I’ve been waiting for the Los Angeles Chargers 2023 season to end because some parts have been PAINFUL. For my reflections this year, I took a look at the good (and the bad of this roster.) Below are some players that kept me coming back week after week:
Bright Spots for the Los Angeles Chargers
1. Edge Rusher: Khalil Mack
Khalil Mack had a great season. He had his 100th career sack, a Pro Bowl selection, and as the season progressed, looked more and more like the Mack of Chicago and Vegas. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), this year he had career-highs in sacks (18) and batted passes (six). For a man considering retirement in the offseason, he showed no signs of slowing down. A highlight of his year was in Week 4 against the Las Vegas Raiders when he had six sacks on Aidan O’Connell. His motor and relentlessness were on full display this season but especially in that game.
Mack may be expensive to keep for next season. According to Over the Cap, the Chargers would save $23,250,000 and have about $15,267,500 in dead money if they cut or traded him, either pre or post-June 1. He’s worth keeping, especially as Tuli Tuipulotu is still developing and Joey Bosa will be coming back from injury. So perhaps another contract restructure will save some money for the team while keeping a key part of their defense in LA.
2. Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen seems to be getting younger each year. Each season I think, “No, he can’t be that good again” and each year he just is. Despite missing a few games due to injury, he still had a 1,000-yard season with seven receiving touchdowns and his first-ever passing touchdown.
Remember that deep shot to Mike Williams during Week 3 against Minnesota, where Williams ran in for the touchdown after making the catch? Yeah, that was a pass from Allen and not Justin Herbert.
Allen is a great athlete and adds such a jolt to the offense. It’s no wonder he got selected for another Pro Bowl, and the Chargers did everything they could, even restructuring his contract in 2023, to make sure he was on the team for the coming season.
This year will be interesting as they will have more cap savings ($23.1 million) than dead money ($11,617,500) if they choose to cut or trade him this year. So who knows what may happen with new leadership? But Allen pleaded his case to remain a Los Angeles Charger, so hopefully, we’ll see more Allen magic in LA in 2024.
3. Safety: Alohi Gilman
Alohi Gilman was a tank this season. According to PFF, he has the second-best overall defense grade (86.1), the third-best run defense (75.2), and the best coverage grade (89.2) on the team. He had a career-high in pass breakups (seven), including two during the Week 17 game against the Broncos.
He had some very memorable moments as well. There was the forced fumble on wide receiver Garett Wilson during Week 9 against the Jets, where safety Derwin James picked up the loose ball. And during Week 3 against Minnesota, he literally ripped the ball out of tight end T.J. Hockenson’s hands, no easy feat. He also had interceptions against the Bills and in the last game against the Chiefs.
Despite suffering from some injuries, Gilman showed up and showed out and has earned well-deserved praise. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this year and with a statement season like this, the new head coach and general manager would be foolish to let him get away.
4. Edge Rusher: Tuli Tuipulotu
Tuli Tuipulotu was the 54th pick of the second round this year and he definitely lived up to the high draft position. He ended the season with eight sacks, 36 hurries, 39 solo tackles, 34 STOPs, and two forced fumbles, and was only responsible for one receiving touchdown. He was one of those players who soaked up information from those around him and kept progressing each week.
His tackling game wasn’t always on point, but he was a reliable presence, which sometimes is not the case with rookies (*cough Quentin Johnston *cough). I’m excited to see how he’ll develop as he gets more experience. Who knows what the defensive makeup of this team will be next season, but one thing is for sure, whatever coach ends up in charge should make sure to use Tuipulotu as much as possible.
5. Wide Receiver: Derius Davis
The Los Angeles Chargers found their return specialist in Derius Davis. Though he needs a bit of work in the kickoff return area. In terms of punt returns, he did great. He returned one punt for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Jets in Week 9, marking his longest return on the season. And against the Patriots in Week 13, he had a 34-yard return.
Sometimes he messed up, as rookies do. He had the ball forced out on a punt return during the “Game that Shall Not be Named” in Week 15 in primetime, which gave the opposing team great field position for a touchdown, field goal, and a 28-0 lead that only got more out of control as the half dragged on. But everyone played crappy during that matchup, so his muffed punt was the least of the issues.
He was not utilized a lot on the receiving side, even with Mike Williams out for the season and Josh Palmer out for multiple games. So perhaps he’ll get more of a chance on the offensive side of the ball this year.
For now, as the 125th pick in the fourth round of the draft, he’s found his niche and paid off big time. His speed and experience helped him develop into a solid returner, exactly as the Chargers envisioned. At least Tom Telesco and Brandon Staley got something right in LA. Here’s to more special teams touchdowns in 2024.