The Chargers won their preseason opener 34-17 over the Rams thanks to a tremendous effort by a number of rookie Bolts that spanned all three phases of the game.
After losing to the Rams 29-22 in last year’s preseason matchup, this year’s game was much more invigorating to watch thanks in large part to new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Despite the entire game being played by backups and third-stringers on both sides, the game was filled with huge plays, plenty of points, and exciting moments that almost made you feel like we were in the midst of the regular season.
On top of those gutsy rookie performances, not every first-year Chargers had an outing to remember. With that said, here are three rookies who saw their stock trend upwards after Saturday night and one whose isn’t.
RB Elijah Dotson
Dotson isn’t just the talk amongst the Chargers fan base, he’s one of the biggest highlights from the entire first week of the 2023 preseason.
A undrafted free agent out of some small school in Colorado (sound familiar?), Dotson was receiving some early hype in training camp with his versatility and electric play. While the expectations for UDFAs are never all that high, many believed Dotson could make some noise if given the chance. On Saturday night, he blew past any and all expectations by leading the Chargers with 92 rushing yards and recording two long touchdown runs, all of which came in the fourth quarter.
I knew Dotson was somewhat athletic, but he looked a heck of a lot faster than his 4.52 40-yard dash when he was able to turn the corner and run nearly untouched for both of his scores.
WR/PR/KR Derius Davis
As a rookie, Davis is not expected to play much of a role on offense with the receiver room as packed as it is. But as a return man, Davis is the clear winner for both kickoffs and punts and will have some high expectations even as a first-year player. To maybe the not-so surprise of many, Davis made his presence felt on special teams almost immediately on Saturday night.
After a couple short returns that still managed to showcase his speed and athleticism, Davis finally broke one off in the second quarter. After receiving a Rams punt, Davis took a couple steps at a jogger’s pace, assessed the coverage, and then took off like a bolt of lightning. He made a couple defenders miss, beat them to the sideline, and went untouched the final 35 yards into the end zone.
4th round Rookie Derius Davis takes a punt 82 yards for a TD pic.twitter.com/lAqs1EBERk— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 13, 2023
On top of the return, Davis also finished second on the team with two receptions for 21 yards. Again, he’ll make 99 percent of his impact for the Chargers in the return game, but don’t be surprised to see Davis get utilized on offense from time to time. With Moore behind the wheel now, it’ll be a big surprise if he never tries to utilize Davis’ elite speed every now and then.
DT Scott Matlock
Matlock was part of the team’s starting defense against the Rams and came away with many more impactful plays than the box score will tell you.
On top of a late-game run stop, Matlock got after Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett more than a few times on Saturday night. In the tweet below, Matlock starts the play lined up at three-technique before looping around to the outside to meet Bennett. Now Bennett is a good athlete so Matlock being able to get that close to a sack on him is more impressive than you think.
With both Austin Johnson and Otito Ogbonnia potentially sidelined through week one, we could see a good helping of Matlock to begin the 2023 season.
Chargers DT Scott Matlock is an impressive athlete.— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) August 14, 2023
Rangy player, really quick and light on his feet.
Matlock ranked fifth in the Mountain West in pressure rate when lined up on the interior defensive line (8.2%), per @SharpFootball. pic.twitter.com/71E2DsZrx2
OL Jordan McFadden
McFadden looked as if he was getting on the good side of the coaching staff when he was given first-team reps at left tackle during one of the practices Rashawn Slater missed due to illness. That was a notable event as Foster Sarell had been the presumed swing tackle for the Chargers, but after setting the Clemson school-record for starts by an offensive lineman, you just knew there was going to be more to McFadden than just a backup.
Unfortunately, in his first professional outing, McFadden was called for an ill-timed holding penalty that completely wiped out a 71-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Spiller. The Chargers still finished with over 200 yards rushing, but that run would have pushed them close to 300 if not for the flag.