FanPost

2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts - After Preseason Game #1

This is my sixth fan post about the 2021 Chargers. Previous posts:

  1. 2021 Chargers Thoughts at 2020 Midseason, posted on November 14, 2020
  2. 2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts, posted on January 31, 2021
  3. 2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts - 1 Week into Free Agency, posted on March 20, 2021
  4. 2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts - Prior to 2021 Draft, posted on April 17, 2021
  5. 2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts - Post Draft, posted on May 2, 2021

I'm going to change up my normal approach and start by moving through the position groups. I listened to Garrett and Jamie in this week's Lightning Round podcast, and I will compare my takes to theirs here. Let's get to it.

Quarterbacks (2)

This position group is very simple to me:

  1. QB1 Justin Herbert
  2. QB2 Chase Daniel

That's it. It's time for the Chargers to stop carrying Stick as the 3rd QB on the active roster.

There is no question in my mind that Daniel is the #2 QB, with no threat of Stick taking that job from him. Daniel is a veteran with real NFL game experience; he has won NFL games both in relief and as a starter. He also has experience in and knows the new Chargers offense and can act as a veteran mentor for Herbert. Stick doesn't offer any of that.

The new CBA allows 2 practice squad players to be activated every week, meaning teams can keep a QB on the practice squad and activate him on gameday if necessary. So there really is no reason for the Chargers to keep a 3rd QB on its 53 man roster unless seeking to avoid the risk that another team would sign him off its practice squad. In Stick's case, there is no reason to believe another team would do that.

It was a poor decision to draft Stick in 2019; he was a reach who was very unlikely to become the Chargers QB of the future and thus very unlikely to ever return value on the pick. He is small by NFL QB standards, and his small school pedigree and skillset does not provide any objective basis to believe he can ever be a NFL starter-caliber QB. I'm okay with him on the practice squad, but I think it is time for the team to move on.

In my post after the draft, I assumed the Chargers would keep Stick even though I did not think they should. I now think the Chargers will do the smart thing and release him.

Runningbacks / Fullback (4)

I think the proper roster construction is to allocate 4 roster spots to RB/FB. I think these should be the 4 if all are healthy:

  1. RB1 Austin Ekeler
  2. RB2 Justin Jackson
  3. RB3/4 Josh Kelley
  4. RB3/4 Larry Rountree

I read in Popper's report on the first preseason game that Jackson left the game with a groin injury. If that turns out to be serious, that changes things. For now, I'm going to assume it isn't serious and he holds his position as RB2.

I should also note that Darius Bradwell is competing for a spot, and he played well in preseason game #1. I just don't see how he can overtake Kelley or Rountree.

So I'm assuming Nabers will not make the final roster. That is definitely not a certainty, but here is my rationale.

  • I show below that I'm expecting 4 TEs to make it, including both McKitty and Anderson, who both seem capable of playing snaps at H-back, which could mitigate the need for a fullback. Nabers only played 130 snaps on offense last season; that level of snaps could seemingly easily be handled by Anderson and/or McKitty.
  • Nabers didn't play very well in those 130 offensive snaps. His PFF grade on offense (56.8) ranked #29 out of 39 Chargers players PFF graded on offense.
    • Of the 10 players with worse grades, 4 are gone (Tevi, Lamp, Feeney, Turner); 3 shouldn't make the final roster (KJ Hill, Jason Moore, Stick), and at least 2 others I predict will make it are on the bubble competing for spots (Guyton, St. Louis).
    • Nabers was even worse at run blocking, which would seem to be a primary reason to roster a fullback. His grade (50.4) ranked #30 out of 37 Chargers players graded for run blocking in 2020.
  • Nabers also didn't play well on special teams, though he did play a lot of special teams snaps. PFF graded 61 Chargers players on special teams last season. Their special teams grade for Nabers ranked him #51 among that group. Per PFF, Nabers had 5 special teams tackles last season, but had 0 assists, 2 missed tackles, and 2 penalties... pretty underwhelming.
  • Keeping Nabers would seemingly imply cutting one of the other RBs. It would absolutely shock me if Rountree is healthy and gets cut. Telesco has drafted 9 6th round picks prior to the 2021 draft. 7 of those players made the final roster as rookies; Cantrell did not but was hurt; Marion Grice was the other. If Grice wasn't hurt, he was the only one who was healthy and didn't make it, and that was all the way back in 2014. In addition, this year's draft was the first with the new coaching staff. Hard for me to believe one of "their guys" (if healthy) would get cut for one of the previous staff's bubble guys like Nabers or Kelley without ever playing a regular season snap. I suppose Kelley or Jackson would be the likely odd man out if the staff chooses to keep Nabers.

Garrett and Jamie were split on this. One expected Rountree to be released, the other expected it to be Nabers. (I don't remember which was which.)

This is the same prediction I made after the draft.

