Even though the Los Angeles Chargers are still in OTAs, it is still a good exercise to look at the roster of 90ish players that Tom Telesco has assembled, and try to predict which 53 head coach Brandon Staley and his staff will keep.
A lot of the names are pretty sure things however there is going to be some play at the bottom of some position groups that will make for some fun training camp battles. There will also be at least one position, kicker, where the training camp battle will determine a starter.
Quarterback - 3 - Justin Herbert, Easton Stick, Max Duggan
Both Staley and Telesco have shown that they are in favor of carrying three quarterbacks on the roster during the season. I think they will only be more encouraged to do so with the new rule this season allowing for the third QB to active while not counting against the limit of 46 “active” players on gameday. Stick has constantly been praised as being a valuable voice in the QB room and the team spent a draft pick on Duggan, so I think this is a good bet that all 3 make the 53 man roster.
Runningback/Fullback - 4 - Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Zander Horvath
Ekeler’s trade request is likely done at this point, with the team adding almost $2 million in possible incentives for this season. At this point it looks like he will play out the year with the Chargers and enter free agency next offseason. Behind him Kelley and Spiller return to the stable of backs for the Chargers. It doesn’t make sense to have a 4th true RB on the roster and the names the Chargers brought in for camp are practice squad candidates at best. Zander Horvath is the only FB on the roster and none of TEs on the roster have the skillset or body type to fill that role. Horvath showed in his rookie season he can be a weapon and I would hope that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can bring some of that back to the offense.
Tight End - 4 - Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre McKitty, Stone Smartt
This group could be dropped down to only three members, however with the injury history and lack of overall experience of this group, it makes sense that they would keep four. Everett was, in a lot of ways, one of the best weapons on the Chargers offense last season, and is far and away TE1. Donald Parham is a unique and powerful weapon as a pass catcher as well as a surprisingly good blocker, however his injury history makes it hard to rely on him. Tre McKitty was a 3rd round pick and will be on the roster for the length of his rookie contract, despite being mostly disappointing so far. Stone Smartt is obviously a guy the team wants to develop and he showed some flashes in limited snaps. With Parham’s injury history and McKitty’s limited value, Smartt likely sticks.
Wide Receiver - 5 - Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, Derius Davis
The team might be tempted to keep six wide receivers this season however, ideally they’d feel comfortable with five. Allen, Williams, Johnston, and Palmer make a very very solid top four, and 4th round pick Derius Davis is a lock due to his draft capital and the fact that he IS going to be the team’s kick and punt returner this season. The real question with the WR group is are they going to keep a sixth WR? If so, this might be one of the more fun camp battles this season. Jalen Guyton has the most experience on the team and is the best “deep threat” the team has based on what the coaches have seen on the field so far and likely would lead the fight for WR6, though UDFA Onteria “Pokey” Wilson has some fun tape with nine touchdowns and averaging over 16 ypc over the last two seasons.
Offensive Line - 9 - Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Corey Linsley, Jamaree Salyer, Trey Pipkins, Jordan McFadden, Foster Sarell, Will Clapp, Brendan Jaimes
Offensive line might be the position most in need of a late, veteran addition, specifically at swing tackle. Sarell is a fine developmental piece but the team could use a more reliable name at swing tackle. This staff has said multiple times they’d rather make “one change” over multiple changes if a player goes down, which tells me that if one of the OTs go down, they’d rather plug in another OT, rather than kick Salyer back outside and put an OG in Salyer’s spot. That philosophy may have changed but to me they need a better swing tackle option as of today, May 24th. McFadden comes to the offensive line with a very impressive college resume but is a bit of a tweener based on his size and athleticism. Clapp and Jaimes have a lot of experience in this system, Clapp with multiple starts, and are likely locks to make the roster.
Offense total - 25
Defensive line - 6 - Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox, Austin Johnson, Otito Ogbonnia, Scott Matlock, Jerrod Clark
This is an underrated group right now. Joseph-Day, Fox, and Johnson bring a lot of valuable experience and talent to the group, while Ogbonnia, Matlock, and Clark are young players with a lot of upside. Clark would mean the Chargers have an UDFA making the roster. The team obviously though highly of him giving him $100,000 guaranteed salary as an undrafted player. The team did recently sign nine year veteran Nick Williams, however unless there’s an injury or Johnson or Ogbonnia are too slow coming back from injury, I think he likely doesn’t make the cut.
EDGE - 5 - Joey Bosa, Kahlil Mack, Tuli Tuipulotu, Chris Rumph, Carlo Kemp
If the Chargers keep five edge players, the battle for the last spot could be a lot of fun. Carlo Kemp showed some fun flashes in the preseason last year and has experience with the scheme so right now he gets the nod, however the three rookies the Chargers brought in as UDFAs at edge have some fun college resumes and will be fun too watch, especially Colorado OLB Brevin Allen.
LB - 5 - Eric Kendricks, Kenneth Murray, Daiyan Henley, Nick Niemann, Amen Ogbongbemiga
The LB room is one that I think could keep less than I’m predicting here, especially if they bring in another safety, however I think this is the group they could most afford to cut corners with. Staley’s scheme doesn’t value linebackers very highly and the way the LB position is played in his scheme, safeties can help make up the difference. Henley and Niemann figure to be huge contributors on special teams while veteran addition Kendricks will lead the group on the field, likely taking over green dot responsibilities. Amen likely beats out the multiple rookie UDFAs due to his familiarity with the scheme and staff.
CB - 5 - J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr, Michael Davis, Ja’sir Taylor, Deane Leonard
After the top 3 names at there is a bit of a drop off to Taylor, then after Taylor things get really iffy. This is another group that we could possibly see a veteran addition. With Jackson still working his way back from a significant injury, this group feels top heavy and thin. Unless Leonard shows a lot of improvement and one of the UDFA additions really surprises, this is a group that could use some help.
S - 4 - Derwin James, Alohi Gilman, JT Woods, Mark Webb
This is the group I would most like the Chargers to add a player too, especially if that player is John Johnson. Derwin James is a stud but he will be moving all over the defense. After him, things become somewhat sub-optimal. Gilman is good but not exactly a plus starter, Woods has all the athleticism in the world but is still very much a work in progress, and some people say Mark Webb might not actually exist. This is a very versatile group but they need either some massive development or bringing in starting quality veteran.
Defense total - 25
Special teams - 3 - LS Josh Harris, P JK Scott, K Cameron Dicker
Harris is a lock as the only LS on the roster and the team brought back JK Scott rather than bringing in any other punter. That leaves K as the only roster battle for special teams. “Dicker the kicker” likely rides his performance from last season into keeping his job this season. The team isn’t “desperate” for cap space but it is interesting to note that cutting Dustin Hopkins before June 1st, which would be in the next week, frees up $2.7M of cap space. However waiting for this competition to play out through camp, which would take them post June 1st that number drops to only freeing up $1.9M in cap space. Is this competition worth $800,000 in cap space to the team? Guess we will find out.