The Los Angeles Chargers are gearing up for training camp and OTAs and the time has come for some intriguing position battles. After the previous offseason with limited workouts due to COVID-19, it is a welcomed sign to see teams and players get back on the field in preparation for the 2021 season. Previously we mentioned the success of the Chargers draft class after snagging Rashawn Slater and Asante Samuel Jr. in the first two rounds.
The undrafted free agents are also a good haul of players, with some even having a chance to snag a roster spot come September. With training camp around the corner and the start of the season drawing near, it’s time to examine some of the Bolts position battles heading into the first season under new head coach Brandon Staley.
Los Angeles Chargers Position Battles To Watch
The Chargers roster will look vastly different from the 2020 product that was put on the field under now-Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Training camp should be exciting to follow, especially considering the talent the Bolts brought in this free agency and in the draft.
Position Battle #1: Running Back: RB 2 & 3
Let’s start with the obvious- and perhaps the toughest. It’s no surprise that Austin Ekeler is cemented as the starter and very likely an every-down back given his ability to run and catch the ball at a high level. However, after that, it’s a toss-up.
Joshua Kelley, a 2020 draft pick out of UCLA, has been rumored to be a cut candidate. He appeared in 14 games and finished the year with 111 carries for 354 yards and a pair of scores. He was the starter after Ekeler went down with an injury, only to be replaced by Kalen Ballage later on (who dashed to join the Pittsburgh Steelers).
The selection of Kelley in the draft was always a bit of a head-scratcher, and now with the latest draft choice of Larry Rountree III, it seems even more confusing. For Kelley it’s simple – he has to prove his worth, if not, he could be sent to the practice squad or be cut altogether in what would be a total loss for the Chargers.
Then there’s incumbent Justin Jackson, a 4th-year player out of Northwestern. The thing with Jackson has always been his health. In fact, his health was the sole reason why he ended up being a 7th round pick in the 2018 draft out of Northwestern. When healthy, he’s electric and dynamic. This play is a perfect example of his rushing ability.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 13, 2020
The problem is, he has only played in 29 games across three seasons and hasn’t played in more than nine games since his rookie year. That’s a huge concern, especially given the nonstop rash of injuries the Chargers have had to weather over the past years.
Then comes Larry Rountree III, the 6th round pick out of Missouri. The thing with Rountree is his size, something the Chargers have been missing in their running back position that led to the signing of Ballage last season. Rountree comes in at 5′ 11″ and 211 pounds and is a bruiser.
He had quite the career at Mizzou. Rountree had over 100 carries in all four seasons, eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2018, and scored double-digit touchdowns in two of the four seasons, including a career-high 14 scores in 2020 as he finished just 28 yards short of the 1,000 mark.
Rountree isn’t the best pass-catcher, but he doesn’t need to be. What the Chargers envision him as is a goal-line and short-yardage back, a guy to bring in on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 and get the first down.
Then again, he can also rattle off huge runs like this one.
An under the radar player to keep an eye on:
Larry Rountree III (5-9, 210), RB #Mizzou
-Explosive downhill runner
-Aggressive and physical back, good contact balance
-Consistent vision, solid in pass pro
-Top 5 rusher in the SEC twice in the past 3 years
-Senior Bowl invite pic.twitter.com/WX9Fn0AvdX
— Matt Hicks (@TheFF_Educator) January 2, 2021
It’s safe to say the Chargers drafted Rountree III for a reason, and it seems as if it is his job to lose. There’s a possibility the Chargers keep all four, but Rountree III looks to have the edge to become the backup to Ekeler, which would leave Jackson and Kelley fighting for the final spot.
Regardless, this will be one of the most intriguing position battles to watch as the season comes.
Position Battle #2: Wide Receiver 3
The Chargers are surprisingly loaded at wide receiver. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are entrenched as WR1 and 2, barring a trade for Julio Jones. The Bolts found some UDFA gems in Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton in 2020, both of whom flashed potential especially as deep play threats.
Despite all that, the WR3 position will be one of the closest battles to keep an eye on as Justin Herbert and this offense aim to reach new heights in 2021.
The Chargers nabbed Josh Palmer in the 3rd round of the draft out of Tennessee. Palmers tape is fun to watch, and early on this feels like his job to lose. After all, why spend a 3rd round pick on a receiver that won’t play much? Just watch this play and well, yeah, he has talent.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 10, 2019
Another talented receiver for Herbert to throw to and the Bolts can really put up points, especially if the offensive line can remain healthy.
A wide receiver core of Allen, Williams, and Palmer are tough to defend against, especially with the superb route running of Allen and the size of Williams and Palmer.
Chargers Position Battle #3: Right guard
The Chargers offensive line is basically set and is – on paper – the best group they have had in years. The right guard position is the only one not yet set and will come down to two players.
Oday Aboushi was one of the most underrated free-agent signings in the entire NFL this offseason. He brings a physical toughness and is a bruiser that the Chargers would love to have next to Corey Linsley.
On that note, Aboushi had his best year with the Detroit Lions in 2020 and should take this job.
However, the Chargers drafted Brendan Jaimes at the end of the 5th round in the 2021 draft. He started 40 straight games for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and provides durability that the Chargers have pleaded for. It’s certainly possible Jaimes takes the job, but having Jaimes as a rotational line piece – and someone who can play multiple positions – is valuable. He can also play both tackle spots and his athleticism and versatility could move Trey Pipkins further down the depth chart.
Position Battle #4: Kicker
Imagine this: it’s 4th and 7 on the opponent’s 30-yard line. Chargers are down by 3 and need a field goal to tie it. Do they go for it? Or risk a field goal?
Well, in the past, they have been hesitant to send out the field goal unit, especially after Michael Badgley had another year of struggles and missed extra points. That’s leads us to this point.
The Chargers signed Tristan Vizcaino, a guy who has bounced around the league for the past few years. He made an appearance with the San Francisco 49ers and made three kicks in the regular-season finale. The move to bring him in was for a competition at the position, and it didn’t end with this signing.
The Chargers then signed undrafted free agent Alex Kessman out of Pittsburgh, who has a legitimate shot to make the roster. He has a strong leg as discussed in the undrafted free agent profile previously. Just watch him drill this 58-yarder.
— Steelers Depot ✌️❤️✌️❤️ (@Steelersdepot) October 10, 2020
If Badgley struggles, and Kessman or Vizcaino impress in camp, it will be one of them kicking field goals in SoFi Stadium come September. This will be one of the more intriguing matchups to watch, especially after the pure ineptitude that was Badgley at some points over the past two seasons.
Plain and simple, Coach Staley and the refreshed coaching staff will do what they want with the roster all they can. This camp will be a telling sign as the Chargers look to shock people when the season rolls around.