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Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler headline one of the best supporting casts in the NFL

A year after ranking sixth, the Chargers moved up a spot in this year’s edition of the top supporting casts in the NFL.

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Chargers did their best to surround former quarterback Philip Rivers with the greatest supporting cast possible during his final years with the team. He had Keenan Allen through his final seven seasons and then both him and Mike Williams during his final three campaigns. The duo of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler also benefitted the offense, especially during the 2018 season where the two combined for almost 2,400 yards of total offense and 20 touchdowns.

Through the first three seasons of Justin Herbert’s career, he’s also benefitted from the likes of having Allen, Williams, and Ekeler surrounding him on game days. During Herbert’s second year in the NFL, he finished behind only Tom Brady in passing yards while being only one of two players to break the 5000-yard threshold through the air.

Now with the team entering the 2023 season on the backs of a fresh draft class headlined by a first-round wideout in Quentin Johnston, expectations are once again high for the entire offense. So much so, in fact, that the “supporting cast” surrounding Herbert was just ranked as the fifth-best in all of football by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. A year ago, the team came in ranked sixth but another year of keeping the band together helped move them up a spot in this year’s edition of the rankings.

“I went back and forth between the Seahawks and Chargers here,” admitted Barnwell. “Both have three exciting wideouts, with a veteran and a physical force joined by a rookie first-round pick. Both don’t get much out of their tight ends, despite talented options. I leaned toward Seattle having the edge because of its advantage at wide receiver, but the Chargers have a much better running back than either of the players the Seahawks will roll out.”

“That back, Austin Ekeler, returns after requesting a trade in March. While other backs in the past have talked about being both a rusher and a No. 2 receiver, Ekeler actually pulls it off. The 28-year-old has been targeted on more than 28% of his routes and averaged 1.8 yards per route run over the past two seasons; that’s not too far off from how DK Metcalf and Diontae Johnson have profiled over that same time frame. NFL Next Gen Stats notes that Ekeler has gained 198 yards after catch more than expected over the past two seasons. He’s one of the most productive backs in football, even if it comes in a unique package.”

I do hate to admit it, but Barnwell was right to give the Seahawks the nod over the Chargers receiver group. Bias aside, Lockett has been just as productive as Allen in both receptions and yards but the tie-breaker between those two is that Lockett has at least eight touchdowns over each of the past five seasons. Allen has only made it to eight touchdowns twice in his career total, and that includes his rookie season.

When it comes to D.K. Metcalf over Williams, I believe Barnwell sticks with availability and versatility to give them the nod once again. Williams has been productive as of late, but several missed games a season ago is an easy way for Barnwell to go with Metcalf who has played in every game but one during his four-year career.

“I don’t think there are reasons to doubt the talent possessed by Los Angeles’ three top wide receivers, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and new addition Quentin Johnston. My bigger issue is simply the chances they all spend 17 games on the field together. Allen is 31, and while he had put the injuries which cost him most of the 2015 and 2016 seasons in the rearview mirror, a hamstring injury limited him to 45 snaps over the first nine games of 2022.

“Williams played just six snaps over a five-game stretch as he battled an ankle injury, and while he has only missed six games over the past five seasons, he’s a tough receiver who has often slowed down as the year has gone along as a result of playing through injuries. Williams averaged 86.8 receiving yards per game over the first five weeks of the 2021 and 2022 seasons and 62 receiving yards per game afterward. Johnston missed time with knee and ankle injuries over his final two seasons at TCU. Johnston gives the Chargers more of a fallback plan if Allen or Williams are injured, but I hope we see all three on the field for every game this season.”

I think we can all echo Barnwell’s sentiments regarding the hope to see all three wideouts on the field together in 2023. I’m not sure how much this pushes Josh Palmer out of the picture, but it’s hard not to think the team is still excited for him as a player past this season. After all, it’s highly unlikely that both Allen and Williams are both on the team in 2024 due to their large cap hits. As of this moment, the two would combine to earn over $67 million next season if nothing were to change.

Barnwell only list the Seahawks, Eagles, Bengals, and Niners above the Chargers with San Francisco taking the top spot. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of those top three teams at number one at all, especially after seeing just how well the supporting cast of the Niners helped carry the offense despite their insanely bad luck at the quarterback position.