It’s early July and we aren’t even sure if there will be a season or not yet but as things stand, it would be fair to say that the Kansas City Chiefs are favored to win the AFC West. There is also optimism in Denver, where the Broncos went 4-1 in the final five games under Drew Lock and continue to have an above-average defense. And the Raiders are now in Las Vegas with a new stadium, lots of new faces on D, and an elite o-line.
Will that leave the LA Chargers in fourth place again?
Well, I think there’s also plenty to like about the Chargers and their reasons for a rebound. Philip Rivers has departed but Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Kenneth Murray, Justin Herbert, Chris Harris, and Linval Joseph have arrived. Mike Pouncey, Forrest Lamp, Hunter Henry, and Derwin James would all like to prove that they’re healthy and ready to go. The roster, also featuring Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, Casey Hayward, and someone I’m leaving out that you’re pissed off about me not mentioning, is anything but talentless.
Yet LA finishing in fourth place as they give the reins to Tyrod Taylor or Herbert is not a stretch either.
Would swapping out a single player on offense do much to move the needle for the Chargers to get into the conversation for second or even first place in the division? There is one obvious answer to “Yes” for most people but how much weight should we place into the upgrade — if any — to some of the other offensive positions?
QB - Patrick Mahomes over Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert
The 2018 MVP and 2019 Super Bowl winner just signed a $503 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. I wouldn’t consider swapping Taylor or Herbert for Derek Carr or Drew Lock right now but Mahomes is an easy answer. Even with the new contract as only $63 million is fully guaranteed and Mahomes is worth any risk.
Do the Chargers have as many attractive weapons as Kansas City? Right now many people around the country would probably say “No” but Keenan Allen as compared to Tyreek Hill? Mike Williams as compared to Sammy Watkins? Hunter Henry as compared to Travis Kelce?
What would Mahomes do for the reputations of those players and his new offensive line? I could see this upgrade being worth enough wins to make LA a Super Bowl contender right away.
RB - Josh Jacobs over Justin Jackson
Austin Ekeler is something different so that’s not really the choice here for me. If the Chargers are looking for a RUNNING back, they might choose Jacobs over rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Phillip Lindsay. (And obviously over Denver’s Melvin Gordon.)
Jacobs had 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie last season. Would he continue to improve behind LA’s offensive line instead of the Raiders’?
This might help the Chargers with a win somewhere along the line, I don’t see a major impact.
WR - Tyreek Hill or Courtland Sutton over Mike Williams
This year, the division has added Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Bryan Edwards through the draft. Williams and Keenan Allen are both free agents in 2021 but that’s beside the point of this article. What if you could swap out Williams for a unique talent like Hill for one season? How much would that help Taylor or Herbert?
Or maybe you prefer Sutton, who looked like a star in the making with Lock last season. Or perhaps Ruggs or Jeudy if you’re risky. This carries about the same value to me as Jacobs over Jackson.
TE - Travis Kelce over Hunter Henry
Long-term maybe your answer is Henry because he’s five years younger than Kelce, but Kelce is only 30 and he’s got so many advantages right now over Henry. Henry missed all of 2018 and four games in 2019. Kelce has sat out one game in the last six years. He’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five and All-Pro in two of the last four. Henry is good but if the Chargers had one Travis Kelce-like season at tight end what would that do for the offense?
I’d bump this to being more valuable than swaps at either running back or receiver and that’s even with admiration for what Henry brings.
LT - Eric Fisher or Kolton Miller over Sam Tevi
Let’s say for now that Bryan Bulaga stays on the right side and left tackle remains an issue for LA. Even if Miller’s not been perfect, I imagine that him or perhaps even Garrett Bolles in Denver would be considerable upgrades. At least as far as we can see here in July.
Nobody in the division is seen as a premier left tackle but Fisher is a former number one pick, a Pro Bowler in 2018, and then he missed half of 2019. He’s probably the best in the division right now and putting him on the Chargers o-line could potentially help with a win. Maybe two?
LG - Richie Incognito over Dan Feeney
Regardless of who you have starting for LA, we know that the Chargers wouldn’t turn away a perennial Pro Bowl and All-Pro candidate at guard. Maybe they would turn away INCOGNITO specifically but from a talent perspective, he’s fantastic. There’s not a lot here in the division honestly and I can’t put a full win on an upgrade at left guard.
C - Rodney Hudson over not-Mike Pouncey
If Pouncey is healthy then maybe stick with him, he’s that good. But let’s not overlook the fact that Rodney Hudson might actually be building a HALL OF FAME case. He’s PFF’s top graded pass blocking center in each of the last five years. He’s given up two sacks in the last four years. I tend to think centers are way more important than most other people do and if LA goes to a backup center again ... The difference between that player and Hudson could actually be 2-3 wins.
I don’t say that for shock value but I think shoring up the center position would do a lot for Herbert.
RG - Gabe Jackson over Trai Turner
Nah, we don’t have to do this one. Turner is maybe the best right guard in the division.
RT - Trent Brown over Bryan Bulaga
Consider how much the league has changed in the last five years that now right tackles are sometimes paid like left tackles. Brown, Bulaga, Lane Johnson. It’s not just about “blind side protection” any more.
That being said, Brown over Bulaga isn’t much of a difference. If you got Brown and put him at left tackle, that’s a story for a different article.