The LA Chargers wide receiver group was a big reason why they found so much success during their 12-4 2018 season. Keenan Allen did his thing — posting 100+ catches and 1,000+ yards — while Mike Williams showed he could be one of the top red zone targets in the league after catching 10 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. That was also the last season in which the Bolts had Tyrell Williams, whose long speed was practically game-breaking when he was able to get a step on a defender (who remembers the Cleveland Browns game that year?)
Without Tyrell in 2019, things just weren’t that wide open anymore. While Allen got his normal stats we come to expect, Williams had to rely on risky throws and his jump-ball skills to accumulate his first 1,000-yard season as a pro. There was no risk of a deep threat on the Chargers’ offense and it showed when the offensive line couldn’t hold up long enough to give Philip Rivers time in the pocket. Even without that threat once again in 2020, the Chargers wide receiver group still ranks among the top half of the league according to Pro Football Focus.
Senior analyst Steve Palazzolo has the Chargers receiver group ranked 13th in the league, just behind the Philadelphia Eagles and one spot ahead of the Seattle Seahawks.
“The Chargers have a good pairing at the top of the depth chart in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but the big question for this group is who will emerge as the No. 3 option,” says Palazzolo. “Allen is one of the best route runners in the league — he’s been open on 58.6% of his single coverage targets over the last three years, good for 15th out of 62 qualifiers. Allen is slick at the line of scrimmage and at the top of the route, and he does his best work at the intermediate (10-19 yard) level, where his 601 yards ranked fourth in the league last season.”
“Williams does not separate nearly as well as Allen, but he’s great at the catch point and tied for seventh with a contested-catch percentage of 50% over the last three seasons. His 471 yards on deep (20-plus yard) throws ranked fifth in the league a year ago.”
Palazzolo loves the duo of Allen and Williams, but it is players who make up the rest of the group that give him pause. In 2019, the third wide receiver, former undrafted free agent Andre Patton, finished seventh on the team in catches and eighth in yards. That’s not good for a team’s supposed third option.
“Beyond Allen and Williams, it’s a wide-open competition for the No. 3 spot. Fifth-round pick Joe Reed is a project as a route runner, but he’s dynamic with the ball in his hands. Seventh-round pick K.J. Hill is the opposite, as he has excellent separation skills on underneath routes, though he’s a mediocre athlete for the position. The rest of the Chargers depth chart has combined for 33 career receptions and the No. 3 spot is one of the Chargers’ biggest question marks heading into the season.”
Will either of the two rookies standout amongst the rest of the competition? Palazzolo and I agree on how fans should view Reed and Hill as players right now. Reed is not a crisp route-runner at the moment but he’s tough at the catch point and knows how to make the first tackler miss on a consistent basis. Hill is on the other side of the spectrum as an athlete and makes his money by knowing how to set up defenders to create separation, all while possessing less-than-ideal athleticism for an NFL wide receiver.
Some of the other lesser-known guys on the roster include former Division II UDFA Jason Moore, Jalen Guyton, and Tyron Johnson. Moore was a touchdown machine at Findlay University in Ohio (39 scores), Guyton possesses real sub-4.4 speed, and Johnson is a former five-star recruit who played his college ball at LSU and Oklahoma State. Moore is the only one of the three who caught a pass in 2019 and could easily be in the discussion for one of the Chargers’ last spots on the active roster.
With a new quarterback under center in 2020, I don’t think this group will have a chance to see reach their full potential due to a huge regression in pass attempts on the horizon. This team is going to run it a lot more without Rivers and that doesn’t bode well for anyone aside from Allen and Williams. We won’t know what this offense will truly look like until camp begins, but it’s safe to say there may be a bit of a monopoly on targets this season.