Wide Receivers (6)

This is a really strong group, and there is a strong competition in progress for the last couple of spots. I predict these 6 will make the final roster, same as I predicted after the draft:

  1. WR1 Keenan Allen
  2. WR2 Mike Williams
  3. WR3/4/5 Tyron Johnson
  4. WR3/4/5 Josh Palmer
  5. WR3/4/5 Jalen Guyton
  6. WR6 Joe Reed

I don't think there is much controvery over my first 5, though I suppose technically Guyton needs to earn his spot. However, I don't have much confidence in my Reed prediction.

Garrett and Jamie both predicted that Proehl will get that last spot, and at least part of their justification was that he could then be the team's #1 punt returner. Here is my rationale for Reed over Proehl:

  • The Chargers are Proehl's 5th team since he was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft. He has yet to play a regular season snap. That is a rare situation for a player to emerge from to become a contributor.
  • This would also mean giving up on 2020 5th round pick Joe Reed and 2020 7th round pick KJ Hill. Well, maybe not "giving up," since one or both could make the practice squad. It seems that they have no choice about moving on from at least one of them, and IMO that should be Hill, not Reed. The question to ask here is, what does the 6th WR offer that is unique or compelling? Hill doesn't really offer anything compelling, whereas Reed offers interesting versatility as a RB/WR hybrid, gadget player, and possibly as a returner. Remember, he was an elite returner in college, even though he didn't show that last season.
  • Telesco has managed 8 drafts so far, and we have seen the first 2 seasons play out for the first 6 groups of his draft picks. Among them, Joshua Perry is the only player drafted by Telesco within the first 5 rounds who did not make the Chargers roster in both the first and second seasons after being drafted, and Perry was waived-injured; not sure if that was a ploy or if he truly didn't make it due to injury, but he actually played reasonably well as a 4th round rookie. (Tuerk didn't play any snaps but did technically make the roster in both his first two seasons after being drafted.) So it would be pretty uncharacteristic of Telesco to admit that the Reed pick was a bad one by moving on from him this soon. I suppose the coaching staff changeover could make this situation different.

Interestingly, in Daniel Popper's article on 11 storylines to watch in the Chargers’ preseason opener vs. the Rams, he said:

Then there is the battle for a possible sixth WR spot between Jason Moore, K.J. Hill and Joe Reed.

No mention of Proehl at all.

Tight Ends (4)

It is obvious that these guys will make the final roster:

  1. Jared Cook
  2. Donald Parham
  3. Tre McKitty

The only question is whether or not Stephen Anderson will make it as a 4th TE. I think he will. I think this roster spot could reasonably be viewed as TE Anderson vs. FB Nabers. I discussed Nabers above, so here is my take on Anderson.

FWIW, consider Anderson's PFF grades for last season on offense:

  • Overall (87.0) on 139 snaps
    • #1 on Chargers out of 39 players graded on offense
    • #4 in NFL out of 137 TEs graded on offense
  • Receiving (87.0) on 54 snaps
    • #1 on Chargers out of 16 players graded for receiving
    • #6 in NFL out of 125 TEs graded for receiving
  • Run blocking (71.8) on 68 snaps
    • #2 on Chargers out of 37 players graded for run blocking
    • #14 in NFL out of 137 TEs graded for run blocking
  • Pass blocking (67.8) on 17 snaps
    • #6 on Chargers out of 27 players graded for pass blocking
    • #53 in NFL out of 129 TEs graded for pass blocking

Anderson's special teams grade (76.1) was #6 on the Chargers out of 61 graded players, and he played 298 ST snaps, which was the most on the team.

  • For context on those snaps, Facyson was next with 280, Nabers was next with 264, and Jeffferson was 4th with 232, so Anderson really played a lot of snaps.
  • Anderson played snaps on 5 of 6 units - he played on kickoff returns, kickoff coverage, punt returns, punt coverage, and field goal kicks, and he was in the top 10 in snaps on all of those units. The only ST unit he did not play on was field goal blocks.

These grades on offense and special teams are much better than his PFF grades in Houston in 2016-2017, the only other two seasons in which he played meaningful NFL snaps. So hard to know if it is:

  • An aberration somewhat helped by a low sample size of snaps,
  • Reflective of better coaching (but on Lynn's staff?!?),
  • Reflective of his growth as a player since 2017, or
  • Some combination of these factors, which seems most likely

I made the same prediction that these 4 would make the final roster after the draft.

Offensive Linemen (10)

IMO the only question with this group is whether the team will keep 9 or 10 offensive linemen. At this time, these guys seem like roster locks:

  1. LT Rashawn Slater
  2. LG Matt Feiler
  3. C Ryan Linsley
  4. RG Oday Aboushi
  5. RT Bryan Bulaga
  6. T/G Storm Norton
  7. C/G Scott Quessenberry
  8. G/T Brenden Jaimes
  9. T Trey Pipkins

At this time, I think Tyree St. Louis would be the 10th if they keep that many. For now, I assume they will keep 10 and St. Louis will make it, but he might be roster spot 53. This the same as I predicted after the draft.

