Even though we are still a few months away from teams needing to trim their rosters down to only 53 players, we are likely only weeks (or days) away from Mike McCoy busting out the "best 53" talk. So in anticipation of that, I wanted to take a far too early look at who that 53 might be.
There are a lot of things that can happen between now and September-ish, the usual time when teams have trim to 75, then a few weeks later down to 53 although those actual dates have not been released yet. Tom Telesco could still bring in free agents or claim released players off waivers, players could do something stupid off the field to get themselves released, and there is usually one or two players who fall victim to a health status change (I am purposefully refusing to use the "i" word here and am knocking on wood as I type this).
So who do I see sticking on offense?
Quarterback - 2
Philip Rivers, Zach Mettenberger.
As Kyle mentioned in his post on the Mettenberger signing, there will be an interesting camp battle (well, as interesting as a battle for backup QB can be) between Mettenberger and Kellen Clemens. Mettenberger will be the cheaper option to keep, with theoretically more upside, where as Clemens has more experience with the offense and a theoretically lower floor. I just can't see them keeping 2 backups on the active roster, not with the injury luck they've had at other positions in recent years, and, well this quote kinda says it all if you replace "Peyton" and "18" with "Rivers" and "17."
Runningback - 4
Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, Chris Swain, Branden Oliver
Gordon and Woodhead are locks. Oliver was good for the Chargers. He was a good change of pace, and got pretty consistent production. However he doesn't offer anything else. If there is one thing that McCoy and Telesco love it's "versatility." Swain can be your FB on one down and line up as a bruising power back on the next play. And where Oliver offers you basically just a slightly different version of what Gordon and Woodhead offer, Swain gives you something that neither Danny or Melvin do -- power. That is why Swain is actually the #3 running back for me, and Oliver sneaks in as the #4 guy.
Fullback - 1
As much as I disliked the Watt pick, Watt makes this roster if they look at Chris Swain as a RB/FB like I do. If they evaluate them both as "true" fullbacks, I think Swain beats Watt for this spot and Watt gets cut.
Tight End - 3
Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Jeff Cumberland
Gates and 2nd round draft pick Henry are easy locks. The 3rd TE spot will actually be a pretty good battle. I went with Cumberland because Telesco went out and got him to bring in some more starting experience to a very young group (outside of Gates). Cumberland won't be able to coast and grab this spot though; there will be some good competition here. Look for the team to keep at least one more TE on the practice squad as well.
Wide Receiver - 6
Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Tyrell Williams, Javonte Herndon
Unless one of the rookies really shows out in camp, this will be the group. Keenan when healthy is one of the better weapons in the league. Stevie and Travis are locks because after them, there is a drop off. The final spots go to Inman, because the team seems to have faith in him, and Tyrell, who keeps a spot because he is the tallest WR on the roster and had himself a pretty nice break out party in the last game of the season at Denver last year. As an aside, this was fun to watch in person. I even got Gennaro to fly out for it. I know Rivers has 2 good pass catching TE's and Woodhead, who was basically WR2 last season, but pray for good health at this position this year. It's thin. Herndon Makes it as a 6th WR so he can return kicks, and so we don't revolt when they put Benjamin back there.
Offensive line - 8
King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, Matt Slauson, D.J. Fluker, Joseph Barksdale, Chris Hairston, Chris Watt, Matt Tuerk
The starting 5, listed at their positions left to right above, should be locked in. The team made it a point to re-sign their swing tackle Chris Hairston so he stays on the active roster. Chris Watt won't beat out Slausen at C, nor will he beat Franklin or Fluker at either OG position, but he keeps his spot because he can play either G or C and isn't terrible. Tuerk may or may not be 100% healthy for the start of the season, though both he and the team are pretty positive about it. He won't be the starting C week 1, but he was the team's 3rd round pick and their future at C so he isn't going anywhere.
Offense total - 24
This is about right. By only keeping 2 QB's, and having Chris Swain able to play both FB and RB, they can keep 8 OL and 6 WR's while still keeping the overall number down. So now on to the defense.
