There's still six games left of the season, but the 2016 Chargers are done. There's no hope that this is a team playing any football in January. You know what, though? I'm more disappointed that there are only six games left of the season than I am in the Chargers only being 4-6 at this point.
As bad as results have been, this has been a fun year. Watching the development of young players like Tyrell Williams and Jatavis Brown has been awesome. Watching Philip Rivers is never a bad thing. Melvin Gordon is running like a monster. There's nothing I like to do more on a Sunday than watch Chargers football - regardless of the result. We only get to do that six more times before it's over for another 9 months. Is this pain equivalent to what childbirth feels like? (Pretty obviously not. Having no football hurts way more).
1: Korey Toomer
It feels like Korey Toomer has had a spot on this list every week since his arrival from Oakland. That's not without reason. Toomer had one of his most impressive performances yet, racking up 11 tackles (10 solo) ones. Tackles don't always tell the full story, however - in this case, they don't convey just how dominant Toomer was.
He had 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. That's insane. If we extrapolate that over a full season, Toomer would end with 56 TFLs. Last year's leader in the NFL had 29 (JJ Watt, unsurprisingly), and only three players went over 20 (Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald were the other two). You can't spell Toomer without domination. (Alright, I'm bad at spelling. Leave me alone).
At this point, I'm actually worried Toomer might be playing too well for the Chargers to keep. I think that the team would like to bring back Manti Te'o for the right price - a price that would be equivalent to what Korey Toomer will get. Picking between Te'o and Toomer is like picking between fish oil and chocolate ice-cream. Even people who are lactose intolerant are choking down the ice-cream. There's no choice to be made. Hear that, Chargers? No choice. NONE. Do not lose Toomer for Te'o.
In 2015, Te'o had 4 TFLs all season. Toomer had 3.5 on Sunday. Te'o has 1 forced fumble and recovered 0 in his 37 games as a San Diego Charger. Toomer has forced 3 and recovered 1 in 6 games.
The Chargers could be carrying Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown, and Korey Toomer as their top 3 ILBs heading into next season, with depth players like Joshua Perry making up the numbers. That's strong. That's really strong.
2: Trevor Williams
Trevor Williams is on fire right now. Sure, he's only playing a handful of snaps - and that can be taken literally because I can count his snaps on Sunday on my fingers - but that doesn't mean he's not doing superbly.
With the score 24-21 Chargers, the Dolphins had the ball in the red zone looking to score a potential game-winning TD. Ryan Tannehill saw he had a matchup he liked - the 6'2 DeVante Parker on the 6'0“ UDFA Trevor Williams. To make things more complicated, Parker was running a fade route - one of the hardest routes for a CB to defend in the red zone.
A fade route is so difficult to defend because a CB can't touch the WR. At all. The slightest bit of inappropriate contact (of a footballing kind), and the zebras are throwing a flag, making it 1st and goal from the 1-yard line - and pretty much game over, in this case. Defending the fade requires perfect technique - which isn't something you're going to find in most untested CBs.
As soon as Tannehill sees that he's got Parker one on one with Williams, his mind is made up, and that's where the ball is going. I can guarantee you that Stevie Williams or Pierre Desir would have given up a TD on this play. Trevor Williams didn't. He kept his eyes on Tannehill while maintaining his position on Parker, swatting the ball away when it came. Did he have a little contact with Parker? Sure. Did he also make a game-saving play? Absolutely.
I don't want to admit it, but the season is pretty clearly over. Brandon Flowers may have just suffered a concussion right after returning from one, which would be his fourth in the last three years. That's a huge deal. If this was my team, I'm sitting Flowers the rest of the year, and putting Trevor Williams in his place. I genuinely think Williams could be an NFL caliber CB, which is more impressive than it sounds. What better way for him to improve than seeing starting action for the rest of the season?
