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Chargers position battles: Plenty of inexperience vying for WR3

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Patton has an uphill battle against two rookies for meaningful snaps.

NFL: DEC 22 Raiders at Chargers Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, I guess it’s high-time to start digging into these position battles that’ll be taking place - hopefully - in a training camp later this year.

First up, we might as well tackle what should be the most exciting of them all: the third wide receiver spot.

Who is in the competition:

  • Andre Patton
  • Joe Reed (R)
  • K.J. Hill (R)

Longshots

  • Jalen Guyton
  • Jason Moore
  • Darius Jennings

Last season, the Chargers had a plethora of receiving options for Philip Rivers. In fact, almost too many, if that can be a real thing. If you check out the receiving stats from 2019, you’d have to go all the way down to the team’s seventh-leading receiver to find the third wideout that year, which was Patton. In front of him were the team’s top two receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the top two running backs in Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, and the team’s top tight ends, Hunter Henry and Virgil Green.

Usually there may be a running back or tight above you WR3, but never multiple players at those position. At one point, Rivers did not complete a pass to a receiver not named Allen or Williams for five-straight weeks. When asked about that fact, general manager Tom Telesco said it wasn’t anything to worry about due to the number of playmakers at other positions.

Well, if your third wideout is falling behind your second running back and tight end, it probably means your offense is getting downfield as much as it could. On average, your backs and tight ends aren’t running downfield as much as a third wideout would on a per-route basis. And if we’re being honest, the Chargers lacked that downfield presence which was once filled by Tyrell Williams from 2016-2018. Without him, the Chargers saw a drop in points from 26.8 (6th) in ‘18 to 21.1 (21st) this past season.When you look at total offensive yards per outing, they only lost about five yards from year to year but that picture painted by the numbers tells us the team struggled in the red zone.

If you go throw on the film, that was certainly the case. A deep threat like Tyrell and his handful of explosive touchdown catches he always chipped in did wonders for the team’s points total and it allowed the offense to not always rely on methodically moving the ball down the field on a consistent basis.

While the Chargers drafted some speed in this year’s draft, it’s not the exactly the same. They have some big-bodied wideouts to join this year’s rookie class so, in the end, whichever style of offense this team wants to run in 2020 will go a long way in decided which receivers see more time than others.

So after all of that, let’s take this player by player as I give my thoughts on their chances of winning the team’s third wideout job.

Andre Patton

Year w/ team: 4th
Career Statistics: 6-56-0

Patton came to the Chargers as a former undrafted free agent out of Rutgers back in 2017. He spent the first two seasons of his career on the practice squad for the Bolts before playing in all 16 games in 2019 with five starts. His 56 receiving yards were seventh-best on the team while his six catches were good for eighth.

At 6’2 and 200 pounds, Patton has ideal size but production has never been something he had going all the way back to college. While at Rutgers, his career-highs were 34 catches as a junior and 460 yards as a senior.

While some may think he has the inside track due to him being the incumbent, I think his chances are quite a bit lower than the two rookies the team just drafted.

Joe Reed

Year w/ team: Rookie
Career Statistic: N/A

Reed was the Chargers’ fifth-round selection in the 2020 draft out of the University of Virginia. While he wasn’t the most-productive player from a pure receiving standpoint (1,465 yards in 47 career games), he was far-and-away one of the best at returning kicks throughout his time at UVA. In fact, Reed became the first player in FBS history to finish his career with over 3,000 yards on kick returns. As a senior in 2019, he finished with a ridiculous 33.2 yards per return, as well.

With a 4.47 forty, Reed is one of the fastest receivers on the team which should serve a purpose in an offense devoid of guys who can get over the top of defenses. Reed wins through the catch-point with physicality and strong hands. He’s not afraid to go get the ball in the air with his 220-pound frame packed tightly on a 6’ frame. Reed will see touches no matter what with the Chargers due to his versatility in being able to tote the rock on occasion.

If the Chargers prefer his modern skill-set over those with more traditional ones, than I’d expect to see a lot of Reed in 2020. This is also on top of him likely winning kick return duties from the very beginning.

K.J. Hill

Years w/ team: Rookie
Career Statistics: N/A

The selection of Hill in the seventh round of the 2020 draft was met with raucous applause and cheers from the fan base. Hill was a big riser during the draft season after impressing at the Senior Bowl following a career in Columbus that saw him become the school’s all-time leader in receptions. He ended his Buckeye career with 201 catches for 2,332 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Without elite athletic talent (4.60 40), Hill still found a way to get open time and time again. To no one’s surprise, Hill mentioned following his drafting by the team that he watched a lot of film on Keenan Allen while at OSU. You can see it in the way he sets up defenders and times his a breaks perfectly. From the very jump, you can see how Hill wins and that type of skill-set tends to transition very smoothly to the professional level.

I think Hill has one of, if not, the best chance of winning the third wideout spot due to his consistency and reliability for whoever has the chance to throw him the ball. While I think Reed challenges him the most, he’ll will have more special teams duties and there’s a small chance the staff doesn’t want to put so much on his plate in year one.

It’s just so hard not to watch Hill play and think he’s going to become a quarterback’s best friend.

Jalen Guyton

Years w/ team: 1
Career Statistics: N/A

The first of our longshots, Guyton played in three game for the Chargers in 2019 but registered zero catches. At 6’1 and 212 pounds, Guyton has good size to go along with blazing speed. At his pro day a year ago, he was supposedly timed at 4.35, which would make him the fastest player on the Chargers’ offense.

In his final two years at North Texas, Guyton caught 103 passes for 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns. At a smaller school like UNT, those are pretty good numbers to be fair. That speed is also really intriguing but he didn’t do himself any favors when he lost track of a ball on one of his limited snaps last year. He got behind the defense but couldn’t track it well enough to earn more snaps. His performance in training camp will be an interesting one to monitor.

Jason Moore

Years w/ team: 1
Career Statistics: 2-43-0

Moore wasn’t initially kept by the team as a UDFA at the start of the season but found himself on the active roster by week six. He went on to play in the final 10 games of the year but caught just a pair of passes for 43 yards.

A graduate of Findlay University in Ohio, Moore was a touchdown machine at the Div. II level. The 6’2, 215-pound Moore ended his college career with 39 touchdowns and over 3,000 receiving yards. He was basically productive as soon as he stepped on campus and there’s something to be said for how well he got acclimated to the competition before utterly dominating it. While he won’t win with his size and physicality in the NFL, at least not right away, he has all the tools you would want in a developmental player at the position.

He’s a longshot, but the fact he was able to perform on the active roster in some capacity last year bodes well for his chances to stick around for another year.

Darius Jennings

Years w/ team: 0
Career statistics: 27-235-0

Jennings was signed by the Chargers earlier this year after he spent the last two seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Up to this point, Jennings has mostly been utilized as a kick returner than a wide receiver. He averaged 28.8 yards per return with the Titans and had his first kick return touchdown back on 2018.

I’m not entirely sure if Jennings even makes the team in 2020, but his job will be to push for a return gig after Desmond King struggled mightily in his third-season. Those duties will likely be between him and fellow Virginia alumnus Joe Reed.

As far as the actual WR3 job, I think he has the worst chance of everyone on this chance. At 5’10 and 180 pounds, he simply doesn’t move the needle in any notable direction.

In the end, this list is almost completely devoid of production and full of inexperience. Someone is going to have to step up. But in the event the team leans heavily on two-running back sets, then maybe fans will have to settle in for another year without a prominent third wideout making much of an impact.