We need to talk.
There is an awful lot of big predictions going on around the inaugural season of the Los Angeles Chargers. In fact, you’d have an easier time finding experts predicting the Chargers to win the AFC West than you would finding anyone predicting that the team will finish under .500 for the third consecutive season.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what I get when I search for “Chargers AFC West” on Google:
Am I missing something? Did the Chargers add a big-name free agent that changes the dynamic of the entire team in the offseason? By my accounts, this team isn’t all that different from the squad that went 9-23 over the last two years.
What has changed that has people convinced that this losing football team is suddenly going to be champions of maybe the most competitive division in the league?
Mike McCoy, who was terrible, is out. Anthony Lynn, who is a great unknown, is in.
Sure, that seems like an upgrade! Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if Lynn is any better or worse at the position than McCoy (who was once thought of to be a fantastic Head Coach candidate).
John Pagano, who was fine, is out. Gus Bradley, who might be terrible, is in.
Anyone who says that Bradley provides an immediate upgrade for the Chargers’ defense is, at best, guessing based off of old (and faulty) information. In no way should this be enough to convince anyone that the team has gone from “bad” to “championship contender”.
Goodbye to Orlando Franklin, King Dunlap, and D.J. Fluker. For the second time in his four years as General Manager, Tom Telesco is rebuilding the group that is responsible for protecting Philip Rivers and creating running lanes for Melvin Gordon.
Let’s take this one starter-by-starter:
Russell Okung, LT: A man that the Seahawks let walk away before the Broncos signed him and cut him a year later. Let’s maybe consider how good those front offices have been at identifying talent before assuming they’ve made a mistake.
Matt Slauson, LG: Slauson was the best member of the team’s 2016 offensive line and might be again in 2017. The one thing possibly standing in his way? A position change from Center.
??????, C: Slauson has been moved to cover up the whole created by cutting Franklin, but he’s left behind a hole at the Center position. After Mini Camp, it appears the team is ready to move forward with 3rd Round pick and rookie G/C Dan Feeney getting the first crack at the starter’s job.
I would just like to state that if a starting-quality Center existed in the 2017 NFL Draft, he probably wouldn’t have lasted until the 3rd Round.
Forrest Lamp, RG: A rookie, taken in the 2nd Round, who was drafted out of necessity after the team cut bait on D.J. Fluker. Lamp would have a difficult time not being an upgrade over Fluker, but rookies are inherently difficult to predict in terms of performance.
Joe Barksdale, RT: After a tremendous 2015 campaign with the Chargers, Barksdale earned himself a fine payday from the team in the form of a new contract. After the 2016 season, the team probably wishes they could have that one back.
Barksdale has it in him to be a near Pro Bowl-level offensive tackle, especially on the right side, but you probably shouldn’t count on it.
Sure, the Chargers have loads of talent. Tom Telesco earns rave reviews every year for getting “good value” in the NFL Draft by taking players that have risky injury histories. Due to that, the team now has a hard time keeping its most talented players healthy, and then they blame poor luck.
Keenan Allen might be one of the 5 best WRs in the league. He’s played in 9 of the team’s last 32 games.
Jason Verrett might be the best CB in all of football. He’s playing in 24 of the team’s 48 games since being drafted.
Having a great team on paper doesn’t always mean you’ll have one on the field.
Am I crazy or just pessimistic?
While I agree that the things listed above could lead to the Chargers having a playoff run in them one of these days, I feel like I’ve seen this story far too many times.
The Chargers will face injuries, probably somewhere close to a league-high level, and their plan to revamp their offensive line with retreads and rookies will likely not be as effective as they hope it will be in Year One. At least, that’s what I expect to happen.
Here’s to hoping that I’m wrong and that the experts are actually right this time.