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Potential cut day curveballs we could see from the Chargers

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Cut day in the National Football League is finally upon us. Over 1,000 players will find themselves temporarily out of work come 4pm EST this afternoon, with some their NFL dreams coming to an end for good. Meanwhile, we all wait with baited breath as the Chargers meander their way through 37 personnel decisions.

Based on my 53-man projection earlier in the week, as well as comments from Los Angeles Chargers manager Tom Telesco during Thursday’s preseason finale, it sounds like as many as three spots up for grabs over the next four hours.

After watching the team’s fourth preseason game, I think we can reasonably guess which positions remain up in the air as the offseason comes to a close. I’ve come up with a list of potential curveballs the team could throw at us this afternoon.

Note: This list doesn’t include free agent or waiver wire additions, it strictly discusses moves the team could make with players already on its roster.

Quarterback

While I fully expect Geno Smith to win the backup quarterback job, I find my confidence in the notion that the team will part ways with Cardale Jones wavering. I just can’t shake the feeling that Anthony Lynn’s personal relationship with the former Buckeye will influence the decision.

I mostly trust the team’s new processes in evaluating talent, I just feel like Lynn has worked overtime to find excuses for Cardale throughout camp, and I’m concerned that trend will continue. That combined with the fact that there isn’t really anyone at the back of the roster forcing their hand with Jones has me concerned the team will carry three quarterbacks despite having one of the most durable starters in the league.

Running back

The Chargers three-man depth chart is pretty well set with Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler and Detrez Newsome all having locked down roster spots; and the team is unlikely to carry four running backs. Or is it?

Seventh round pick Justin Jackson had a pretty uneventful preseason debut in San Francisco…right up until he showcased his vision, elusiveness and burst in setting up the game-winning field goal with a side-winding 16-yard run on the second to last play of the game.

While I don’t think Jackson did enough to earn the third spot on the running back depth chart after missing the majority of camp and the preseason, I do think the team faces a tough decision with potentially cutting Jackson. My hunch is he’d probably clear waivers considering he only saw seven preseason snaps, but the team might not be as confident about that as I am.

If they aren’t it wouldn’t shock me to see them carry four backs in the interest of protecting their rights to Jackson. And, when it comes right down to it, I’d rather keep four backs if it means parting ways with Cardale Jones.

Wide Receiver

Heading into Thursday’s game, I was convinced Geremy Davis and Artavis Scott had earned the fifth and sixth wide receiver spots on this team. While neither did anything from a performance stand point to cost themselves those spots, Artavis Scott injured his ankle in San Francisco and the team hasn’t released specifics as to the severity of the injury.

It’s hard to make an educated guess as to what will happen here without specifics on Scott’s injury, but there are a couple potential scenarios here. The first involves Scott being healthy and ready for week one, in which case he makes the roster. The second involves a long-term injury, in which case the team could carry him on the 53 and move him to the injured reserve over the next couple of days.

Then, there is the matter of Dylan Cantrell. Can the sneak him through waivers? Are they even inclined to try? My hope here is that Cantrell makes the team as the “seventh” wide receiver as a precursor to being placed on the injured reserve which, at least in my mind, makes far more sense than carrying three quarterbacks, and would give them some flexibility to make an addition elsewhere.

Linebacker

Going into the fourth preseason game, the assumption was Nick Dzubnar and Jatavis Brown were probably safe bets to make the team. While neither had played particularly well in the preseason, the team had already waived James Onwualu and undrafted free agent D’Juan Hines hadn’t really done anything to leapfrog the two more tenured players on the depth chart.

Then Hines showed out in San Francisco. The linebacker finished the game as the Chargers second-highest-graded linebacker according toProFootballFocus.com, earning a grade of 72.1 while recording six tackles, two run stops, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. He also earned the highest run-stop percentage of any Chargers linebacker (13.5) and finished the game with a perfect tackle efficiency rating.

Was it too little, too late; or did Hines do enough to earn a spot on the 53? Personally, I really like the rookie as a versatile depth piece in Gus Bradley’s defense; where his length, instincts and range can add a lot of value. I also think his sure-handed tackling makes him valuable on special teams. My guess is both Brown and Dzubnar are probably safe, but I suspect Nick’s spot on this team is a little more tenuous as the team decides whether or not Hines will clear waivers.

There you have it; quarterback, running back, wide receiver and linebacker are the four positions at which I think the team could throw a curveball or two at us as they trim their roster to 53. And keep in mind, that doesn’t include the two or three waiver wire additions I think they’ll probably make over the next 24-48 hours. Buckle up folks, it’s going to be an exciting day.