It’s mid-August and that means it’s time read the Football Outsiders’ Almanac. We did so a couple weeks ago and then we had the opportunity to ask some questions of the author of the Chargers section, Scott Kacsmar. Below you’ll find our five questions and Scott’s answers.
1.) Jason Verrett has only played in 24 games in his three seasons as a professional. Is there any reason to believe that a player who has missed so much time at the start of his career will be able to turn into a reliable starter?
Verrett has been a quality starter in his career, but if reliability is built on durability, then yes, there is a valid concern about him staying healthy. After all, he plays for the Chargers, so everyone not named Philip Rivers is seemingly at injury risk at all times. But I think injuries can often just be the result of bad luck, and a player can shake that “injury prone” tag. Matthew Stafford hasn’t missed any time in Detroit after he missed 19 games in his first two seasons. So if we can see a 16-game season from Verrett, I have little doubt that people will be singing his praises as a top 10-caliber cornerback in this league.
2.) Philip Rivers has been incredibly productive (top 10 in career DYAR among QBs) but he will be 36 years old this season. Should we be expecting him to start declining this year?
It is something to monitor, but I think the aging curve of quarterbacks in this modern era is different from past eras. Rivers has come along in this golden age of quarterbacks. Peyton Manning (2012), Tom Brady (2013), Drew Brees (2015), and Carson Palmer (2015) all threw for at least 4,300 yards and 25 touchdowns in their age 36-season. Kurt Warner had a rebirth at age 36 with the Cardinals in 2007. That’s really the caliber of quarterback who has even made it to 36 in the last decade and was still a starter. I think Rivers can still be productive like that, but obviously he needs to cut down a bit on the turnovers. I like to think that Anthony Lynn’s interest in running the ball will help ease Rivers’ workload this season.
3.) The Chargers defense was better by DVOA than by most conventional measures last year. With Gus Bradley joining the coaching staff, should we expect another step forward or a step back?
I feel like I need to add the “if they stay healthy” caveat to every Chargers question, but yes, this is a talented defense capable of improving this year. Joey Bosa seems to be even more comfortable with Bradley’s system, and Brandon Mebane played for Bradley in Seattle. Bosa and Melvin Ingram makes for a very solid pass-rushing duo. We like Denzel Perryman in the middle at linebacker. Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward make for a pretty solid cornerback duo with ball skills and coverage ability. The depth is pretty suspect, but if they stay healthy on this side of the ball, it should be a good unit. Really looking forward to what Bosa can do in a full season without a contract dispute.
4.) FO has given the Chargers a mean win projection of 7.8. Do you think it is more likely they will exceed or fall short of that number? Why?
I would probably bet the under just because the injuries already seem to be piling up with highly-drafted rookies Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp. Of the last seven teams to relocate, none finished better than 8-8 in their first season in the new city. Wherever the Chargers finish this year, I would imagine it will be within a game either way of that 7.8 projection. The AFC West is a very tough division and the Chargers also play a solid NFC East this year as well.
5.) Melvin Gordon was far more productive in 2016 than 2015, but FO’s numbers still didn’t seem to like him as much as conventional stats do. What kind of effectiveness do you expect to see from him in 2017?
Our projection for Gordon in the book is 1,266 rushing yards, a higher DVOA than 2016, 406 receiving yards, and nine total touchdowns. In other words, we see Gordon having a career-best season with a coach who preaches a “ground-and-pound” philosophy, but we still don’t expect him to be on that Le’Veon Bell/Ezekiel Elliott/David Johnson tier of running back greatness. However, he still might be the best back playing football in Los Angeles right now.