Today is one of the toughest days of the year for the Chargers, along with the rest of the NFL, as they have to trim their collective rosters down to 53 players. This year was especially difficult due to the lack of a true offseason and preseason games. While those games aren’t necessarily crucial for the veteran players, they are great opportunities for players at the bottom of the rosters to show what they are capable of. Thankfully, the NFL did expand the practice squad rosters to 16 instead of 10. So that should help give guys more opportunities for reps throughout the season.
Because of the pandemic, there weren’t any major surprises for the Chargers, but I’ll get into some of the main standouts below. I’ll also give a little description on each positional group as a sort of mini-breakdown.
One of the more important events of the day, however, was the placement of Derwin James on injured reserve. This decision makes his season-ending designation official, and gives the Chargers an extra opening at the safety position should they choose to bring in a veteran presence like Jaylen Watkins(recently released), Jahleel Addae(unsigned), Eric Reid(unsigned), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix(recently released) or Damarious Randall(recently released). Of that group, Watkins would be my preferred option as he has familiarity with the team and positional versatility to play both safety positions and even the nickel cornerback position.
Chargers Roster Rundown: Analyzing The Chargers 53-Man Roster
Undrafted Free Agent Streak Comes To An End
The Chargers have had a great history of signing undrafted free agents (UDFA) and turning them into impact players. From Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd to Austin Ekeler. They had a 13-year streak of having at least one UDFA make the initial roster and unfortunately that streak has come to an end. With the pandemic, the chances of having multiple UDFA’s make the roster were slim, but almost everyone assumed they would have at least one because of the fullback battle going on between Bobby Holly and Gabe Nabers. The two brought different styles to the table, and neither really separated themselves from the other. The Chargers elected to cut both players, although they are hoping to keep Nabers on the practice squad due to his versatility in the passing game.
Four Tight Ends Make The Roster
In arguably the biggest surprise of the day, the Chargers elected to keep four tight ends on the roster. This is ultimately a result of the Chargers electing to cut both fullbacks, and because the former XFL standout Donald Parham was simply too enticing to part ways with. It’s been reported for weeks now that Stephen Anderson had separated himself from Parham for the third spot on the depth chart but Parham had been impressive throughout camp as well. He possesses elite physical traits as one of the tallest, and fastest tight ends in the league.
Parting Ways With Darius Jennings
The biggest name the Chargers cut today was Darius Jennings. The team signed him early on in the free agency period and seemed pretty excited about his ability as a kick returner. The coaching staff has been very vocal about how disappointed they were in the special teams’ results in 2019, and arguably the biggest point of emphasis has been in the return game.
The Chargers had one of the worst average starting drive points in the league, in part because they didn’t really have a player with elite return skills. Unfortunately for Jennings, they also drafted Joe Reed. The former Virginia Cavalier has a case for the greatest kickoff return man ever, and unlike Jennings, he’s not only a return specialist. So while Jennings was the biggest name that was cut, this move should have been expected.
Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor, Justin Herbert, Easton Stick
Taylor was named the starting quarterback recently by head coach Anthony Lynn, which should have surprised no one. The team loves his ability to make plays with his legs, as well as his leadership in the locker room. He has the respect of everyone in the organization and I expect him to play the whole season as the starter, barring injury of course.
Herbert is the team’s first-round pick and face of the franchise. He will get his shot eventually, but for now, he’ll open the season as Taylor’s backup. He reportedly has been very impressive with his arm talent, but like all rookies, he is behind the eight ball because of the lack of an offseason.
Stick is still valued by this team as a developmental quarterback, even though he was taking reps at safety last year. His mobility is his best asset.
Running Back: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson
Ekeler heads into 2020 as the true lead back for the first time in his career. The former UDFA got a nice new contract extension in the offseason and should be plenty motivated to prove that he was worthy of the contract. I expect him to get a very similar workload to the one he was getting while former Charger Melvin Gordon was holding out in 2019.
This might surprise some but I fully expect Joshua Kelley to serve as the team’s second running back, and main compliment to Ekeler. The coaching staff loves him and several beat writers for the Chargers have said he’s had the best camp of any player on the team. At worse, I expect him to be the team’s short-yardage/goal-line back.
Jackson is the wildcard on this team. He possesses elite vision for a running back and if he’s ever able to stay healthy, he could force his way into a more consistent role.
Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Jason Moore, KJ Hill, Joe Reed
The biggest surprise of this group is Moore staying on the roster. The Athletic’s Daniel Popper has speculated that Williams’ injury might be longer than we all think, and Moore is the closest thing to him on the roster.
Allen also made news as he got a hefty new contract as well, and deservedly so. He will serve as the team’s number one target in the passing game and reportedly has a fantastic connection with Taylor.
Guyton is the speedster of the bunch and will likely be the team’s main slot receiver when they go into three-receiver sets, similar to what Travis Benjamin was.
Hill is already getting the “Keenan Allen clone” treatment and is making a name for himself as an elite route runner. He primarily played out of the slot in college, but if he can prove to the team he can play on the outside as well, he could be here for the long haul.
Reed recently made noise when coach Lynn compared him to Percy Harvin. The team will look to move him all over the field and get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways. He even practiced with the running backs last week.