However, I say "at this time," because I think it is at least possible the team will pick up one or two OL released by other teams. If that happens, St. Louis or possibly Pipkins could be out, depending on whether they add a tackle or interior OL. I would be very happy if the team was able to upgrade one or both of those guys.

Defensive Linemen (10)

In my post after the draft, I wasn't sure how to categorize these players properly given Staley's intent to move to a 3-4 but also vary the fronts often. I ended up mixing Edge rushers between the DL and LB groups. This time, I'm going to keep the Edge rushers with the DL, but I'm not going to attempt to separate DL into DT vs. DE. These guys are locks to make the final roster:

  1. Edge Joey Bosa
  2. Edge Uchenna Nwosu
  3. Edge Kyler Fackrell
  4. Edge Chris Rumph
  5. DT Linval Joseph
  6. DL Jerry Tillery
  7. DL Justin Jones

There are a number of others in competition for perhaps up to 3 additional spots, including:

  1. DL Christian Covington
  2. DL Joe Gaziano
  3. DT Breiden Fehoko
  4. DT Cortez Broughton
  5. Edge Jessie Lemonier
  6. Edge Emeke Egbule

Garrett and Jaime predicted Covington, Gaziano, and Egbule will make it. Covington is a veteran, entering his 7th season having played 2,155 DL snaps. I agree that he should make it, since the other 5 guys on my second list here all lack experience. The other positions are less certain, but both Gaziano and Fehoko made some impact plays in preseason game #1, and I'm going to assume both make it, leaving Broughton, Lemonier, and Egbule as cuts.

In my post after the draft, I identified the same group of 7 as in my first list above, but no other DL. However, I noted that I thought the team needed 1-2 more and stated my hope that the team would bring in 1-2 veterans. That post was before the team signed Covington, so that fits. I think this is a position group for which the team could still potentially sign an external free agent, which could bump Gaziano or Fehoko off the roster.

Linebackers (5)

This position group has 4 locks:

  1. Kenneth Murray
  2. Drue Tranquill
  3. Kyzir White
  4. Nick Niemann

This is the same group I identified in my post after the draft. It appears there is one more LB who seems likely to make it -- Amen Ogbongbemiga. He didn't have a great game in preseason game #1, as he was beaten for a TD and also called for a hold. I think he would have to play himself out of a roster spot at this point, so I assume he is in.

Cornerbacks (5)

This position group seems straightforward:

  1. Michael Davis
  2. Chris Harris
  3. Asante Samuel
  4. Brandon Facyson
  5. Ryan Smith

In my post after the draft, I assumed those 5 would make it along with Tevaughn Campbell. However, I noted that Campbell would need to be coached up to perform better than last season. I think this position comes down to 6th CB vs. 5th LB (Ogbongberniga). But I am no longer certain that the possible 6th CB would be Campbell, since John Brannon has been playing well. He leads the Chargers defensive players with 3 interceptions in training camp and made a great play to get another one in preseason game #1. At this point, I think Ogbongberniga makes it over Brannon and Campbell, but I do think that could change.

Safeties (4)

This is one of the easiest position groups, since there is no real controversy here. As I posted after the draft, these 4 safeties will make the final roster:

  1. Derwin James
  2. Nasir Adderley
  3. Alohi Gilman
  4. Mark Webb

While James' injury history and the lack of NFL experience in this group is a concern, Staley is known for coaching up DBs, and safeties in particular. I'm willing to trust him, but I would not be surprised if the team added a veteran here before the season.

Special Teams (3)

There are actually battles going on for these specialist positions. I assume these guys will win out:

  1. PK Tristan Vizcaino
  2. P Ty Long
  3. LS Cole Mazza

The big question here is Badgley vs. Vizcaino. So far, Vizcaino has been better. He can also handle kickoffs, which Badgley ceded to Long last season, and special teams coach Swinton has commented that he wants the PK to be able to handle them. It is close, but I assume for now that Vizcaino will win the job.

Projected Final 53 Man Roster

Ignoring the prospect of signing any additional free agents, this is the final roster I think is most likely at this point:

  • Offense (26):
    • QB (2) - Herbert, Daniel
    • RB (4) - Ekeler, Jackson, Kelley, Rountree
    • FB (0) -
    • WR (6) - Allen, Williams, Johnson, Palmer, Guyton, Reed
    • TE (4) - Cook, Parham, McKitty (R), Anderson
    • OL (10) - LT Slater, LG Feiler, C Linsley, RG Aboushi, RT Bulaga, T Norton, C/G Quessenberry, G/T Jaimes, T Pipkins, G St. Louis
  • Defense (24):
    • DL (10) - Bosa, Joseph, Tillery, Jones, Nwosu, Fackrell, Rumph, Covington, Gaziano, Fehoko
    • LB (5) - Murray, Tranquill, White, Niemann, Ogbongberniga
    • CB (5) - Davis, Harris, Samuel, Facyson, Smith
    • S (4) - James, Adderley, Gilman, Webb
  • Special Teams (3):
    • PK (1) - Vizcaino
    • P (1) - Long
    • LS (1) - Mazza

Thoughts?

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.