Who Will Be Wide Receiver Three For The Chargers?

Mike Williams poses at Media Day

Who Will Be Wide Receiver Three For The Chargers?

The Los Angeles Chargers have begun their offseason program and the position battles are starting, especially at wide receiver. As I see it now, there are seven receivers that will or have a legitimate shot to make this year’s roster. Even those who make the roster will have to fight for playing time but there are snaps up for grabs. 

Pro Bowler Keenan Allen and former first-round pick Mike Williams are the only receivers that have earned starting roles. Luckily for the rest of the guys, the third receiver on the depth chart will have a significant role on the offense. The way I see it, that spot is an open competition. 

There are five receivers that could compete for that third spot, including three draft picks from the past two seasons. The receiver I think is the least likely to earn the role is Joe Reed. Last year’s fifth-round selection was taken from Virginia as a return specialist and gadget player. 

Reed started 2020 as the Chargers’ main kick return man but ended up losing the job to safety Nasir Adderley. Offensively, he played just 34 snaps the entire season and was a healthy scratch for multiple games. It’s likely that this coaching staff could use him better than the last, but he will have the hardest road to the third wide receiver role. 

The other long shot is 2020 7th-round K.J. Hill. The former Buckeye played just 13% of the offensive snaps in 2020 and struggled to make an impact. He had a couple of big catches for first downs and a couple of bad drops. He finished the year with just seven catches and no touchdowns. 

I like his route-running ability and his hands are better than what he showed last year. The problem is his skill-set does not complement what Allen and Williams do well. He could carve out a roll, but if Allen is healthy, I don’t think it will be a big one. 

Deciding between the other three receivers becomes more difficult. Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, and Joshua Palmer all have a legitimate shot at the role. This group is pretty inexperienced with one rookie, and Guyton leading the way playing in 19 career games. Guyton would seem to have a leg up in the competition after winning the job in 2020. He actually led every Chargers receiver in snaps last season. His 914 snaps ranked 12th in the NFL amongst all receivers. Unfortunately, the playing time didn’t translate into consistent production. 

Guyton made some explosive plays with three 50+ yard receptions but only had more than three catches in two games. Efficiency will be the biggest way for him to improve after only reeling in 50.9% of his 55 targets. His hand will have to be better as well after getting charged with five drops in 2020. 

Guyton is a legitimate deep threat and having his speed opens some things up for the offense. There is value there, but I do think he missed out on a chance to cement his position as wide receiver three last year. Now he finds himself competing for it again. 

The most interesting player vying for the role is Joshua Palmer. This was the first head-scratching pick for the Chargers during the draft. The consensus mock draft boards had Palmer going somewhere around the 5th-round. He was taken with the 77th overall pick in the 3rd-round. I was also skeptical of the value, but I can’t argue with the player they got. 

When you hear the Chargers coaches talking about him it’s not hard to understand why they were so high on him. At Tennessee, all he did was beat corners who would end up being 1st and 2nd-round draft picks. That and try to corral wild passes from some quarterbacks that left a lot to be desired. 

Palmer was one of five players the Chargers drafted that attended the Senior Bowl this year. Catching passes from Heisman finalist Mac Jones helped him show what he could do with competent quarterback play. Palmer dominated one-on-ones at the camp with physicality and nuanced route-running. 

Unlike the other receivers on this list, Palmer is built to play on the outside. He is built like a tank and although he doesn’t have elite height at 6’1’’ he plays bigger than that. On deep balls, he stacks defenders and is fantastic at tracking the ball in the air. On intermediate routes, he sets up defenders and creates separation to open throwing windows.

After using a third-round pick to get him, we know that Palmer is in the future plans. If Mike Williams leaves via free agency in 2022, Palmer is the logical replacement. He is a great compliment for the Chargers’ other receivers now as well, but is he ready for the third receiver role right now? 

I do think he will have a role and could end up being a legit number two receiver for the Chargers. I just don’t think it will happen in 2021. That brings us to my favorite at this moment to win the job, Johnson. The one they call T Billy went undrafted out of Oklahoma State and was cut from three teams in 2019. The Chargers would sign him to the practice squad and eventually a futures contract at the end of that season.

Johnson got his shot with the Chargers in 2020, in an offseason with no preseason games to help prove his worth. He was waived before the season and was added to the practice squad. When he got called up for the game against the Buccaneers Week 4, he made it count. Johnson scored a 53-yard touchdown on his first career reception. That gave us a glimpse of his explosiveness.  

The former Oklahoma State Cowboy finished 2020 with a modest 20 receptions but averaged 19.9 yards per catch. That average ranked second in the NFL amongst receivers with 20 or more receptions. He ended up with as many 20 and 40-plus yard receptions as Guyton in 656 fewer offensive snaps. I think that is where Johnson separates himself here with his efficiency. 

The Chargers should have used Johnson much more in 2020. He led Chargers receivers with a 76.9 catch percentage and never dropped a ball. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked top-ten in the league in yards per route run. When he was on the field, he made plays. 

All of the numbers are great, but you could see how much he improved throughout the season. He was initially used just as a field-stretcher and was really only targeted on deep balls. As the season progressed his route tree was expanded. His ball-tracking was already good, but his releases at the line-of-scrimmage and route running really improved. His run-blocking still needs some work but turned himself into a well-rounded receiver. 

For the 2021 Chargers, I think he is the best option for the third receiver role. If he picks up the new offense I believe he will win the job. Johnson brings a speed threat that neither Allen nor Williams provide and the efficiency that Guyton has not shown to this point. He is the best option for new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to try and attack defenses vertically. 

The Chargers have all of the pieces to field an explosive offense and I expect Johnson to be a big part of it. A few teams are going to really regret letting him get out of the building. It will be very hard to overlook Johnson after he breaks out in 2021. 


Photo Credit: Chargers Social Media: Mike Williams poses at Media Day