In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the AFC West, concluding with the San Diego Chargers today.
Recap of 2015: The Chargers had a tough go-round in 2015. They started the season 2-2 and then went on a six-game losing streak. They would only go on to only win another two games all season long. It was their worst season in 12 years. This team was decimated by injuries last season. Antonio Gates, Eric Weddle, Keenan Allen, Malcolm Floyd, Stevie Johnson, Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon all missed time due to injuries. The team also went through an ugly break-up with one of their greats, Eric Weddle. Weddle seemed to want to spend the rest of his career with the team that drafted and raised him, but the Chargers had other plans and were unwilling to talk about a contract extension with Weddle. The hometown of this franchise was also in serious jeopardy towards the end of the season. Going into Week 17 at home against the Broncos, the city of San Diego and the rest of the football world all thought this was going to be the last time we saw the Bolts in San Diego. In a rather shocking turn of events to many, the franchise decided to stay put for this season giving the city of San Diego false hope for at least one more year.
Significant Additions: WR/KR Travis Benjamin, CB Casey Hayward, DT Brandon Mebane, FS Dwight Lowery, WR James Jones
Significant Subtractions: FS Eric Weddle, P Mike Scifres
Potential Impact Rookies: DE Joey Bosa, TE Hunter Henry, LB Joshua Perry, P Drew Kaser
Team Strengths: The man under center, Philip Rivers. In a season where his top targets for some games were Dontrelle Inman and Javontee Herndon (don’t worry if you don’t know who these guys are, I hadn’t heard of them either), he still managed to finish second in the league overall with 4,792 passing yards. Had Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, and Stevie Johnson all been healthy all year, I would have to imagine that Rivers would have eclipsed the 5,000 yard mark. Rivers also managed to complete over 66% of his passes and complete the season with a QB Rating of 93.8, which is again worth noting due to him throwing to guys like Herndon and Inman. Not only can Rivers throw the ball accurately and for a lot of yardage regardless of who is lining up at WR for him, this guy is also an ELITE trash talker. He doesn’t care what the score is or what his team’s record is, he is going to get in your face and tell you the way it is if he beats you or one of his guys beats you for a long play or missed tackle. I am a big fan of the art of trash talking and this guy is one of the best in the business.
Team Weaknesses: Where should we even start with weaknesses of this team? The running back position was a mess last year, the punt return game was abysmal, the run defense might as well have been a sieve, and the lack of depth at wideout. The Chargers drafted Melvin Gordon in the first round last year with the expectation that he would make a significant impact in their backfield. Gordon never lived up to his expectations and was a huge disappointment. He was only able to muster up 3.5 yards per carry, scored 0 touchdowns, and lost four fumbles. The lack of effectiveness from Gordon forced the Chargers to throw a lot more than normal (Rivers set a career high in pass attempts in 2015) which also led to another hole on offense, the lack of depth at WR. Keenan Allen missed eight games with a lacerated kidney, Stevie Johnson missed six games with hamstring and groin injuries, and Malcom Floyd missed one game and was limited in three others with a shoulder injury. These injuries forced Dontrelle Inman and Javontee Herndon into the starting lineup. Inman, undrafted, was a member of the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL just two seasons ago and never had taken a snap in the NFL. The Chargers also struggled on defense at stopping the run. They allowed 4.8 yards per carry to opponents and allowed 17 rushing touchdowns. Only the Lions, 49ers, and Falcons allowed more. Their lack of run defense and ability to get off the field in short yardage situations also played a big role in their abysmal punt return game. Through eight games last season, the Chargers had a total of one punt return yard. They were never able to help this offense out and reverse field position.
Fantasy Players to Watch: The two obvious fantasy options are Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen. I see big seasons coming again for these two guys. The Chargers did not do much to help their run game and I see this team forced to throw the ball a ton again. Rivers will get his yardage and TDs mainly in garbage time, but he will rack up the points. Allen is River’s favorite target and he will continue to get the majority of the targets. I will advise you to tread cautiously with Rivers though. Don’t draft him too high and don’t overpay for him in your auction drafts. Antonio Gates should be a viable option at TE this year as Rivers always finds a way to get the ball to him. The problem with Gates though is he is getting older and has had some injury issues the past couple of years. Another late round pick-up worth grabbing in PPR leagues is Danny Woodhead. My fellow compadres here at H&H will debate way too much about this guy, but he can be very useful during bye weeks. He saw 107 targets out of the backfield last year and had 750+ receiving yards (more than guys like Donte Moncrief, who one of those fellow compadres started in a PLAYOFF game). One guy you may want to draft come draft day, but need to stay away from is Melvin Gordon. I am convinced that this guy is going to be even an RB2 this year. He was very unimpressive last season and the Chargers did not do anything across the offensive line to improve the run blocking for him. The same could also be said for Travis Benjamin. He is always good for one or two long balls every few weeks, but he is not a guy that puts up consistent numbers week in and week out.
2016 Outlook: The Chargers will look to turn things around in 2016. They hope that Melvin Gordon can finally get going and they hope the WRs can stay healthy this year. They went out and got James Jones yesterday (Stevie Johnson just torn his meniscus as I was writing this and will now be out at least six weeks) and also added Travis Benjamin at the beginning of free agency. Both of these guys should add depth to that very shallow WR corps. Benjamin will also look to make an impact in the punt return game. The Chargers also added DT Brandon Mebane and drafted DE Joey Bosa. Mebane was added to help along the defensive line against the run game. Bosa, the #3 overall draft pick in 2016, was the best player on the board and will have a major impact in the pass rush which ranked 25th in the league last year. The schedule ahead of the Chargers this year is one that could be very kind to them. They match-up against the AFC South and NFC South, two of the worst divisions in football. The AFC West also appears to be a big question mark. The Chiefs appear to be the favorite, but they could revert back to their 1-7 ways from a year ago. The defending World Champion Denver Broncos will most like have Mark Sanchez under center in Week 1, and the Raiders are still the Raiders. They also have rather easy tilts against the Dolphins and Browns this year.
Record Prediction: I want to be able to sit here and be able to tell you that this season will end well for the Chargers and to tell you that this season saves them from moving elsewhere, but I just can’t. The defense improved, but not significantly. The WR depth improved, but still features unreliable guys like Travis Benjamin and Stevie Johnson. The offensive line is essentially the same and Melvin Gordon is still in line to be the feature RB. I think a realistic prediction for the Chargers this year is 7-9. They will be in the playoff hunt for much of the season, but will ultimately just miss out. San Diego fans will be disappointed yet again and their fan base will be looking for a new team as this Chargers team bolts north for Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Andrew Weber/USA Today Sports