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Surge or Static: End of the Year Edition

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Just like the new year we all just burst into, hindsight is 20/20.

In hindsight, this year looked pretty good.

In hindsight, this team seemed like it had a chance.

In hindsight, we were all pretty wrong.

The great Matthew Berry of ESPN Fantasy Football once talked about making decisions for the greater good of your (fantasy) team based on what is MOST LIKELY to happen in the future based on what has already happened in the past.

In 2018, two tight ends set NFL season records: George Kittle of the 49ers set the all-time single-season receiving record while Eagles tight end Zach Ertz set the all-time single-season record for receptions. In 2019, were the chances better for them to have a repeat performance or would they likely regress in some fashion?

Across the 2015 and 2016 season, the Chargers went 9-23. Those seasons and the team itself were ravaged by injuries across the board while Rivers threw a career-high 21 interceptions in ’16. When the team went 9-7 in 2017 and followed that up with a 12-4 run to the second round of the playoffs. The injury-bug finally decided to stay in its’ little hole (aside from Hunter Henry) and the Chargers had their best record since they went 13-3 in 2009.

Fast-forward to the start of this season and the signs were all there for a regression.

Russell Okung had his pulmonary embolism, Derwin James bent a screw that was already in his foot, and Henry missed some more time after suffering tibia plateau fracture against the Colts in Week 1. Notto mention Denzel Perryman was still nursing an injury from the previous season and Melvin Gordon was holding out for an irrational amount of money.

Before the regular season began, this season’s chance of success had already taken a huge blow.

So in hindsight, the cards were stacked against the Chargers before they even had a chance to take the field.

But even in a season that most are considering “a wash”, the Chargers managed to find some success, albeit on more of an individual level over a team effort. And as you all could probably guess, they’re your leading candidates for my final edition of Surge or Static.

Happy News Years, Chargers fans. May 2020 be filled with smart team transactions and a lack of losses by a touchdown. Let’s get into it.

Surge

WR Keenan Allen

For the third straight season, Allen finished with over 1,000 receiving yards and notched 100+ catches for the second time in the last three seasons. He finished one yard shy of 1,200 yards and also hit that six touchdown mark for the third-straight season, which is weirdly consistent at this point.

He started 2019 off with a bang, scoring three touchdowns in their first three contests and averaging 9.34 catches on 14 targets per game. His 104 catches also set a new mark for catches in a season by a Chargers player.

After suffering a season-ending injury in back-to-back seasons, the fact that Allen has been able to bounce back and produce at this level for the last three years is an absolute God-send for Chargers fans who are desperate from some stability.

The 2020 season will be Allen’s Age 28 season and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down in the slightest. Whomever it may be behind center this coming season, don’t expect it to affect Allen’s stat line all that much.

RB Austin Ekeler

Ekeler went from an undrafted free agent out of Division II Western State to leading his team in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns by the end of his third season. He finished with 557 yards rushing (a career-high) and fell just three yards short of 1,000 receiving while accumulating 11 total touchdowns.

He has filled in at the “Danny Woodhead role” which has always been widely popular when the Chargers are losing more often than not. Rivers LOVES to checkdown to his running backs and with the season they just had, it’s no wonder Ekeler was third on the team in receiving yards, second in catches, and first in touchdowns.

Looking forward to 2020, there’s a chance that Ekeler gets the nod as the Chargers starting running back after the team lets Melvin Gordon walk in free agency, which would be the right decision 10 times out of 10.

Regardless of the chance that Rivers returns in 2020, Ekeler is the perfect complement to how Rivers likes to play while also being a rookie quarterback’s best friend.

DE Joey Bosa

Bosa has been a star ever since he stepped foot in the NFL. As a rookie in 2016, Bosa took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after collecting 11.5 sacks after missing the first four games due to a hamstring injury.

In his first full season as a starter in 2017, Bosa notched a career-high in tackles and sacks with 70 and 12.5, respectively. This past season, Bosa stepped his game up to a whole new level.

He finished second on the team with 67 total tackles and another 11.5 quarterback takedowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Bosa finished with a near-elite 89.6 defensive grade while leading the league in run stops and collecting the second-most tackles for a defensive end.