Tight End: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Stephen Anderson, Donald Parham
As I mentioned above, the Chargers keeping four tight ends was a big surprise. Most teams keep three on the active roster. Part of that is because of Parham’s upside, but it could also be because the Chargers are at least somewhat pessimistic about Henry’s ability to stay healthy.
Green is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, and will probably take on the majority of the snaps vacated by the lack of a true fullback. But he also has a nice relationship with Taylor and could be used semi-frequently in the passing game.
Anderson is hardly a household name, but the team loves his big-play ability. He had several long touchdowns throughout camp, including in the team’s scrimmages this past week.
Henry is obviously the team’s most talented tight end, and as I mentioned in a former article, the team will need him to step up in Williams’ absence.
Offensive Line: Sam Tevi, Dan Feeney, Mike Pouncey, Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Trey Pipkins, Forrest Lamp, Scott Quessenberry, Storm Norton, Tyree St. Louis
The first five here are listed in the order in which they will start games. Bulaga and Turner bring a much-needed improvement and veteran presence from the 2019 group.
The biggest surprise here is that St. Louis made the roster over veteran Ryan Groy and former starter Trent Scott. It has been speculated that he might be cut down the road, however, as the team searches for a potential veteran safety depth piece.
Norton, Lamp, Quessenberry, and Pipkins provide solid depth behind the starting unit.
Defensive Line: Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Linval Joseph, Justin Jones, Jerry Tillery, Damion Square, Isaac Rochell, Cortez Broughton, Uchenna Nwosu
The only real doubt here was if Broughton would make the roster. Ultimately, he does and for good reason. Several beat writers have been impressed with his improvement in the pass-rushing department. That has been a theme for all of the team’s young defensive tackles.
Several players, coaches, and reporters have pegged Jones as the team’s most likely breakout player. Daniel Popper has said several times he expects him to have a “monster year”.
Tillery has been talked about as well and the team could be looking to move him around a bit as a defensive tackle/defensive end hybrid.
Bosa, Ingram, and Joseph could possibly be the best trio in the league. Joseph has been compared to a walking refrigerator, a tractor, and several other big adjectives. He should provide a big upgrade over Brandon Mebane at the team’s nose tackle position.
Linebacker: Denzel Perryman, Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, Nick Vigil, Emeke Egbule, Kyzir White
Another mini surprise is the team only keeping six linebackers on the active roster. Traditionally they have preferred to keep seven. This group as a whole is easily the most talented and deepest group the team has ever had under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. I expect Murray, Tranquill, and White to be the starting trio, making for an incredibly athletic and versatile trio.
The team has said they’re focusing on Murray as the team’s starting MIKE, but as the season goes on we could see his workload increased. Tranquill is another popular breakout candidate, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has said several times he is expecting a Pro Bowl season from the second-year player. White is the passing down specialist of the group and will likely be counted on as a key special teamer.
Vigil and Perryman provide the team with a very solid backup duo. When healthy, Perryman has been a difference-maker in the run game. Vigil comes over from Cincinnati and can play all three linebacker spots. He reportedly had a very good camp.
Egbule is in line to take over Nwosu’s snaps in the team’s OTTO linebacker/defensive end hybrid role. He’s been seen practicing with both the linebackers and defensive line.
Cornerback: Casey Hayward, Michael Davis, Chris Harris Jr., Brandon Facyson, Tevaughn Campbell
Campbell is the wildcard here. He is the fastest player in the history of the Canadian Football League and provides a similar skill set to Davis. Davis and Facyson were wildly inconsistent last year but both reportedly had good showings in training camp.
Hayward and Harris Jr. are one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Coverage from the slot was one of the biggest weak spots on the team last year, which is why they brought Harris Jr. over from Denver. He will play in the slot and on the outside though, as the team looks to have a versatile secondary.
Safeties: Rayshawn Jenkins, Nasir Adderley, Desmond King, Alohi Gilman
I have King listed as a safety because coach Lynn said earlier this week that the team has always viewed him as one, even though he’s played the majority of his snaps as the team’s nickel corner. He is in a contract year and needs to prove his terrible 2019 season was an outlier.
Jenkins has been much maligned by fans on twitter but he’s done everything the coaching staff has asked of him, including switching positions. He will likely be switching back to his natural strong safety position, which should benefit his overall production.
Gilman should be a key special teamer, but in a pinch could see the field at strong safety. My biggest concern with him is his lack of high-level athleticism, which could cause some problems in coverage and out in space.
Adderley is essentially a second-year rookie after a hamstring tear cost him most of the 2019 season. He’s got all the makings of an elite safety and I think he could be in for a special season in James’ absence.
Specialist: Michael Badgley, Ty Long, Cole Mazza
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Chargers did not have a competition at either kicking spot. Badgley and Long played incredibly well down the stretch of the 2019 season. Long provides versatility as he can play both spots, and should continue his work on kickoffs. He reportedly was bombing 70+ yard punts on a regular basis in training camp. Badgley is arguably the most efficient kicker in the team’s history and has shown he can be counted on in high-pressure situations. Mazza is a fine long snapper.
What do you think Chargers fans? Is this the roster to get the Chargers into the playoffs? Comment your thoughts below or hit me up on Twitter!