Ahead of this week’s draft, we’re going to take a look at both sides of the ball before the team gets an influx of young talent and potential.
I tend to talk way too much in these things, so we’re going to go with three-four parts with this. Today will be the skill positions, tomorrow will be the offensive line (because they’re special and deserve their own post), and then the defense the day of opening night.
Your time is important, so let’s just get right to it.
Quarterbacks (3): Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
After a record-setting rookie season, Herbert seems poised to join the rest of the NFL’s young, up-and-coming quarterbacks. After breaking numerous records, including the rookie marks for passing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and games with over 300 yards passing. The entire fan base will be hoping he avoids any sort of a sophomore slump as he looks to build on his 2020 performance that earned him the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year honor.
Highest passer rating under pressure in a season since 2015— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) April 25, 2021
('19) Drew Brees - 100.1
('20) Justin Herbert - 99.4
('15) Tom Brady - 97.1
('16) Tom Brady - 96.6 pic.twitter.com/IxpJBrdxCN
Following the Tyrod Taylor signing with the Texans, the Chargers went out and inked Daniel, a veteran journeyman who spent time with Joe Lombardi in New Orleans. He’s one of the better backups in the league and will provide a phenomenal guiding presence for Herbert as he traverses the team’s new offense that will likely have some similar principles as to what the Saints ran while Daniel was in N.O.
Stick was drafted in the fifth round back in 2019 with the idea that he’d bring a lot of intangibles to the quarterback room. He’s got underrated athletic ability but after they drafted Herbert last year, his ceiling, at least with the Chargers, will be limited to a backup role.
Running Backs (5): Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, Darius Bradwell, Gabe Nabers
Ekeler headlines this group as one of the best do-it-all backs in the entire league. If it wasn’t for a severe hamstring injury in Week 4, he likely would have had another career year alongside his rookie quarterback. Ek’s never been that much of a bell-cow when it comes to toting the rock and I don’t think the new offense will change that, but fans can still expect him to be the team’s top offensive weapon.
Austin Ekeler has a 94.0 receiving grade since 2018— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) April 26, 2021
1st among all NFL players pic.twitter.com/ZKv5FIH7Eo
Behind him are the oft-injured Jackson and 2020 fourth-rounder, Joshua Kelley. Jackson is good. We all know this. The problem is staying healthy. He has yet to survive a full season without ending up sidelined and but man, he’s as slippery as it gets when he gets in the zone. That comeback victory over Pittsburgh in 2018 is still so much fun to look back on. He’ll forever be a Charger we hoped had some better luck.
The Kelley pick is going to receive more scrutiny this season if he’s not able to take a step forward this season. After beginning 2020 with a bang against the Bengals, he quickly became one of the most-inefficient backs in the NFL. He’s a north-south runner which didn’t flow too well with the Chargers bottom-tier offensive line. Still, he’s a fan favorite for his infectious smile and upbeat personality.
Bradwell was infamously described as a “F-150” by Anthony Lynn during the latest season of “Hard Knocks.” He showed up overweight but worked his tail off to get back into playing shape prior to the season. He’s the biggest back on the team by far and offers some value as a practice squad stash.
Nabers offers the Chargers a versatile fullback/H-back who showed enough to contribute on offense by catching two short touchdowns and converting on at least one key fourth-down run. We’ll have to wait and see if his skillset fits into the new offense, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t if it’s at all a modern scheme.
Wide Receivers (8): Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, K.J. Hill, Joe Reed, Jason Moore, John Hurst
This group is headlined by Allen and Williams. Allen is a top route-runner in the NFL and Mike Williams can be argued as the league’s best at bringing down the 50/50 ball. Allen signed an extension prior to 2020 and Williams is currently playing on his fifth-year option. Each of them have their role on the team and both fill it extremely well. It’s hard to see Herbert having the year he did if it wasn’t for these two.
Happy 29th Birthday Keenan Allen!— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) April 27, 2021
Only 2 players have at least 400 rec and 4 pro bowl appearances since 2017:
DeAndre Hopkins pic.twitter.com/c7ojfty9kV
Guyton and Johnson combined to give the Chargers a real threat to burn defenses deep. They combined to record 48 catches for 909 yards and six touchdowns, including multiple scores of over 50 yards. The Bolts will hope the two can continue their obvious progression into the upcoming season.
Reed and Hill were both drafted last year in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. Reed was seen as the savior at kick returner and Hill was viewed as a massive steal out of Ohio State. Unfortunately, neither panned out all that much during their rookie campaigns. However, Reed did score a touchdown on a speed sweep out of the backfield and Hill did show some marked improvement by the end of the year. Both are still developmental players at this point.
Moore and Hurst make up the bottom of the depth chart for the wideouts. Moore was a former UDFA signed after the 2018 draft and has two career catches to his name. Hurst was with Washington before the Bolts signed him to their practice squad in hopes of developing him into a player who could reinforce their special teams.
Tight Ends (4): Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson, Matt Sokol
Cook was signed as a short-term replacement for Hunter Henry who is now with the Patriots. *shakes fist*
Even at his advanced age, he’s one of the better tight ends in the NFL that wins vertically and in the red zone. One of the stats I like to point to with Cook is that he’s recorded more touchdowns (23) since turning 30 than Henry has had thus far in his career (21). He’ll likely be a favorite target of Herbert inside the 20. He’s set to play a specific role in the offense in 2021 and I’m confident it will play a bigger part in the team’s success than most would think.
Parham caught only 10 passes in 2020 but took three of them for touchdowns. Each score was also well-earned, which speaks to Parham’s ability to come through when things get messy. He’s a true 6’8 and you can’t coach that. I’d like to think Parham could be poised for a breakout year, but Herbert’s propensity to spread the ball around likely means his ceiling will be limited.
Anderson did the most with his limited snaps and opportunities in 2020 and that earned him another shot with the Bolts. His high effort after the catch and in the run game are also two things he’s able to hang his hat on. I’m glad he ended up back in Los Angeles.
Lastly, Sokol was a former undrafted free agent who originally signed with the Chargers in 2019 before re-signing with the team in the middle of this last season. He’s a traditional Y-tight end that much more useful as a run blocker and doesn’t offer much in the way of catching the ball.