Without even having to look at the box score, Bosa’s improvement in the run game was obvious from the start of the season. Game after game, inevitably, Bosa wound-up in the opponent’s backfield. Following the team’s first loss to the Denver Broncos, a dejected Bosa was asked how the team will respond after such a performance. To sum it up short and sweet, Bosa said he was bummed about it but “we’ll see who shows up on Monday ready and motivated”.

The former first-round pick didn’t just take a step forward with his on-field performance; he also took a needed leap forward as a leader on this defense.

Expect the Chargers to roll out the Brincks truck to keep the Big Bear in Los Angeles for the forseeable future.

Static

LB Thomas Davis

What was supposed to be the Chargers biggest acquisition in the free agency period ended up being one of the biggest disappointments in a season full of them. Davis was supposed to be one of the final pieces to put this defense over the top. He was expected to be a veteran presence that would bring some sense of pride to the linebacker group while shoring up the middle of the defense that’s known for being shaky against the run.

Davis did lead the Chargers in tackles with 112 as the lone defender left from the 2005 NFL Draft class and that in itself is impressive. But total tackles can be misleading. There’s a difference between someone like Bobby Wagner shutting down opposing offenses and Davis cleaning up tackles that was already 10 yards down the field. He has also had a knack for missing tackles and finding himself just a step behind in crucial moments.

Look, Davis is a great person. He has been a phenomenal football player for the majority of his career, but I think the Chargers got him just a bit too late. I mean, I think it was only about three or four weeks into the season and the majority of Chargers fans were calling for Drue Tranquill to start over Davis. That’s definitely not what you want.

In all likelihood, Davis is likely not with the team in 2020 as they’ve found some young blood to lead the defense and any money going to Davis is probably better off being redirected to Joey Bosa’s next contract.

QB Philip Rivers

What can we say about this one.

Rivers had one of the worst seasons of his career right after a top-3 statistical season. The team’s 5-11 record matches their second-worst mark in his 16-year career while his 20 interceptions are also tied for his second-most thrown in a single season.

From the very beginning of the year, it was obvious that Rivers missed Tyrell Williams as a reliable third wide receiver behind Mike and Keenan. Opposing defenses needed to respect his speed and that definitely opened things up for the rest of the weapons on offense. Without Tyrell, the Chargers offense lacked any game-breaking speed and it made it lightyears easier for defenses to scheme around a possession receiver and a big-bodied red zone threat.

In fact, there was a period during the middle of the year that Rivers didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver not named Allen or Williams for roughly five weeks. If that doesn’t scream “the team needs a third wideout” then I don’t know what does. Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen adjusted during the final stretch of the season by putting Austin Ekeler out wide with Melvin Gordon in the backfield and maximizing his playmaking ability. I’m not sure this is a strategy the team will continue with into 2020 but it also wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world based on its’ success.

An obviously emotional Rivers took the podium following the season finale in Arrowhead Stadium and essentially wore his heart on his sleeve until he spoke his last word. He wants to play, and I believe he can play, but the Chargers NEED to make the necessary additions to benefit Rivers and where he is at in his career. The lack of offensive line had a hand in his regression. A lack of a third wideout had a hand. So did the OC forcing the ball into Gordon’s hands as soon as he rejoined the team.

Rivers can still play in the NFL. But he needs the right team. Is the right team the Los Angeles Chargers? At this point, I don’t think it is.

S Rayshawn Jenkins

Reviews on Jenkins play in 2019 have been mixed from the very start. Those who preach off the box score will be the first to tell you he led the team in interceptions with three. Those who watched with their eyes would retort that he gave up way more plays in coverage than he ever made.

Remember, Jenkins was likely not going to be the starter with the team having just drafted Nasir Adderley in the second round of last year’s NFL Draft. Adderley failed to record a snap in the regular season when he re-injured his hamstring before week one. We recently found out he had actually been diagnosed with a “hamstring split” which….sounds painful. No wonder he didn’t play through the injury.

Next year, Jenkins will still play on this team but I can’t see the coaching staff being comfortable throwing him back out there at free safety if Adderley comes back full healthy. The former Delaware product is a former cornerback and transitioned with incredible ease to safety. He recorded 13 interceptions in college and the Chargers urgently need that type of player injected into their secondary. After all, the Chargers ended up tied for dead last in takeaways in 2019.

This season was the best-case scenario for Jenkins and likely the luckiest he will get from now on.