The NFL 2020 season is limping along, and rookies are trying to make a team in chaotic times. Regardless of what is happening, every team and every player are in a similar situation, so there is no time for excuses.
Training camp is officially here, Hard Knocks premieres this Tuesday night, and the Chargers have a ton talent all vying for a final roster spot. Here are three rookies that will make an impact and three players that are in for an uphill battle.
The 2020 Impact Rookies
2019 Linebacker Corps
So it really isn’t news that the linebacker corps was the weak link in the defense last season.
According to the NESN.com (New England Sports Network), the Chargers were the 22nd ranked linebacker group.
Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus ranked the Chargers linebackers 18th in the league, giving their coverage grade 53.5 which was 23rd out of 32 teams. They accessed individual players as follows:
- Denzel Perryman missed a career-high 15 tackles last season.
- Nick Vigil‘s best grade for his career is 60.
- Malik Jefferson was better in the run game.
- Drue Tranquill played on 382 snaps in his rookie season and graded out 66.6.
- Kyzir White also graded out 66.6 on 372 snaps.
1. Kenneth Murray, Linebacker, Drafted #23
Murray was a surprise pick, in that the Chargers gave up a second-rounder to move up and get him. He is well worth the move.
Measurements: 6’2″, 241 pounds, Arm 32 3/4″, Hands 91/2″, Wingspan 80″
NFL Combine: 40-yard dash 4.52, Bench 21 reps
Murray isn’t going to be the Chargers coverage linebacker as he allowed 82.4 percent of his targets to be completed at Oklahoma. He only broke up four out of 102 targets with no interceptions. So we know he isn’t there for his coverage skills (that’s Kyzir White’s job).
Murray was drafted to make an impact on the team, specifically in run support. He excels going sideline to sideline and is projected as a three-down player.
With the departure of Thomas Davis, the Chargers are moving towards a young and multi-talented group of linebackers. Murray has the athleticism and the intangibles to be the impact player of this group.
2019 Running Back Corps
- Melvin Gordon held out, and when he returned, he was responsible for 162 rushes and 42 receptions.
- Austin Ekeler finished the season with 11 touchdowns, and an 85.2 catch percent; responsible for 36 percent of the 2019 rushing attempts.
- Justin Jackson had his season sidelined with a calf injury, he managed 222 total yards.
2. Joshua Kelley, Running Back, Drafted fourth round #112
[Kelley] has a good change-of-direction, vision, burst, decent speed, and passing game ability to make an impact on any down. Kelley was a surprise pick in the fourth round when other positions seemed to be more of a need, however, Kelley does fill a hole for the Chargers. Jackson has injury concerns, and Ekeler excelled last season while only being in on 36 percent of rushes.
There stands to reason there is some concern about Jackson’s injury status and his ability to be the man behind Ekeler. The Chargers have stated that they will employ a running-back-by-committee. Look for Kelley to make an impact not only in short-yardage situations but eventually to out snap Jackson and equal Ekeler’s rushes.
3. Breiden Fehoko, Defensive Tackle, Undrafted Free Agent
Measurables: 6’2″, 291 pounds
Fehoko was not invited to the Senior Bowl or the NFL Scouting Combine, and LSU’s Pro day was canceled due to Covid-19. But that didn’t stop him, he recorded a private workout that he did with a former NFL Scout and sent the tapes to teams.
I mention this because in addition to talent (finished 2019 with a career-high six tackles for loss, 17 stops, and 0.5 sacks) he has the drive and versatility. In an interview, he stated, “I’ve played everywhere from left end to right end, five-technique, 4i, 3, 2i, shade, head-up zero. I played in the 3-4 scheme, I played in a 4-3 scheme, I played in Bear, so I know different types of techniques that go into playing different positions.”
Here is the impact that Fehoko will make with the Chargers. In a “normal” season the Chargers have fallen victim to injuries. Now we are in a season that threatens not only “football injuries” but players missing time due to the virus. To have a player who can add depth in most positions along your defensive line is an opportunity the Chargers cannot afford to pass up.
The 2020 Rookies With An Uphill Battle
- Philip Rivers, Quarterback from 2004-2019
- 2019 stats: 66 completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions
1. Justin Herbert, Quarterback, Drafted #6
Measurables: 6’6″, 236 pounds, Arms 32 7/8″, Hands 10″
To be a first-round pick in the NFL draft is hefty enough. To be drafted with the noise of being the “face of the franchise” following Rivers’ long tenure as a Charger just adds a little more weight. Now to be that quarterback in a season that is chaotic, with very little prep and offseason workouts, is quite the uphill climb.
But first, Herbert has to be the number one quarterback, and Tyrod Taylor currently holds that position. He has to overtake Taylor with a shorter off-season and no preseason reps to get him up to game speed.
Herbert will eventually get under center, but the more important question is not when, but how will he fare compared to the last face of the franchise?
2020 Wide Receivers
Pro Football Focus has ranked the Chargers wide receiving corps as the seventh-best in the league.
2. Jeff Cotton, Wide Receiver, Undrafted Free Agent
Measurables: 6’2″, 205 pounds
What was once a suspect position behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams got exponentially better after the 2020 NFL Draft. The Chargers rectified the WR2/3 position drafting Joe Reed in the fifth round and K.J. Hill in the seventh round.
Jeff Cotton has the stigma of coming from a mid-major, but as many before him have shown, talent is talent. In his last season in Idaho, Cotton had career-highs in catches (88), yards (1,141), and seven touchdowns. He led the FCS with 8.8 catches per game and was second with 114.1 yards per game.
This year’s depth of talented wide receivers coming from the major programs didn’t help. Then the pre-draft process halting because of COVID was another bump in the road.
Talent prevails. But even a wide receiver as talented as Cotton will have an uphill battle in making the Chargers squad.
One positive for Cotton, during the first cuts, the Chargers released wide receiver, Andre Patton.
The Los Angeles Chargers have arguably the best secondary not only in the AFC West but in the NFL.
3. Alohi Gilman, Safety, Drafted #186
Measurables: 5’10 1/2″, 202 pounds
Gilman transferred from the Naval Academy to Notre Dame where he played out his last seasons. In his final year at Notre Dame, he had 74 tackles, three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, one sack, one interception, and three pass breakups.
Gilman’s uphill battle has become a little less of a battle. With the first cuts, the Chargers released safety Roderic Teamer. The only other strong safety on the roster is Derwin James. James is a bonafide Pro Bowler, so Gilman won’t be starting over him, but he can add depth and be an immediate special teams contributor.
Let’s debate on Twitter @neverenoughglt!