For those of you who live under a rock and have never played the “fun for all ages yet suspenseful as hell” game known as Jenga, it is a game that involves building a tower of blocks and watching as players take turns removing pieces until somebody takes a block that causes the entire tower to come crashing down. (It’s also a concept popularized by Dave Dameshek).
In this piece, I plan to take a look at the five most important players to the team’s success (i.e., if they were to be removed, the Chargers season would fall to pieces).
On a side note, unless you’re the New England Patriots, of course, the season is going to resemble the Titanic without your starting quarterback so for this exercise I am going to remove Philip Rivers from consideration.
The “Oh Please, Not Him” Tier
Let’s face it. I don’t know how many people were overly excited when the Chargers selected Joey Bosa with the third overall pick following the 2015 season. However, you can bet your sweet backside that fans still haven’t stopped rejoicing since he hit the field against the Raiders in Week 5. Nowadays, it’s tough to imagine the defense without number 99 wreaking havoc against opposing offenses. In just 12 total games, Bosa has not only established himself as the best player on the Bolt’s defense but he has also firmly planted himself among the elite edge rushers in the NFL.
If Bosa were to find himself withheld from the field, fellow bookend Melvin Ingram would find himself with a lot of slack to make up. Interior linemen Brandon Mebane, Caraun Reid, and Damion Square also showed enough to possibly keep opposing quarterbacks on their toes as well but they don’t necessarily strike fear into the hearts of anyone the way the “Big Bear” does.
And of course, the signature “shrug” celebration would be sorely missed.
In only 12 games, Joey Bosa dominated nearly every statistical category among rookie pass rushers pic.twitter.com/YLn7rLCMTj— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 7, 2017
After a severely underwhelming rookie season, the former first-round pick broke out to the tune of 997 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground in just a smidge over 12 full games. When former Bolt Danny Woodhead went down in Week 2 against Jacksonville, it opened the door for Gordon to showcase his abilities as a true three-down back. He averaged over 10 yards per reception as he racked up 419 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game.
The Chargers got an unfortunate glimpse into what the world is like without Gordon after he was knocked out of the game going for a loose ball against Carolina. From then on, fans were subjected to watching the likes of Kenneth Farrow and Andre Williams struggle to produce anything close to a viable run game.
This offseason, the Chargers decided against drafting any new blood for the running back group and instead signed former Eagle Kenjon Barner to maybe fight for the third running back spot. Current backup Branden Oliver has seldom flashed while healthy but he’s far from the most comforting option to rely on in an emergency.
Play it safe and start hoarding your lucky charms now.
Melvin Gordon is big play threat every time he touches the ball pic.twitter.com/LGQ50sEoI3— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 4, 2017
The “That’s Going To Hurt” Tier
Casey Hayward came out of nowhere last season to lead the league in interceptions and establish himself as one of the premiere cornerbacks in the NFL. He routinely followed #1 receivers around the field and caused quarterbacks to constantly think twice before throwing his way.
At the time pro bowl cornerback Jason Verrett went down for the season, the secondary looked pedestrian at best with guys like Craig Mager and Trevor Williams waiting in the wings. Fans actually felt the heat from the torching the secondary was about to receive.
Fortunately for the Bolts and fans alike, there was a gem waiting in the free agent pickup out of Green Bay.
And I know that heading into this season the Bolts will have Verrett still if Hayward were to miss time but only one has led the league in interceptions so the title of “most important” reluctantly goes to #26.
Casey Hayward will make you pay if you go after him in coverage. pic.twitter.com/1P6XH11THc— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 23, 2017
After the Chargers added two stellar rookies along the offensive line this past NFL draft, you would think Slauson could be a bit more expendable. I mean, #68 has constantly raved about how far along Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney are as first-year players so it wouldn’t be that bad if he was lost, right?
Well, the truth to that idea is debatable but I give Slauson a lot of credit for being the highest rated offensive lineman for the Chargers last year and his veteran experience should be noted. Left Tackle Russell Okung is new to the team and young bulls Spencer Pulley and Max Tuerk have done little and nothing, respectively, to feel confident about.
With the numerous complexities of o-line play, a veteran presence goes a long way. All the looks, checks, and communication that goes into an air-tight pass protection, as well as a smooth operating ground attack, a guy who has been there and done that can’t be overlooked.
Offensive Line Grades from 2016 pic.twitter.com/dcthpr4tfP— Michael Peterson (@ChargersLAtely) July 9, 2017
The “Not This Again” Tier
Our fifth and final player is a guy the Chargers are WAY too accustomed to playing without.
In 2015, Keenan Allen went down for the season against the Baltimore Ravens with a lacerated kidney after catching a spectacular touchdown. In the 2016 opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, Allen was having his way with the Chiefs secondary, more specifically their #1 cornerback Marcus Peters, before the freak incident that cost him the entire year. To describe the kind of day Allen was having, I’m going to leave it to my good friend and co-worker Derrick Browne:
Only God could've saved Marcus Peters this day..pic.twitter.com/PzMrQAtBVt— Derrick (@YouATrip) May 9, 2017
After the emergence of former UDFA Tyrell Williams and the team using their first-round pick on wide receiver Mike Williams out of Clemson, things won’t seem nearly as bleak were Allen to find his way off the field once more. This does not, however, take away from the value Allen bring to the offense.
Prior to his exit against the Ravens in Week 8, Allen was second in the league with 67 receptions (behind only Julio Jones) for 725 yards, good for third in the league. To put into context just how much of a tear he was on, Stevie Johnson was second on the team with 24 receptions for 283 yards at the time.
A case can be made for third-year man Denzel Perryman to be on this list as he is officially the man in the middle for the Chargers, especially with former defensive captain Manti Te’o moving south to New Orleans.
Perryman was a feared tackler coming out of the University of Miami and, luckily for fans, he hasn’t lost that edge since entering the NFL. In 2015, he was second on the team in tackles behind Te’o with 95, leaving him just five stops short of making him the first rookie in team history with over 100 total tackles in a season. Amazingly, 79 of those stops came within the last seven games of that season.
Perryman will only get better as he heads into 2017 for his first full season as “the guy”. He’s got a kamikaze of a sidekick in Jatavis Brown who has shown to be more than capable of taking over the reigns should #52 wind up injured. Korey Toomer earned some respect this past season as well with several splash plays when it mattered most (see Thursday night game vs. Denver).
At any rate, the Bolts should still cross their fingers and hope nothing happens to their Hurricane Headhunter.
What do you guys think? Who did I miss? Who are your Jenga pieces to the Los Angeles Chargers?