backfield in addition to Oliver leaves El Capitan littered with weapons. Weapons isn't something that Philip Rivers had a year ago. Rivers with weapons and a competent line should get you excited. Assuming the the rushing attack goes from 25th in DVOA to right around 15 and the passing attack stays in the top 10 range, this prediction really isn't that bold. Rivers is going to be so dagum fun to watch this year.
1. John Pagano will be a head coach after this year
Correct. He has his edge rusher in Ingram, his interior rusher in Corey Liuget, 2 very, very good CBs that will allow Pagano to draw up blitzes and be more aggressive than he ever has been, and the best safety in the game who can erase any mistake made over the middle of the field. The inside linebackers have to play at an average level. That's it. I've been one of Pagano's biggest critics and this preseason he's tipped his hand. Aside from a 3rd-and-long here and there, he's coming after you. He's forcing the offense to respond to what he calls instead of letting the offense dictate his play-calling. I love it. I want to see it for the next 16 games. I want Pagano to continue to just put his best 11 athletes on the field and let them play football.
This preseason we saw Ingram and Emanuel lined up on the same side. We saw those 2 and Attaochu rushing the passer. We saw stunts, twists, late rotations in the secondary, zone blitzes. There was creativity. Injuries are going to happen; they're part of the game. If Pagano can maintain the same level of aggressiveness even after those injuries, he will finally earn a shot at a head coaching gig.