For the last few years, the Chargers have been synonymous with young and budding talent. The combination of Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry getting drafted in 2016, Austin Ekeler getting signed in 2017, and Derwin James dropping to the Bolts in 2018 have kept this team in the group of franchises with obvious potential in the coming years.
Most recently, the Bolts were ranked ninth in Football Outsiders’ latest list by Scott Spratt. In this edition of the rankings, they’ve dropped considerably thanks in part to a lot of those young players hitting that age-25 threshold. As of now, the only players on the Chargers considered to be “blue-chip talents” are now James and rookie Justin Herbert. Guys like Bosa, Henry, Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Desmond King are now over that age limit.
So, in 2020, the Chargers are sitting at 23rd. That’s quite the drop from this time last year but it was as inevitable as time itself.
“The Chargers have not enjoyed the same alignment between quarterback and roster as the team two spots above them in these rankings, the Saints, in recent season,” says Spratt. “Philip Rivers couldn’t pull a team full of younger stars-in-the-making including Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Joey Bosa over the hump the past few seasons. And now that those players have graduated into veteran status, rookie quarterback Justin Herbert might not be ready to take full advantage.”
Spratt’s right, unfortunately. Although while Herbert may not be ready to lead this team full of young talent, Tyrod Taylor could easily get the job done should he perform anywhere close to adequately. In a recent conference call over Zoom, Taylor said this team is easily the most-talented and experienced he’s ever played with, and that includes the 2016 team that led the league in rushing and the 2017 squad that won a playoff game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Spratt points to all the excellent additions they’ve made in recent years, starting with Derwin James back in 2018.
“While the Chargers have used money and trades to try to boost their pass protection, they’ve added some potential impact young defensive talent in the draft in recent seasons. Derwin James is the best of that bunch. A stress fracture in his foot limited him to five games in his sophomore season, but when he returned from injured reserve, James picked up where he left off in his rookie season with an 80% coverage success rate and 62% run stop rate. He is a linebacker as much as he is a free safety. And in 2020, he’ll have help from rangy first-round rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray — a likely Day 1 starter at middle linebacker — and former second-rounder Uchenna Nwosu, poised to start after two years of situational play and famous for his strip of Lamar Jackson in the Chargers’ 2018 playoff win over the Ravens.”
The defense is far-and-away the more complete side of the field in 2020. That’s the side of the ball that I expect to help them win more games than they lose. I’ve made this statement several times before but I’ll reiterate it again: this team has the chance to be the 2020 version of the ‘17 Jaguars, ‘18 Bears, and ‘19 Bills.
We’ve seen an elite defense carry sub-par offenses plenty of times before. The thing is, this offense is still much more talented than any of those listed teams. For this reason, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking this team can get back to the playoffs. I know it’s hard to imagine without Philip Rivers, but it’s not that far-fetched of an idea.