2018 NFL Season Preview- Los Angeles Chargers
Few teams were hotter down the stretch than the Chargers.
Los Angeles won nine of their final 12 games but thanks to an 0-4 start to the season, they missed the playoffs.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers took better care of the ball after leading the league in interceptions in 2016. Of his 10 picks, six were in two games against Kansas City which were both losses. Running back Melvin Gordon broke the 1,000 rushing mark for the first time in his career to go along with eight rushing touchdowns and also registered nearly 500 receiving yards and four scores. Los Angeles was undefeated when tight end Hunter Henry was targeted at least five times, but he lacerated his kidney late in the season. Antonio Gates proved he can still get open, scoring four touchdowns, but his yards after catch were minimal. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams wasn't as sharp as last season, but was still valuable. Travis Benjamin has deep threat speed with four touchdowns while serving as the team's return specialist. The offensive line proved to be much better in pass protection, but struggled to open up holes in the running game.
Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Cory Liuget manned the middle but teams were still able to run through easily. Linebacker Denzel Perryman was solid but limited to just seven games due to injuries. Kyle Emmanuel is an overachiever, but was exposed on running plays. Cornerback Trevor Williams was good in place of Jason Verrett, who was injured again. Safety Tre Boston was solid and led the team with five interceptions.
The kicking game was a season long disaster. Los Angeles used four different kickers with lousy results. Might have not been the story had the Chargers stuck with veteran Josh Lambo instead of undrafted rookie Younghoe Koo, who lasted only a month.
The Chargers had six Pro Bowlers in quarterback Phillip Rivers, wide receiver Keenan Allen, offensive tackle Russell Okung, Defensive end Joey Bosa, Defensive end Melvin Ingram, and cornerback Casey Hayward. Rivers finished with 28 touchdowns as he was advised to play more careful. Allen showed he was fully recovered from his knee injury and set a franchise record with 102 receptions for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns. Allen also set an NFL record with three consecutive games with at least 10 catches, 100 receiving yards, and a touchdown. Okung made his second career Pro Bowl in his first year with the Chargers. Bosa and Ingram formed a dynamite pass rushing tandem that had few equals. Bosa became the quickest player to 19 career sacks in 20 games and finished 2017 with 12.5 sacks while Ingram had 10.5 sacks. Hayward showed his 2016 season was no fluke as he registered 22 passes defended and four interceptions.
The rookie class seemed to be plagued by injuries. Wide receiver Mike Williams was hampered by a back injury in training camp and played in just 10 games. Guard Forrest Lamp tore his ACL in training camp and was lost for the season, but he should be a key piece moving forward. Guard Dan Feeney played well after Matt Slauson went down. Cornerback Desmond King was a late round steal and always seemed to be around the ball. Undrafted free agent running back Austin Ekeler was a nice find and could be incorporated in the offense more in the future.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
After the 9-7 season, head coach Anthony Lynn has the Chargers headed in the right direction. He established in his first season a sense of accountability that wasn't there in previous years. He also changes his offensive philosophy by allowing Phillip Rivers to set up the running game with a throw first style.
On May 22, tight end Hunter Henry suffered a torn ACL during OTAs, and was ruled out for the entire season.
On July 27, cornerback Jason Verrett tore his Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp, ruling him out for the entire 2018 season.
Notable Additions- QB Geno Smith, TE Virgil Green, C Mike Pouncey, K Roberto Aguayo, K Caleb Sturgis
Notable Departures- QB Kellen Clemens, RB Andre Williams, RB Branden Oliver, TE Jeff Cumberland, TE Antonio Gates, G Matt Slauson, S Tre Boston
Chargers 2017 Highlights
2018 NFL Draft
Claiming the 17th overall pick in the draft, the Chargers have to make changes to positions if they expect to go far in the playoffs. Most notably at defensive tackle, linebacker, and kicker.
Los Angeles had the second worst run defense in the league because blockers got to the second level with ease. Adding a big body in the middle could would help occupy multiple offensive linemen.
The undersized linebacker unit had trouble filling gaps and when they did, they couldn't tackle. A healthy Denzel Perryman helps, but they could use a guy who looks more like an NFL linebacker.
It felt like the team brought in a new kicker every month. Hopefully Caleb Sturgis can be the guy, but this is an area that needs sewed up now.
When it came time to pick, Los Angeles selected Florida State safety Derwin James with the 17th pick. James has the best speed of any safety in this draft, but lacks great technique as a tackler.
The Chargers also notably drafted USC linebacker Uchenna Nwosu in the second round and West Virginia safety Kyzir White in the fourth. Nosh was seen as the best tackling edge rusher in this class, but struggles to disengage against blockers. White is an aggressive player with great tackling technique, but his lack of speed and acceleration will force him to be moved down to linebacker.
Derwin James Highlights
What to Expect
Given the way they ended last season and the players they added in the offseason, a lot will be expected from Los Angeles.
Phillip Rivers is coming off one of his most efficient seasons and I expect that to continue under Anthony Lynn. Melvin Gordon showed a lot of toughness by becoming a more physical back and playing through nagging injuries so he should be primed for a solid season. If Mike Williams can return healthy, he, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin can form a solid and versatile receiving corps. The team is going to miss Hunter Henry, but hopefully Virgil Green can play decent. If he can't, maybe they can resign Antonio Gates for one more season. With the return of Forrest Lamp and arrival of Mike Pouncey, the offensive line can become one of the best in the league and should be a better run blocking unit.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should continue to be one of the best pass rushing duos in the league. The big question is whether or not Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget are capable of shedding blockers and getting to the ball carrier. The ideal starting linebackers would be Uchenna Nwosu, Denzel Perryman, and Kyzir White with Kyle Emmanuel and Jatavis Brown being solid reserves. Losing Jason Verrett again hurts, but the team like what they have in Trevor Williams and Desmond King. Both should play well opposite Casey Hayward. Derwin James is likely a day one starter at free safety but Jahleel Addae is likely going to be exposed as a the weak link in the secondary.
As I see it. The Chargers have to be considered the favorite to win the AFC West. How far they go into the postseason really depends on if key players on the roster can stay healthy.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 11-5