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The 2023 Chargers’ roster is ready to defy the odds this season

Are betting lines grossly underestimating Justin Herbert and Kellen Moore in 2023?

The Chargers put the league on notice in the 2022 offseason with aggressive free agent signings and the marquee trade to acquire All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack. After a disappointing, injury-riddled season, they entered 2023 with dire salary-cap consequences.

A minor roster reload seemed all but guaranteed until Tom Telesco went all in for the upcoming season by restructuring four of the heftiest contracts on the roster, keeping the roster largely intact by doing so. The Bolts now have serious cap constraints in the 2024 offseason, but Tom’s aggressive behavior suggests a new general manager may take on that challenge if the team underperforms yet again.

Although the Chargers went under the radar this offseason, an upgrade to the coaching staff should produce more results than any roster addition could have made. An extremely talented roster, paired with a general manager and coach sitting atop heated thrones, are poised to outperform relatively conservative metrics that most pundits and sportsbooks are assigning to them.

Key departures

The Chargers lost four players who filled starting roles in the defense last season. Fan-favorite Drue Tranquill signed with Kansas City, and Nasir Adderley surprised the football community by declaring his retirement at the beginning of free agency.

Bryce Callahan and Kyle Van Noy both played key roles for Brandon Staley’s defense, but both remained unsigned. Callahan did a serviceable job in the slot when defending the pass, but missed 19.3% of his tackles, which is a major liability in Staley’s base-nickel package. Kyle Van Noy had a quiet first half of the season, but came alive down the stretch to record a sack in each of the team’s last five regular season games. His greatest contribution might have been his stellar 8.3% missed tackle rate.

On offense, the departures were minimal. DeAndre Carter did everything you could ask of player signed predominately for his return abilities, who then became an offensive staple when injuries ravaged the receiver room. He ended up doubling his career-high reception total at 29 years old with a 48-catch, 555-yard, three-touchdown season. He left for the Raiders this offseason as the Chargers opted to upgrade the receiver and returner positions through the draft.

The Bolts also lost Sony Michel, who never carved out a productive role in his one season with the team, and Storm Norton, who started as the team’s swing tackle only to be overtaken by Jamaree Salyer and Foster Sarell.

Key additions

Hope has traveled from Dallas, Texas, to Los Angeles, Calif., by way of Kellen Moore. The former NFL backup quarterback has been a lightning rod calling plays for the Cowboys, a stark contrast to the milquetoast Joe Lombardi-led offense Bolt fans are accustomed to. Whereas Lombardi arrived in Los Angeles with major concerns over his past performances when he wasn’t coaching under Sean Payton, Kellen Moore arrives with very few questions surrounding his qualifications and talents. Optimism abounds for what a Moore and Justin Herbert union can produce.

The Chargers’ marquee free agent acquisition was Eric Kendricks, formerly of the Vikings. Kendricks has thrived as a versatile linebacker his entire career, grabbing a starting role from the Vikings as a rookie and never letting go. He is expected to take over the “green dot” from the departed Drue Tranquill, calling plays for the defense as he has in the past.

In the draft, the Chargers added two rotational players who will see heavy usage in 2023 before becoming starters in 2024. First-rounder Quentin Johnston is a human highlight reel with the ball in his hands, adding a play-making element to the receiving room that was missing last year. Tuli Tuipulotu was selected in the second round to spell Mack and Joey Bosa at the EDGE position, and potentially provide an electric NASCAR package should Staley elect to get them on the field together. Tuli is still just 20 years old with a frame that could add some more mass, but has shown a relentless motor against the pass and run while playing for the Bruins. After these two, much needed depth was added at the linebacker, receiver, and trench positions.

Best Bets on DraftKings for 2023

Chargers - 9.5 Wins, OVER, -120

The consistent theme these “Best Bets” share is optimism for what the combination of Kellen Moore and average injury luck should yield. It’s tempting to bet the “over” on almost every key offensive player, but the vast amount of receiving options on this offense make it difficult to predict which pass-catcher will break out. One thing bettors can count on in 2023, despite the lack of a headline-grabbing offseason, is that the 2022 season represented the floor for this roster.

Injuries derailed a promising season early, as Rashawn Slater, Joey Bosa, and J.C. Jackson each missed the majority of the season, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were rarely on the field together, and Justin Herbert fractured his rib cartilage in Week 2. Herbert's ribs healing would provide a major boost over last year alone, but adding Moore, additional playmakers in rotational roles behind Allen and Williams, and the return of All-Pro Rashawn Slater should make this offense almost unrecognizable from last year.

While the defense may continue to struggle against the run, it’s built to be a menace against teams trying to go blow-for-blow against an elite offense. Count on Moore and Herbert to increase this offense’s efficiency and early-scoring proficiency in both halves, areas that plagued them last year. Quarterbacks will be forced to throw, playing into Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa’s strengths, creating chaos for a very opportunistic defensive backfield.

Justin Herbert - 4450.5 Yards, OVER, -110; Justin Herbert - 29.5 Touchdowns, OVER, -110

If you can adjust this line to get better payouts, do it. After spending six years as a backup NFL quarterback, Kellen Moore will call plays for a quarterback who was practically built in a lab. No portion of the field is unreachable. No drive is ever “dead” until Moore and Staley say it is. Jalen Guyton (who’s currently on the PUP list recovering from an ACL injury and is projected to return for Week 2 of the regular season) and Darius Davis can bring the speed component the team lacked last year, and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams should expect more deep opportunities with a functioning play-action. Any time you look at this line, just think of how much fun this season should be for Moore, and the totals just seem smaller and smaller.

If you need more stat-backed analysis, consider that Justin Herbert threw for 4,739 yards and 25 touchdowns last season while battling through battered ribs, a sixth-round rookie left tackle, a right tackle fighting through multiple lower-body injuries, and a hamstrung wide receiver room. Those numbers should be seen as the absolute floor for a 17-game season.

Austin Ekeler - 775.5 Rush Yards, OVER, -120

The Chargers have yet to make any adjustments to a running back room that ranked 30th for total rushing yards and yards-per-attempt in 2022. The tea leaves suggest they could bring in a veteran-minimum addition as they did with Sony Michel last year, and reuniting Ezekiel Elliot with Kellen Moore makes too much sense on paper.

Even so, Kellen Moore’s offense saw Tony Pollard and Elliot each surpass this 775.5 yard benchmark by over a hundred yards. The only other threat to Ekeler hitting this “over” is the standard injury risk that comes with all sports betting. Austin’s impressive numbers in 2021 and 2022 may suggest that he’s a high-risk overuse candidate, but the numbers history has taught us to avoid for backs are 370-carry or 400-touch seasons. Although his numbers have been stellar, his touch totals of 311 and 276 in back-to-back 16+-game campaigns suggest he is actually a relatively low injury risk. Ekeler will certainly be incentivized to have his best season yet, as this is the first time playing with unrestricted free agency looming, and $1.75 million was added to his contract in achievable incentives.

Remember, everyone, optimism is your friend on these season-long betting lines for the Chargers! Gamble responsibly, and have an amazing 2023 NFL season!