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Analyzing ESPN’s prediction of the Chargers’ final 53-man roster

How does ESPN see the roster shaking out in September?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Minicamp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN recently dropped a 53-man roster prediction for every team in the NFL. Naturally, we’re going to take a look at the prediction for the Chargers which was done by NFL writer Lindsey Thiry.

It’s a whole lot of words, so let’s just dive right in.

Quarterbacks (3): Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick

Thiry’s thoughts:There’s no mystery who the starting quarterback will be, with Hebert returning to lead the offense. Herbert finished last season ranked No. 3 in the NFL --- behind only future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and Super Bowl champion Matthew Stafford — in touchdown passes. The only question will be whether the former No. 6 overall pick is ready to lead the Bolts to a deep playoff run, even one that ends in the Super Bowl.”

My thoughts: All Chargers fans should be incredibly thankful that this position group will be nothing but boring for the foreseeable future. As long as Justin Herbert is here, the Bolts are in good hands.

Running Backs (5): Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Larry Rountree, Isaiah Spiller, Gabe Nabers

Thiry’s thoughts:Ekeler enters training camp as the starter after compiling 1,558 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns last season. But the sixth-year pro is eager for younger counterparts to prove they can make an impact. ‘I want guys to come in and earn some reps,’ Ekeler said. ‘I say earn that because I don’t want that to be, ‘Oh, we need to give Austin a blow because he’s tired.’ I want someone to be like, ‘No, we want to get this guy in there because he’s shown that he can play.’” A fourth-round pick from Texas A&M, Spiller will have the opportunity to prove he’s worthy of carries ahead of Kelley and Rountree.”

My thoughts: I don’t believe the Chargers will keep five players here. Plenty of other areas on the roster could benefit from an extra body so four players seems right here. Four running backs, on top of a fullback, just sounds like overkill. Besides Austin Ekeler and Isaiah Spiller, I think it’s a toss-up between Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree. Both have yet to prove they can be consistent contributors. Gabe Nabers does have the upper hand over Zander Horvath when it comes to familiarity within the system, so it’ll be interesting to see if they go with the draft pick over the former undrafted free agent.

Wide Receivers (5): Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, Jalen Guyton, DeAndre Carter

Thiry’s thoughts:Williams and Allen are among the top receiver duos in the NFL, finishing ranked No. 12 and 13, respectively, in the NFL in receiving yards last season. Palmer and Guyton will challenge for the third receiver spot, with Staley identifying Guyton as a surprise offensive standout at the conclusion of the offseason program.”

My thoughts: This position group seems all but settled already. The top four wideouts are locked in and there’s no way the team doesn’t keep DeAndre Carter as one of their starting returners. Like many, I expect a solid year from Josh Palmer in his sophomore campaign.

Tight Ends (3): Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre’ McKitty

Thiry’s thoughts:The Chargers signed Everett to a two-year, $12 million contract that includes $8 million guaranteed. The sixth-year pro spent his first four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, including the 2020 season when Staley served as their defensive coordinator. Last season he played for the Seattle Seahawks, where he tallied career-highs in receptions (48), receiving yards (478) and receiving touchdowns (4).”

My thoughts: This trio is correct. The only other players who could break onto the active roster are three UDFAs, all of which are either in their first or second year in the NFL. I’m very intrigued by this group and it could look a whole lot better if Tre’ McKitty is able to take a big step forward in year two.

Offensive Lineman (9): Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Zion Johnson, Storm Norton, Trey Pipkins, Brenden Jaimes, Jamaree Salyer, Will Clapp

Thiry’s thoughts:Slater had a breakout rookie season, earning Pro Bowl honors. Now the Chargers hope that Johnson, who they selected with the 17th overall pick, will experience similar success as he prepares to step in at right guard. The biggest question is whether the Chargers will see needed improvement at right tackle, where Norton and Pipkins are battling to earn the starting spot. ‘It’s probably a position where people can improve more year-to-year than maybe some other spots,’ offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. ‘We think that we’ll be a lot better at right tackle than what we had last year.’”

My thoughts: Nine lineman is usually the magic number for this position and the nine picked by Thiry looked like the correct group. First-year Charger Will Clapp provides a solid backup to Corey Linsley and the rest are incumbents as backup to their respective positions. The battle to start at right tackle between Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins will be one of the most-popular training camp competitions this preseason.