Defensive Line - 7
Corey Liuget, Brandon Mebane, Joey Bosa, Ryan Carrethers, Darius Philon, Sean Lissemore, Damion Square
This group can play all over. All of these guys are strong and athletic enough to play multiple positions along the DL. Yes Bosa is a DE. I know the national media still can't get over the fact that he isn't an OLB, but he is a DE and he is going to be a damn good one. Mebane and Carrethers makes for a pretty good 1-2 punch inside. Philon is more of a DE than an interior guy, but he did pretty steadily improve over last season and the coaches and players have been talking him up. Lissemore likely stays because he has played every position on the line in this defense, but with his injury history, he's only played one full season in his career. That and the fact that he makes just over $1,000,000 more than Tenny Palepoi, he could be that "surprise" veteran name that is on the list of final cuts.
Linebackers - 8
Melvin Ingram, Denzel Perryman, Manti Te'o, Jerry Attaochu, Kyle Emanuel, Joshua Perry, Jatavius Brown, Tourek Williams
Ingram, Perryman, Manti (unfortunately), and Attaochu are your starters week 1. Expect Brown and Perry to get a decent amount of snaps though. Baemanuel and Tourek will also get their share of rotating in on the outside. Tourek looked pretty good in pre-season last year before getting injured and missing the year. Hopefully, he can pick up where he left off. Dexter McCoil is listed on the team site as an ILB and I do think he makes the roster, but as a safety.
Cornerback - 6
Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers, Casey Hayward, Craig Mager, Steve Williams, Terrell Chestnut
#FeevaIsland returns. Brandon Flowers hopes to bounce back from a down year. Casey Hayward should come in and provide a more reliable CB3 than the team has been used too in recent years. Garrett Sisti's boy Mager wasn't as bad as we all gave him credit for last year so he stays. Steve Williams earned a spot on this roster last year. He only had 2 starts, but saw action in 13 total games, and came away with 5 PD, 2 INT's, 2 FF, and a sack. That's a lot of impact from a guy with only 2 starts. Chestnut makes the active roster because the Chargers can never seem to keep DB's healthy. He put in a pretty good season last year at WVU including not allowing a catch longer than 28 yards.
Safety - 5
Eric Weddle Dwight Lowery, Jahleel Addae, Darrel Stuckey, Dexter McCoil, Adrian... *flips coin* McDonald
This is a pretty meh group. FA safeties this year must have just been looking to get paid, because if they cared about starting/playing time, this was the team to sign with. Dwight Lowery took advantage of that and will start week 1 at FS. This is probably a group that sees a lot of rotation. They are all pretty much in the same range talent wise so the starting pair could change quite often. McCoil could be a pretty nice addition if he continues to produce like he did in Canada and lives up to the hype he's been getting from the Chargers website. The last spot I didn't actually flip a coin, but you probably could. Adrian Phillips has more experience in this defense, but he is bad. Adrian McDonald at least has the potential to be decent after piling up impact numbers in college: 17 INT's, 7 PD, 4 FF and 7 TFL, as well as the fact that he was always around the ball highlighted by his 299 career tackles and 6 fumble recoveries.
Defense overall - 26
Special Teams - 3
Mike Windt, Josh Lambo, Drew Kaser
Texas A&M Aggies Chargers ST's begins a new era. Familiar names like Novak and Scifres are gone, and the new guys get a chance to prove they can be the next 10 year name at the position for the Chargers. Kaser has the bar set pretty high as the Chargers have enjoyed pretty damn good punters in recent history. Special teams wasn't exactly the best for San Diego last year so hopefully they can get it together.
And there you have it. There's your "best 53" as of May. Like I said, a LOT can change in the next 4 months, but right now looking at the names, this is who I see sticking. Just for fun I'll also do the practice squad.
Practice squad - 10
Donavon Clark - G, Vi Teofilo - G, Tyreek Burwell - T, Matt Weiser - TE, Dominique Williams - WR, Dreamius Smith - RB, Chris Landrum - OLB, Trevor Williams - CB, Nick Dzubnar - LB, Tenny Palepoi - DL