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3 winners, 3 losers from the Chargers’ preseason win over the Rams

An impressive win for the Chargers highlights some big winners, and possibly closes the door on opportunities for others

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers came out on top against the Rams 34-17 in their first preseason matchup of the 2023 slate. The game was highlighted by the team’s much-improved offensive performance which was led by a trio of rookies.

Compared to this exact matchup a year ago, the Chargers’ backup offense and third-string unit looked much more cohesive and capable under the direction of new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

Defensively, the youngsters along the defensive line also put together a noteworthy performance, including sacks from Chris Rumph II and IPP placement CJ Okoye.

Altogether, there were a number of players worthy of being highlighted from Saturday night, but we had to narrow it down to just three winners and three losers.

Ready to see who we picked? Let’s dive in.


RB Elijah Dotson

Elijah Dotson showed everything you want out of a UDFA in the preseason. Based on the blocking in front of him, both touchdown runs appear to scheme him between the tackles, but his outside bounce is so fluid it’s hard to confirm.

Take the above run for example. Isaac Weaver pulls from the right guard position, setting up the block Dotson should bounce inside from. Stone Smartt sets up a second-level block, attempting the box the linebacker out and force him outside, keeping both #51 and #50 on his outside shoulder to create inside running room.

Dotson took one step up, saw a clogged interior with little space, and burst to the outside in a single fluid motion, gaining speed through his slight misdirection. Perhaps most impressively, he didn’t attempt to win on raw speed; watch the replay multiple times and you’ll notice Dotson took a perfect outside angle. Rather than bouncing too far outside to avoid the first-level defenders, he took an extremely aggressive angle that kept him just out reach of the lineman and linebackers while following the most direct path to paydirt, giving the secondary very little time to cut off his path to the sideline.

That kind of vision, decisiveness, and confidence is how a player that tested at a 4.53 forty and a relatively average 10-yard split can have significantly faster in-game speed.

QB Easton Stick

Stick’s goal this preseason is to solidify himself as a backup quarterback in the NFL. While he has done nothing in his career to justify a chance at winning a starting gig, the Chargers opted to give him a chance at being Justin Herbert’s backup of the future despite bringing on a new offensive coordinator and scheme in 2023. Cooper Rush performed admirably in Kellen Moore’s offense whenever Dak Prescott missed time, but Telesco passed on his availability and re-signed Easton Stick instead. Stick will have two more preseason opportunities to prove this decision wise, which will hopefully be the last time he plays before negotiating his next contract in the offseason.

Stick didn’t play a perfect game or match Chase Daniel’s 2022 performance against the preseason Rams, but he showed more comfort and confidence than ever at this level. Multiple passes came from Stick working through his progressions, he absolutely dotted a couple throws, and perhaps most importantly he did an excellent job protecting the football. Multiple downhill throws appeared to miss their target significantly, but contextually should be seen as Stick keeping the ball away from the defender, and living to play another down.

He also showed continued confidence in Quentin Johnston, who would have had found himself on the “Losers” list had Stick not shoved this dart through coverage to Johnston despite the repeated drops early in the game. Your first NFL touchdown is a great way to forget about some early miscues.

WR/KR/PR Derius Davis

Derius Davis did everything you could ask for out of a return specialist with a playmaking role in the offense. It’s easy to love the patience and explosion he showcased in his punt return touchdown, but don’t sleep on the YAC ability he displayed as well.


Former OC Joe Lombardi

You don’t always get to make such relevant apples-to-apples comparisons in the preseason, with some teams viewing the games as an opportunity to “tune up” their starters and some preferring to extensively evaluate their depth and back end of the roster. Since the Chargers played the Rams in their preseason opener in 2022 and 2023, it’s actually fair and relevant to notice the variances between the two offensive performances.

In 2022, Chase Daniel had an impressive game statistically, posting a line of 11/17 completions, 117 yards and two touchdowns. Stick filled in afterwards and passed for 16/23 completions, 119 yards and an interception. In 2023, Stick elevated his play to a line of 14 completions on 21 passes, 109 yards, and a touchdown. Max Duggan is a clear downgrade over Chase Daniel, so it’s not a shock that the passing totals dropped from 226 yards to 105, but the improved efficiency and game plan was visually evident.

The top three charted running backs were unchanged from 2022 to 2023, with Isaiah Spiller, Joshua Kelley, and Larry Rountree being the only backs with more than one carry in 2022. These same backs all saw action in 2023, with an extra emergence of Elijah Dotson. Here is the difference in each players’ average yards per carry from ‘22 to ‘23.

  • Joshua Kelly: 5.3 —> 6.0 yards
  • Isaiah Spiller: 3.4 —> 5.4 yards
  • Larry Rountree: 1.8 —> 2.7 yards
  • Total average rush yards/play: 4.09 —> 6.90 yards

While it’s important to not get carried away in the preseason, the improvement between these two years against the same preseason opponent is absolutely a valid reason for optimism.

RB Larry Rountree

While Rountree improved from 1.8 yards per carry in the 2022 exhibition game to 2.7 this year, that figure is still well below where a third year pro needs to be to justify a roster spot. This trajectory would drive a reasonable general manager to look for a depth replacement in free agency or the waiver wire when teams are trimming their rosters to the final-53.

Lucky for Telesco, he may have unearthed another UDFA gem in Dotson. Rountree’s floor keeps him off the active squad on game day, and there hasn’t been a glimmer of hope that his ceiling justifies rostering him. Unless Dotson’s gloves are suddenly lathered in butter through the final two preseason games, he absolutely needs to prioritized over Rountree come final cuts.

Dustin Hopkins

On the surface it seemed crazy for Tom Telesco to keep Dustin Hopkins rostered through the new league year, when $1,100,000 of his salary converted from an injury guarantee to fully guaranteed. However, coaches hate for players to lose a job due to injury. You can only imagine how hard it would be to tell Hopkins he’s lost his job after gutting out a perfect night kicking a winning field goal despite “popping” his hamstring. This was as much of a warrior performance as you’ll ever see from a kicker.

Cameron Dicker comes into camp with a clear advantage, as he’s younger, controllable for longer, and represents significant cap savings next season. After a strong season filling in for the injured Hopkins, Dicker is making the decision for the coaches even easier by going 2/2 in field goals, and kicking what would have been his longest in-game field goal by drilling a 50-yarder.