Predicting The Los Angeles Chargers Final 53-Man Roster

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Chargers backup quarterback Chase Daniel throws a pass against the Seahawks in preseason action.

Predicting The Los Angeles Chargers Final 53-Man Roster

The Los Angeles Chargers have officially wrapped up the pre-season portion of the 2021 season after getting shut out by the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night. It was an eventful (and unofficial) start to the Brandon Staley era, but now comes the difficult part: making roster cuts. The Chargers will have to trim their roster from 81 players to 53 by Tuesday, and then hopefully keep some of the players around on the practice squad. 

Here are my final predictions for the final roster.

Quarterback (3)

Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, and Easton Stick

Before training camp started I thought this team had too many question marks to afford to keep three quarterbacks on the final 53-man roster. I still think that, but Tom Telesco said live on air on Saturday night that they are likely to keep both Daniel and Stick on the final roster.

This is a move that goes against the general train of thought around the league. To me, this is a signal that neither Daniel nor Stick really went and won the position battle. Stick had some good moments and flashed his athleticism but still struggled with the mental side of the game in various instances. He runs out of clean pockets too often and holds the ball in dirty pockets too often as well. When he’s been decisive, he’s been accurate but that didn’t happen consistently enough for him to decisively beat out Daniel.
Daniel’s performance on the field was definitely a mixed bag this preseason, including a very poor performance against the Niners. However, he was the better quarterback in practice from what I saw in my own visit to training camp and what others reported throughout the 17 practices. All that being said, the Chargers clearly valued Daniel’s veteran leadership and familiarity with the offense. Those two things will help Herbert and Stick as well. I can’t agree with the decision to keep both backups on the roster.

Running Back (3)

Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Larry Rountree

I did not have Joshua Kelley making the roster in my initial prediction, and after watching this preseason unfold, I’m even less confident that there’s a spot on this roster for him – unless the team is planning for Jackson to be placed on injured reserve after the first round of cuts. 

Yes, he didn’t have great blocking in front of him, but the difference in juice between Rountree (and even Darius Bradwell) is quite noticeable. Not to mention he allowed Cody Barton to have a free run at Daniel, which resulted in a defensive touchdown last night. At this point, I am much more confident in Rountree as a runner, pass protector, and receiver. 

Fans continue to pound the table that Jackson can’t stay healthy and should be cut, but the coaching staff continues to talk very positively about him. I don’t necessarily agree with the decision to keep him, but he’s most likely going to make the roster. 

Fullback (1)

Gabe Nabers

Nothing new here. Nabers is the only fullback on the roster, and according to Staley, he has had a great camp this year. He’s battled a minor knee injury, but he is expected to be ready for the start of the season. He needed to improve as a blocker and special teams, and it seems like he has done that so far.

Tight End (4)

Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson, and Tre McKitty

I was concerned about the lack of blocking in the tight end room heading into the offseason, but Anderson and Parham have both really improved in that regard. Anderson in particular has flashed some serious growth and has been lining up all over the formation, as a full back, H-back, and inline at tight end. He had a nasty block early on in the game last night that really stood out to me, a block that came from him working as the fullback.

Parham arguably is the most improved player on the roster this year and could be a breakout player that not many people are talking about. Draft him late in your fantasy leagues because if anything happens to Cook, Parham is THE guy in a high-flying offense. 

I don’t think this puts McKitty on the bubble. To me, this indicates that they’re going to bring him on slowly in his first season. I think he has the skill set to be their version of Virgil Green but it’s not the worst thing in the world to ease him into the league. 

Wide Receiver (6)

Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, and KJ Hill

Nothing changed for the receiver group for me, at least in terms of roster construction. The sixth spot was up for grabs all camp, and Jason Moore has certainly made it interesting. As did Austin Proehl, for a little while before getting cut this week. Barring an unexpected signing, KJ Hill should make the roster as the last receiver and punt returner – much to our chagrin. Palmer, Guyton, and Johnson will all have a role but it seems like the first two have separated themselves from Johnson right now. (For the record I don’t agree with the sentiment that Johnson is on the bubble, but I guess we’ll see in a few days.)

Offensive Line (9)

Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Oday Aboushi, Bryan Bulaga, Brenden Jaimes, Scott Quessenberry, Storm Norton, and Ryan Hunter

The Chargers will enter week one with their starting offensive line healthy, and that is a huge victory for Brandon Staley and company. While the performance from the backups wasn’t pretty, it’s important to remember that we have yet to see the starting five play any snaps together. 

Heading into camp I figured Jaimes and Quessenberry were each locked in to make the roster and they’ve each been very solid. I was excited about Jaimes’ potential, but he has been better than even I thought he would be at this point in his young career. He has been the best backup lineman on the team. If any of the guards or tackles get hurt, Jaimes should be the first one off the bench.

After those two, there was a battle between Norton and Trey Pipkins for the swing tackle spot. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, no one has really won that battle but Norton has not been nearly as bad as Pipkins. So Norton wins by default – evidenced by Pipkins being the tackle to stick around with the third team and not Norton. 

