A look at the Chargers For 2018
First Winning Season Since 2014 9-7
April 5, 2018
The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off a successful first season in Los Angeles feeling pretty good about themselves. The Chargers ended up with their first winning season since 2014 with a 9-7 record.
The Chargers won 9 of their last 12 games and in the process looked like a team that no one would want to face in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Chargers just missed making the playoffs due to their 0-4 start.
The Chargers met many of their 2017 pre-season goals: stay healthy, win close games and reduce the turnovers. In 2016, the Chargers committed 35 turnovers, the worst in the NFL. In 2017, the Chargers committed only 15 turnovers, which tied for fourth best in the NFL. That improvement alone made a huge difference for the 2017 Chargers.
The Chargers have different areas of need going forward in 2018. Below is the status of each position group:
Offensive line: The pass blocking was terrific, the run blocking not so impressive. The Chargers ended up ranked 26th in rushing in the NFL. Charger 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury. His return will help the run game.
But the key move of the off-season was signing free agent Center Mike Pouncey to a two-year, $15 million contract. Pouncey is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and is considered one of the best centers in the NFL. His addition will make a good offensive line even better. The Chargers will probably draft additional depth on the offensive line.
Quarterback: Philip Rivers is not going anywhere, but at age 36 the Chargers need to address this position for the long term. Behind Rivers, the Chargers led the NFL in passing yardage per game. Rivers has made 192 consecutive starts and has two more seasons on his current contract.
The backups are veteran quarterback Kellen Clemens and inexperienced former Ohio State star Cardale Jones. Finding a quarterback of the future in the draft might not be a bad idea.
Tight End: Hunter Henry is the starter at this position and a good player. Henry is only 23 years old. The question at this position is the status of Antonio Gates, the future hall-of-famer tight end. Gates is a free agent who will turn 38 in June. He has indicated that he will return for another season, but will that be with the Chargers?
Sean McGrath returns as a backup to Henry and the Chargers recently signed free agent Virgil Green, whose strength is run blocking. If Gates returns, this position is very solid.
Running Back: The starter is Melvin Gordon, who rushed for over 1,105 yards, his first season over 1,000 yards rushing. Gordon was a workhorse, with 284 carries and 58 receptions for 476 yards. He will turn 25 in April, so he has a few more good years left.
The backup is undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler out of Western State of Colorado. Ekeler had a very productive rookie season as a receiver and third down back, with 539 yards of total offense last season and five touchdowns. The Chargers need to find additional depth at running back through the draft. They need to find a strong inside runner.
Wide Receiver: The deepest position on offense. Keenan Allen is the Pro Bowl star, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin bring deep speed. Williams was fifth in the NFL with an average of 16.9 yards per catch and Benjamin was sixth with an average of 16.7 yards per catch.
Mike Williams, the Chargers first round pick in 2017, struggled with a back injury and missed training camp and the first six games of the regular season. Rivers is excited about a healthy Williams: "I'm excited about Mike. I think he'll add a lot and bring a great impact to our offense. Mike can add another dimension to our offense."
Defensive Secondary: Another position of strength for the Chargers. Returning starters include pro bowl cornerback Craig Hayward and undrafted free agent Trevor Williams, who started as a rookie in place of the injured Jason Verrett.
Verrett was a pro bowl selection at cornerback in 2015. If he comes back healthy in 2018, the Chargers are loaded at cornerback. Rookie fifth round pick Desmond King played well in the slot corner position with four sacks, 61 tackles and a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Linebacker: This is the weakest position on the Chargers. Outside of Denzel Perryman, there is not another quality starter at linebacker. The Chargers need a playmaker at linebacker and they need a linebacker that can be a consistent tackler, one that can bring toughness to the middle of the defense.
Defensive Line: Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are two of the best in the NFL at the end position. They give the Chargers an outstanding pass rush. The Chargers need to draft help at the defensive tackle position. The Chargers were 31st in rushing defense last season in the NFL. They need to get stronger in the middle of the defense.
Kicking Game: Drew Kaser returns at punter. Kaser was fourth in the NFL in punting average at 48.1 yards per kick and was also fourth with a net average of 43.8 per return. He is one of the best in the league. One big reason the Chargers did not make the playoffs last year was their field goal kicking.
They hopefully resolved that issue with the signing of free agent kicker Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis is considered reliable. In 2016, Sturgis made all 24 of his field goal attempts inside 40 yards. In 2017, he lost his job with the Philadelphia Eagles due to an injury. However, he did collect a Super Bowl ring.
The NFL Draft is April 26 through April 28. The Chargers own seven draft picks, one in each round. In the coming weeks we will discuss the draft projections for the Chargers for each round.