Year-in and year-out, the Chargers are always touted during the offseason as having one of the most-talented teams, on paper, in the NFL. Every year, from March to July, they’re brought up consistently in discussions of “which teams could surprise” or “who is your dark horse team this year?”
When this happens, it’s usually been a crapshoot after the fact. The Bolts were hyped every year from 2016-2019. Their records during that span were 4-12, 9-7, 12-4, and 5-11. If you want to compare it to a roller coaster, last season was the huge and dreaded “drop.”
While team expectations for the upcoming season are usually discussed using a mix of the objective and subjective, Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey went about things in a purely-objective manner, ranking each team’s roster simply by their cumulative PFF grades while highlighting each club’s strength, weakness, and x-factor.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the team’s secondary. Four former All-Pro players in one position group, nonetheless on a single defense, is awfully rare. With one on the back end, one on the outside, and two in the slots, that doesn’t leave an offense many chances to throw it around the field. Opposing quarterbacks will have to think twice, and maybe even thrice, before letting go of the football.
Here’s what Linsey had to say about the Bolts’ secondary:
“On paper, this is one of the league’s best secondaries. Casey Hayward Jr. and free-agent signing Chris Harris Jr. both made PFF’s All-Decade Team, and neither is showing signs of slowing down. Derwin James is also one of the most talented safeties in the NFL, capable of filling multiple roles on defense and doing them all well. The interesting question is what they do with Desmond King II — PFF’s highest-graded slot cornerback since 2017 — with Harris taking over inside.”
Even with all this star power, some doubters will still point to the down years that Harris Jr. and King both had in 2019. If anything, those are now causes for optimism as they’re likely to benefit from some positive regression. The entire team was -17 in the turnover differential last year, which was absolutely dreadful, but it means that the entire squad is also bound for a bounce-back season.
Just like with the Chargers’ biggest strength, their biggest weakness is just as apparent. Left tackle is far-and-away the most worrisome position yet solidified on the offense. The in-house options are less than ideal and there hasn’t been much in the way of hints about whether or not the team will spend the last bit of cap space they have on a veteran option.
“The Chargers showed a whole lot of confidence in their in-house options on the left side of the offensive line by not addressing the deficiencies in either free agency or the 2020 draft,” Linsey states. “At this point, Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins are probably the favorites to earn the left tackle job, but they finished 68th and 87th, respectively, in pressure rate allowed among 93 tackles with 100 or more pass-blocking snaps last season. Dan Feeney and Mike Pouncey — given recent play and injury risks — don’t stick out as great options at left guard or center, either.”
Linsey also brings up a harsh truth with Feeney and Pouncey. While the latter has been steady enough when healthy, last year’s injury is still a cause for concern. Neck injuries are very serious and just scary for both the player and the fans watching. The former has been the offensive linemen to show the most variance in his play over his first three seasons. In 2019 alone, Feeney received PFF’s highest, and lowest, single game grade by any Chargers offensive linemen. His rookie season back in 2017 was fairly steady, earning him a lot of hype as a long-term piece on this offensive line. Then the 2018 season happened. Despite the team’s overall success, Feeney ranked 80th out of 81 qualifying guards with a dismal 46.3 overall grade.
What will go down as Stephon Tuitt's last pressure of the 2019 season. Completely bullies Chargers tackle Sam Tevi before laying a shot on Philip Rivers. A one man wrecking crew at times, Tuitt will be missed. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/pAZTZksEee— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) October 15, 2019
If there’s any year to show he is worth the starting job, or that Forrest Lamp is the better option going forward, this is it.
The X-Factor for the Chargers, as it usually is for most teams, is the quarterback position. IN 2020, there isn’t just going to simply be a “new” quarterback, whoever plays is going to be a completely different style of signal-caller. Any type of pressure on the pocket this season won’t be immediately reacted to with sheer terror. These quarterbacks have legs and they are all adept at using them to make the most out of any situation, if given the need.
“The expectations for Tyrod Taylor — the presumed starter at quarterback to begin the season — are understandably low. When we most recently saw him as a starter he was crashing and burning in Cleveland. Taylor did have several seasons of success under Chargers coach Anthony Lynn in Buffalo, though, and from 2015 through 2017, his PFF grade of 82.3 ranked ninth among qualifying quarterbacks. This roster is talented enough that the Chargers could have success if Taylor plays to that level again. The plug could also be pulled quickly if Los Angeles gets off to a rough start with Justin Herbert waiting in the wings.”
The existing synergy between Taylor and Lynn will be what this offense leans on to begin the season. Fans should do the best they can to repress all memories of him playing with the Browns because that is not the Tyrod that this team is going to get. They’re going to get the quarterback who played well in garbage last season with the best-case scenario being his top-tier Buffalo years as Linsey noted on above.
Tyrod Taylor getting in some reps ⚡️— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) June 23, 2020
(via _brycefrance/IG) pic.twitter.com/i2KrWBCOXk
While this offense may not sling it around the field 30-35 times a game, it will still be nonetheless dynamic. I have a hutch that numerous players are going to get their hands on the ball in each game with big-time excitement constantly only one play away.