Of course, that's not how the Chargers will do things. Flowers may not have suffered a concussion - the Chargers are on a bye, so they don't have to give out an injury report - but if he has, he'll be back once he's cleared the protocol. Williams will be limited to a handful of snaps a game, and maybe even demoted back to the Practice Squad altogether. The Chargers will try their hardest to win two or three more games, enough to lose a top ten draft pick and save Mike McCoy's job.
But don't worry, San Diego! The Chargers may or may not stay. They can't decide yet. You aren't their first choice, but you're still
452nd a choice. You'll find out their decision in a couple of months. Well, you'll find out their decision on their decision, which means you only have a few more years of waiting before a new stadium gets built somewhere. Anywhere. Probably. Possibly. Who knows?
3: Damion Square
Dontrelle Inman probably belongs somewhere on this list, but I've written about him so much that it would just be repetitive. Repeating things is bad, right? The Chargers repetitively blow a lead in the fourth quarter of games, Griff Whalen repetitively runs the wrong route, and the Chargers repetitively make me sad on a Sunday.
You can probably tell I'm struggling to find many winners from Sunday, which is why someone who played 11 snaps goes on this list. I can't tell you if Square was any good, to be honest. I didn't notice him do anything much. He's here because Brandon Mebane is now out for the season with a torn bicep. The Chargers have very little depth at NT - their only options are Damion Square or promoting Ryan Carrethers from the practice squad. Square clearly won the backup job in preseason, so he'll be the Chargers new starting NT for the rest of the season.
This is great news for Square, who's aged 27 and has never found a permanent home in the NFL. His contract is up at the end of the season, and an impressive performance in the remaining six games could mean extending his NFL career with a new deal, either in San Diego or elsewhere.
It's not all good news for Square, though. I still believe that he's a very useful rotational DE, but that he's too undersized to play NT - he definitely isn't the right build to fill the exact role that Brandon Mebane had. The Chargers are deep at DE, though, and clearly view Square as an NT. He's got the opportunity to prove them right. If he can't take it, he won't be back here next year. He might not still be in the league.
No pressure, Damion.
1: Brandon Mebane
Another week, another season ending injury for the Chargers. It feels like we're stuck in a loop at this point. Every week, we're forced back to the same point in time where a season ending injury happens - except it's a different face, a different cause. The same outcome.
Injuries aren't easy to rehab for anyone, but they get harder with age. Brandon Mebane will be 32 heading into next season. Many thought he was over the hill - his play this season clearly showed otherwise, giving the Chargers their first reliable presence in the middle since Jamal Williams. It'll now be 10 months before Mebane plays his next meaningful football game.
I really hope that Mebane can come back just as strong next year, but it won't be easy. Fighting the aging process is hard enough. When you add an injury into the mix, it becomes much, much harder. Even a half-strength Brandon Mebane is probably better than seeing an undersized Sean Lissemore line up at NT again. The problem is, Brandon Mebane not fully recovering would severely weaken a Chargers team desperately hoping to make a SuperBowl run while Philip Rivers is still around.
Mebane infected the team with a winning culture since he arrived from Seattle - while that didn't always manifest into actual wins, you could tell that the defense was gradually becoming something special and that all started up front with #92. He's one of the most important players this football team has. Hopefully, that remains true when he returns. Next year.
2: King Dunlap/D.J. Fluker/Orlando Franklin
The Chargers OL is a mess. Matt Slauson is doing well at C, but that's it. Philip Rivers (who's not on here because although he played badly, he didn't lose anything) got obliterated behind the OL on Sunday. D.J. Fluker and Orlando Franklin are doing horribly on the interior, and Joe Barksdale is one of the weakest OL in the entire league thus far this year. King Dunlap is vaguely serviceable, I suppose.
The reason that Barksdale isn't on this list (and Dunlap is) is because I'm looking towards the future. Barksdale just signed a big extension in the offseason. He's been playing terribly for a while, and the game against the Dolphins didn't cost him anything. He'll still be here for the next couple of years - hopefully, he'll be back to his best.