Defensive Lineman (6): Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Jerry Tillery, Morgan Fox, Breiden Fehoko, Otito Ogbonnia

Thiry’s thoughts:The defensive front underwent an offseason makeover with the addition of Johnson, Joseph-Day, Ogbonnia and Fox. Entering training camp, expect Tillery, Johnson and Joseph-Day to lead the way and for a healthy competition to take place behind them.”

My thoughts: I’m not surprised to see Thiry keep optimism around Jerry Tillery, but I don’t think he’s among the top-three defenders in this group. I expect Brandon Staley to give it one last try at making Tillery into a serviceable football before the team moves on from their former first-round pick.

Outside Linebackers/EDGE (5): Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Kyle Van Noy, Chris Rumph II, Emeke Egbule

Thiry’s thoughts:When Bosa first heard that the Chargers traded for Mack, he was unsure if the blockbuster deal was true. ‘He’s obviously an unbelievable player,’ Bosa said. ‘So having a guy like that on the other side is going to be really fun.’ The Bolts also added Van Noy, an eight-year NFL veteran, who will provide depth along the edge.”

My thoughts: I’m not sure if this position group will need to house five players throughout the season but if they do, this is likely the correct five. Headlined by Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, the recent addition of Kyle Van Noy and second-year pass rusher Chris Rumph give this group some real versatility. Emeke Egbule has always been a ‘tweener when it comes to his position but he’s managed to stay with the team through two regimes which speaks to the respect coaches have for him.

Inside Linebackers (4): Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, Troy Reeder, Amen Ogbongbemiga

Thiry’s thoughts:Murray underwent offseason ankle surgery but, according to Staley, the former first-round pick is expected to be ready to go for training camp. Reeder is a newcomer after signing a one-year, $1 million free agent contract. Staley is familiar with the Reeder, who started seven games for him with the Rams in 2020.”

My thoughts: I don’t think the team can afford to keep just four players here after allowing Kyzir White to walk in free agency. Nick Niemann showed some flashes and figures to be a prominent special teams player in his second year so I don’t see a world where he doesn’t stick around.

Cornerback (6): J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., Bryce Callahan, Michael Davis, Tevaughn Campbell, Ja’Sir Taylor

Thiry’s thoughts:At the conclusion of the offseason program, Staley put together a friendly competition that included defensive backs and receivers facing off to catch passes from the JUGS machine. ‘I want our secondary to catch more passes than anybody in pro sports, because that’s what the money is on defense,’ Staley said. ‘It’s in the deep part of the field.’ Jackson, with 25 interceptions in four seasons, knows that after signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal, which includes $40 million guaranteed. The Bolts have plenty of playmakers at corner, but the question to answer in training camp is who will lineup on the inside and outside.”

My thoughts: Ja’Sir Taylor has impressed through his short time with the Chargers this offseason so it’s no surprise to see him projected to beat out Kemon Hall for a roster spot. Tevaughn Campbell being retained as a depth piece is also the likely move there, as well. This group is so much better than it was a year ago.

Safety (4): Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman, JT Woods

Thiry’s thoughts:James is preparing for his fifth training camp and for an extension that should put him among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL, if not the highest. Out of an abundance of caution, Staley put restrictions on James’ participation through the offseason program after the All-Pro safety underwent surgery on his left labrum following the Pro Bowl in February, which gave way for Adderley to step up and make an impression. ‘Nas really showed up,’ Staley said. ‘He was our most productive guy in the spring in the secondary.’”

My thoughts: Similar to the inside linebacker group, I could easily see Staley keep one more player here. He recently raved about how close Mark Webb was to seeing more time on defense as a rookie prior to his injury so I can’t imagine him not making the final roster this year.

Special Teams (3): Dustin Hopkins (K), J.K. Scott (P), Josh Harris (LS)

Thiry’s thoughts:With two newcomers, this group will benefit from time together at training camp. Harris joins the group after spending 10 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. A fifth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2018, Scott will get a fresh start after playing in only one game last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hopkins returns on a three-year, $9 million contract after he converted 18 of 20 field-goal attempts in 11 games last season.”

My thoughts: Keeping Dustin Hopkins around was huge and the acquisition of J.K. Scott to replace Ty Long will hopefully payoff big in the battle for hidden yardage. Signing a Pro Bowl long snapper is also one heck of a move to revamp one of the league’s worst special teams units of the past five seasons.