The 2018 NFL Draft and initial Undrafted Free Agent signings are less than 72 hours old, so naturally, we should look into our crystal balls and try to predict the future and forecast who’s going to make the 53 man roster to start the season.
Some big names are already gone from last year. Tre Boston at Safety, Antonio Gates at Tight End, Kenny Wiggins is gone at Guard. Then obviously the Chargers had 7 draft picks this year.
So here we go:
Offense - 24
Quarterback - 2
Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
Obviously, Rivers is making the roster. After him, Cardale Jones, Geno Smith, and UDFA Nic Schimonek will battle it out. Based on Cardale’s experience with this coaching staff and his semi-promising performance last pre-season, I think he wins the backup job.
Running Back - 3
Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson
Melvin Gordon is a lock. Austin Ekeler more than earned a roster spot with his performance last year and based on his Instagram videos from the gym he wants to be even better. Now the team got a steal in the 7th round with Northwestern RB Justin Jackson. Jackson was a prolific performer in college and on tape shows some good traits as a blocker and pass catcher. This is a pretty good stable of running backs and for the first time in a few years have more than just 2 good options.
Fullback - 1
Watt is probably going to stay on the roster, and if he continues to improve like he did last year, he deserves it. He still isn’t great, however, he did improve last year and started making blocks on a slightly more consistent basis as well as developing into a pretty good special teams player. However, the Chargers did sign a UDFA, Anthony Manzo-Lewis, who looks like a fantastic blocker, a much better pass catcher than Watt, and has more beef to throw around at 257 lbs (vs 234 for Watt). This could wind up being a battle in camp.
Tight End - 3
Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Sean Culkin
Now, this is a different lineup from years past. Gone is future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, gone is Sean McGrath. Hunter Henry is finally going to take over as the featured TE in this offense and the Chargers will be better for it. The team also signed free agent, and former Denver Bronco, TE Virgil Green who is a very good blocker from the TE spot. That brings us to Sean Culkin who I thought should have made the roster last year. In the pre-season, he looked better at FB than Derek Watt and better at TE than Sean McGrath. I think Culkin offers some good versatility as an H-Back guy who can contribute in a few ways.
Offensive Line - 9
Russell Okung, Dan Feeney, Mike Pouncey, Forrest Lamp, Joseph Barksdale, Michael Schofield, Scott Quessenberry, Sam Tevi, Spencer Pulley
This is a solid OL. Actually, it is the best OL group the Chargers have put together in a very long time. The starting group of Okung, Feeney, Pouncey, Lamp, Barksdale is going to be fun. Those interior 3 are all strong and athletic and perfect for Anthony Lynn’s style of offense. Okung is solid and I hope that maybe after getting some extra mental help this offseason, as well as upgrading the play next to him from Kenny Wiggins to Forrest Lamp, that Joe Barksdale will improve as well. Behind the starters, Sam Tevi showed a lot of promise last year filling in at swing Tackle and has earned a spot. The other 3 players all offer versatility. Schofield can play G or T, and both Pulley and Quessenberry can play G or C. Both Pulley and Schofield have good starting experience as well. This is pretty solid depth, unlike previous years.
Wide Receiver - 6
Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dylan Cantrell, Geremy Davis
The first 4 are locks and a solid group. Mike Williams needs to show improvement, however, he’ll have a full offseason to workout and practice with the team this year, which should help. Cantrell was a 6th round pick and is going to make the roster. Not only does he make contested catches better than most of the other WR’s on the roster, he is already the best blocker at WR on the roster, AND he plays special teams well, AND he can play H-Back. As for Geremy Davis, the coaching staff seems to like him a lot and he hasn’t played poorly at really any point that I’ve seen, so he should make it.
Defense - 26
Defensive Line - 9 (10)
Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane, Justin Jones, Melvin Ingram, Darius Philon, Damion Square, Issac Rochelle, Steven Richardson, Chris Landrum, (Corey Liuget)
Starting with Liuget, he’s on the roster but has a 4 game suspension, so he won’t count against the 53. Justin Jones is likely penciled in Liuget’s spot, however, Philon is going to push to start there while Liuget is out. Here is the first UDFA I see with a real chance to make it in Steven Richardson. He is very stout and I thought on tape he played better than fellow UDFA DT Bijhon Jackson.
Linebacker - 8
Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown, Uchenna Nwosu, Kyzir White, Nick Dzubnar, Hayes Pullard, Kyle Emanuel, James Onwualu
The Chargers added 2 LBs in the first 4 rounds of the draft that will have an immediate impact. Nwosu and White will get significant snaps right away. The team is still in love with Hayes Pullard so I’m pretty sure he stays, as well as Kyle Emanuel. Dzubnar, while not providing value as an LB, lead the NFL in special teams tackles last year so he stays as well. The final spot on my defense comes down to Onwualu or the second UDFA that I think might make the roster at CB, I’ll talk about them in a second. Onwualu is a very good special teamer as well, and the Chargers need to keep their best special teams players around.
Cornerback - 5
Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, Desmond King, Jason Verrett, Michael Davis
What a fantastic top 4 CBs. If Jason Verrett is healthy, it’s almost too crowded, but that’s a great problem to have. I think Michael Davis might finally pass Craig Mager and make him expendable. Mager is in the last year of his contract and none of his $705k price tag is guaranteed. Now the UDFA I mentioned in the LB section. There are actually 2 of them, depending on what the team wants. Tony Brown from Alabama is extremely fast, the fastest CB at the combine in fact, and very aggressive, not to mention bringing all the high-level experience an Alabama player brings. The other is VT CB Brandon Facyson. Facyson is a big corner at 6’2” 203lbs and is a fantastic pass defender, with 44 PD in 47 games played. I think both of them will push hard for a roster spot.
Safety - 4
Jahleel Addae, Derwin James, Rayshawn Jenkins, Adrian Phillips
This group remains largely the same, however, they’ve traded Tre Boston for Derwin James. James was a missing piece in this secondary. The team will miss Boston’s center field ability, however, they should be able to figure that out, especially with this CB group. What they have done is MASSIVELY upgrade their over the middle and in the box ability with Derwin James. I will be interesting to see who they have playing the FS role, I don’t like Jenkins or Phillips in that role with what I’ve seen from them, I’ve also seen rumors that they may try Des King there, however, I like him up near the LOS. We’ll see how this works out but I think the secondary is still massively improved with the addition of James.
Special Teams - 3
Kicker - 1
Until Robert Aguayo can prove he won’t fail, the safer bet is to assume he will fail. Sturgis is a good kicker and should be an upgrade over what the Chargers have had.
Punter - 1
Drew Kaser is continuing to be a solid punter and should keep improving. He stays.
Long Snapper - 1
Haven’t had a problem with Mike’s snaps. No reason to mess with it.
There you have it. A way too early final 53, I don’t expect this to be right, things are going to change a lot between now and the end of August, but I think this is a good starting point and should help point out where the fun camp battles are going to be.