We would all like to upgrade every position all the time, but that’s unfortunately not how timing works in the NFL. I’m going to take a look at the three positions I most think are in need this offseason for the Chargers. We’ll take a look back at what they needed to do better from last season, and then scan over the free agent pool and this year’s draft. Guys are about to be on the move from the current roster, so some of these voids are based around possible holes they might have.
Believe it or not, this season’s Chargers team was a lot better than advertised. They put up the 5th most yards in the air and scored 31 passing touchdowns. Conversely, they averaged 3.8 yards a carry and were 28th in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. For a team with a head coach who was a former running backs coach in the league, this is a bit of a head-scratcher. Especially considering they ran the ball a whopping 466 times last season, good for 9th overall. They were seriously committed to the run, while having one of the best passing offenses in the league, and were awful at it.
At the same time, the Chargers were a strange defensive team under Gus Bradley. They were average across the board against the run but gave up a ton of big plays in the secondary. The talent is there at every level, it’s just time to start getting healthy.
I hate to hammer in on Anthony Lynn all the time, but he really deserves it when you put the whole picture together. Hopefully, Brandon Staley has a better run of luck with it after this offseason concludes. This free agency class is full of receivers, offensive lineman, and safeties. The draft is going to be deep at quarterback, offensive lineman, edge rushers, and wide receivers.
With a lot of overlap in both free agency and the draft, the Chargers’ needs should allow them to have an assortment of options to choose from. Coach Staley is going to implement an entirely different system most likely, and that personnel will need to be addressed accordingly. The three positions that need addressing most urgently are offensive line, cornerback, and running back.
The Chargers invested a good amount of capital into their offensive line last offseason. They traded for Trai Turner and gave Bryan Bulaga $30m over 3 years. However, in Chargers fashion, it all fell apart. Of course, almost immediately, Mike Pouncey was out for the season, while Turner and Bulaga missed almost 10 games between them.
Dan Feeney, Storm Norton, and Forrest Lamp will most likely be back this season as rotational pieces. Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins are not cutting it, however, and combined with the injuries, they become a bigger part of the offense. The Chargers have gone 8 years without investing in a first-round lineman. The future is here, and it’s Herbert. They need to get a tackle that’s going to be able to take care of Herbert for a decade.
The good thing is that this free-agent class and draft are full of options. Just depends on how Tom Telesco wants to handle it.
A second full season of injury has gone by for Derwin James, and Casey Hayward was injured the latter half of the year. Chris Harris was fine for the most part (also missed time due to injury), but Tevaughn Campbell is just not getting it done.
Staley’s defense relies heavily on its corners being consistent, and this group, with age and injuries, is anything but.
Michael Davis and Rayshawn Jenkins both proved they are worth a contract extension and played well in relief of James and Hayward. Neither is a long-term solution, but have provided excellent depth in a pinch. It’s not a super deep draft class, but there are a few of the top-heavy talent the Chargers could push for at 13.
Anthony Lynn wanted to make sure everyone knew they were committed to the run. While it is important for every team to establish the run, I’m not sure that was the best use of his offensive arsenal. If you’re going to run the ball that much, and not go anywhere — wouldn’t it make sense that they would be averaging more than the paltry 6.5 yards per attempt in the air? Baffling.
I think Austin Ekeler is a really good NFL player, but I don’t think he’s the answer to the Melvin Gordon hole. Earlier this week, new OC Joe Lombardi was quoted saying that Ekeler is a reminder of Alvin Kamara or Darren Sproles. This mirrors my sentiment exactly, that he’s more of a dynamic offensive piece and less of a foundational first and second-down back. With a tiny frame and injury history ramping up, it’s time to move away from Ekeler as the main rushing focal point.
Running back isn’t usually the first need for a team that’s building, but you also cannot just find NFL talent anywhere. This offensive line being healthy will help, but a between-the-tackles runner is a must this off-season.
The Chargers have a few strange leaky holes to plug, it’s Tom Telesco’s job to now find the right pieces that fit into Coach Staley’s style. They need to address pass rushers, as well as linebackers. Special teams are going to need an entire overhaul from their historically awful showing. But these other positions are going to be imperative first, so they can lift up the balance of the whole team.