Pipkins could certainly make the roster but I cannot, in my right mind, put that into the universe. He has been absolutely terrible during the preseason. There is no way to sugarcoat it. However, Hunter has shown me some good flashes at guard, and I believe he should make the roster as the last offensive lineman.

Defensive Tackle (5)

Linval Joseph, Jerry Tillery, Justin Jones, Christian Covington, and Cortez Broughton

Arguably the most heated position battle on the roster has taken place in the backup defensive tackle room. Joseph, Tillery, and Jones have not played in the preseason, and that has allowed the Chargers to get extended looks at the second group and the players rewarded them by making this an incredibly difficult decision. 

Up until last night, I had six defensive tackles making this roster. Then Telesco had to throw a wrench in those plans. The last spot comes down to Broughton, Breiden Fehoko, and fan-favorite Forrest Merrill. The last two have flashed impressive ability to disrupt the run, but Broughton has simply shown the ability to be a better playmaker than the other two have; so I had to find a spot for him, and I believe the Chargers will as well. 

Edge Rusher (4)

Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu, Kyler Fackrell, and Chris Rumph II

Before training camp I had Emeke Egbule making the roster and the Chargers carrying five edge rushers along with their five defensive tackles. Unfortunately, Egbule has been hurt and frankly hasn’t really stood out that much. Jessie Lemonier has shown some flashes of good play but still seems like he’s a year away from being ready to contribute, he should be a practice squad stash.

Fackrell and Rumph II have each been very pleasant surprises throughout training camp. Fackrell seems to have surpassed Nwosu for that complementary role alongside Bosa, but both will play a lot – as will Rumph II. I thought the rookie out of Duke played incredibly well against the Seahawks and even flashed a skillset that he did not have in college and almost assuredly is something he picked up from watching and working with Bosa. I’m coming around on Rumph II being a playmaker in the NFL.

Linebacker (5)

Kenneth Murray, Kyzir White, Drue Tranquill, Nick Niemann, and Amen Ogbongbemiga

I am essentially looking at the 53rd spot on the roster as a debate between keeping Ogbongbemiga or Fehoko. This could just be me trying to will a gut feeling into existence, but the undrafted linebacker out of Oklahoma State has flashed some Denzel Perryman-esque ability against the run in the first preseason game. He’s caught the Chargers’ attention, the question is if he did enough before getting hurt. It’s a gamble, but I’m willing to bet that he did.

His health certainly clouds this decision-making process – he is still dealing with an AC joint sprain which is why he did not play on Saturday. Coach Staley seemed to imply that he would be ready for week one if they decided to keep him, and Daniel Popper seemed to confirm that on Friday evening. 

Chargers fans should be absolutely ecstatic about the depth at this position. The Chargers have three studs in Murray, White, and Tranquill. Then Niemann represents a very intriguing developmental player who has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the preseason for the team.

Defensive Back (10)

Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Michael Davis, Chris Harris, Brandon Facyson, Asante Samuel Jr., Alohi Gilman, Mark Webb, *Ryan Smith, and Tevaughn Campbell

Nothing really changed for me in this group until Smith’s injury dragged on and on throughout training camp. He is currently still dealing with that pesky core muscle injury and is also still on the NFL’s Covid reserve list. I expect him to be placed on injured reserve after the initial round of cuts. This will allow the Chargers to keep him around with the intention of getting him back on the field at some point down the road. It is certainly not ideal, but they need his skill set as a special teams ace. 

After being cut, I think Kemon Hall returns to the roster to take Smith’s place. The Chargers risk losing him to another team by doing this, which is certainly not ideal, but hopefully, they are able to keep him around. They like his ability to play multiple positions, and he has flashed some good playmaking ability from the slot, as well as his ability on special teams. Staley said he was one of Derius Swinton’s favorites. 

I wish I could find a spot for John Brannon who has had a terrific camp by all accounts. Unfortunately for him, I think this team values the position flexibility that Hall and Campbell offer them and that’s simply not Brannon’s game. I hope he sticks on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

Ty Long, Tristan Vizcaino, Matt Overton

Raise your hand if you had “Chargers sign a 36-year-old, former pro bowl long snapper” on your Chargers bingo card. Overton got every single snap against the 49ers and reportedly has looked very spry in practices. I had Cole Mazza winning the battle against rookie Ryan Langan, but Langan was cut and Mazza is still hurt. 

The kicker battle has been a wild ride, and unfortunately, we did not get to see much of either kicker last night. Vizcaino did have the one miss, though. Frankly, I do not feel great about either kicker and at this point, I would prefer to see the Chargers bring in the recently cut Joey Slye or even Eddy Pineiro

My thinking in picking Vizcaino here and now is that every time the Chargers coaches talk about the kicking battle, they always bring up the ability to handle kickoffs. That’s not in Michael Badgley’s game. Former Chargers kicker Nick Novak, recently said that Vizcaino has elite hang time off the tee and their field goal percentages have been basically even this summer so I give the slight edge to him.

Long has looked rejuvenated this year and has had a couple of bombs in some of the preseason games. If the Chargers can get some good contributions from their gunners (like Smith at some point), the punt coverage unit should be very much improved this season.

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Chargers backup quarterback Chase Daniel throws a pass against the Seahawks in preseason action. Via LA Daily News