D.J. Fluker is gone. He has to be. Fluker is set to earn a staggering $8.8m next year, according to Spotrac. The good news is because that's his fifth-year extension, not a penny of that (or cent, or whatever weird fake coins America uses) is guaranteed. The Chargers can either pay Fluker $0 next year to not be here or $8.8m to be here. That's not even like choosing between fish oil and chocolate ice-cream. That's asking someone to choose between getting hit really hard five times a day, or being perfectly safe. (That someone is Philip Rivers, by the way).
I love Fluker, but he's in his fourth year in the NFL and looks no better than he did in his first. You can blame the coaching for that (and I do), but that doesn't change the fact that he's not worth close to what he's set to earn. Either he takes a huge pay cut - and I'm looking at bringing that $8.8m closer to $2m - or he's gone.
Orlando Franklin has a little more optimism because the Chargers would still owe him 4.8m in dead money were they to release him after this season. That would still mean saving 2.8m, however. Is it worth keeping Franklin around for 2.8m in the hope that he can potentially rediscover the form he had when he was in Denver? Probably not. He's playing like a backup, and there's no way a backup is worth that much money. Especially not when you've got young upstarts like Spencer Pulley and Max Tuerk waiting in the wings.
King Dunlap has been playing like the second best OL on the Chargers this year, but that's like finishing second in a 100m dash, behind one person and ahead of a carrot, a potato, and a stick. He's going to be 32 next year and has an incredibly lengthy injury history. The Chargers would save $5.1m by cutting him this offseason.
Dunlap might be saved by the awfulness of his teammates - with D.J. Fluker heading out the door, Orlando Franklin possibly following him, and Joe Barksdale potentially needing to be replaced, can the Chargers really afford to look for up to four new starting OL next year? Even with some potential in-house replacements, that's a trainwreck waiting to happen.
In my opinion, D.J. Fluker is definitely gone. Barksdale and Slauson are safe. I think one of Dunlap and Franklin will follow Fluker out the door, if not both. They've got six weeks to save their jobs. It won't be easy.
3: Jerry Attaochu
Jerry Attaochu came into this season on the verge of a breakout. The young pass rusher had 6 sacks in 2015, but also showed an ability to defend the run, picking up 15 TFLs - only Khalil Mack and Whitney Mercilus had more from LB. I was convinced that he was going to form a dangerous OLB tandem with Melvin Ingram.
He played 3 snaps yesterday.
Attaochu was coming off an injury but was a full participant each day in practice. He was clearly back to full strength, and a game against the Dolphins right before the bye seemed like the perfect time to release him. At this point, he may have to be worried that the Chargers actually will release him.
Attaochu has clearly done something wrong, but it's not obvious what. He still looks as explosive as ever - albeit in his very limited time. He may have wound his coaches up the wrong way - but when the Chargers are 4-6 and the coaches are fighting for their jobs, would they really keep in the clearly inferior Kyle Emanuel just to spite Attaochu?
There was clearly something up with Attaochu when he was running with the 3s in camp and playing in the fourth quarter in preseason but there's not a single person who expected that he'd be reduced to just three defensive snaps when healthy in Week 10. Chris Landrum, a UDFA OLB just promoted from the practice squad, played 11 snaps. That's nearly 4x as many as Attaochu.
Kyle Emanuel is not great. I like him, but I think it's a stretch to even call him average at this point. Jerry Attaochu showed last year that he could be so, so much more than average. There's an argument to be made - and a strong one - that he was actually more consistent than Melvin Ingram was last year. Ingram is about to be paid more than $10m a year. Attaochu is on the roster bubble.
I hope that Attaochu can get back in the coaches good books, regardless of what his mistake was. It's hurting the team not having him out there. That much is obvious. If things don't change, Attaochu could easily be offered around for a low draft pick in the offseason, or released entirely. This is a man who the Chargers traded up for in 2014 to select in the second round.
What a fall from grace.