OT L.J. Shelton, C Jeremy Newberry, ILB Derek Smith.
RB Marcus Thomas, FB Jacob Hester, OT Corey Clark, CB Antoine Cason, CB DeJuan Tribble.
RB Michael Turner, FB Lorenzo Neal, WR Eric Parker, OT Shane Olivea, CB Drayton Florence, FS Marlon McCree.
2008 San Diego Chargers Offense:
LaDainian Tomlinson had a very interesting 2007 season. He finished with 1,474 rushing yards, 60 receptions, 475 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. He was the dominant runner we all know and love during the middle of the year. However, Tomlinson drew some criticism in September, when he struggled to eclipse more than 62 rushing yards and 2.8 yards per carry until Week 4. Many blamed his lack of production on the fact that he sat out every preseason game. On the other hand, any reasonable person would just look at the three opponents who gave him trouble. The Bears' defense took the team to the Super Bowl just eight months ago. Sure, Chicago fizzled out, but they were all healthy on Kickoff Sunday, which is why Tomlinson was limited to 25 yards on 17 carries. The next two weeks, Tomlinson battled the Patriots and Packers, both of whom have exceptional defensive lines. It's no coincidence that Tomlinson broke out of his "slump" when he played the Chiefs' miserable defense on Sept. 30.
I'm more critical of Tomlinson's performance and attitude at the end of the 2007 campaign. Tomlinson tore his MCL in the second round at Indianapolis. He tried to play through it in the AFC Championship against New England, but couldn't do anything (two carries, five yards). But instead of cheering his team from the bench and being involved in the game, Tomlinson hired some kid in the stands to don his jersey, parka and helmet, and hide from the CBS camera on the sidelines. Seriously though, why even come out of the locker room after halftime?
Reports indicate Tomlinson has fully recovered, as he nearly fully participated in Chargers minicamps in early May. That's great news for San Diego, who lost its safety cushion, Michael Turner, to the Falcons in free agency. Tomlinson will be running behind a solid offensive line that has some issues. Left tackle Marcus McNeill struggled in his sophomore season after an outstanding rookie campaign. Was it opposing defensive coordinators figuring him out, or a minor knee injury he suffered against the Chiefs during Tomlinson's break-out game? We'll find out in the fall.
Meanwhile, the right tackle position is a bit of a concern. Shane Olivea was cut, leaving Jeromey Clary and L.J. Shelton to battle for the starting gig. Clary started in 2007, but was a liability. Shelton, on the other hand, was cut by the 1-15 Dolphins, so that should tell you how talented he is. At least the Chargers are solid in the interior with Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick and Mike Goff, though the latter just celebrated his 32nd birthday. This could be his final season in San Diego.
Despite the offensive line's struggles at the exterior, Philip Rivers was sacked only 22 times in 2007, and just 14 times after Week 3. Rivers had a solid year, as he failed to complete less than 50 percent of his passes only once. He finished with 3,152 yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 picks. His best performance came in the divisional round of the playoffs at Indianapolis, where he was a very efficient 14-of-19 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Unfortunately, Rivers suffered an ACL injury in the second half of that contest, and needed offseason surgery. He played at New England the following Sunday, but struggled, going 19-of-37 for 211 yards and two picks. Rivers is practicing now, but we've seen Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer and the like all perform very poorly coming off serious knee injuries.
One of the main reasons Rivers thrived in San Diego's penultimate contest was the emergence of Vincent Jackson, who caught seven passes for 93 yards and a score at Indianapolis. The 6-5, 241-pound target was dominant all postseason, notching 18 receptions, 300 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games. Of course, Rivers also had Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers as reliable targets. Gates had an "off year," and still managed 75 catches, 984 yards and nine scores. Meanwhile, Chambers, acquired in the middle of the year for almost nothing, also saw his production rise in the postseason (16 rec., 278 yards, 1 TD). Chambers didn't do much for the Chargers until Week 14, which was expected because he had to learn a brand-new offense.
With Jackson improving, Gates going over the middle and Chambers finally comfortable in the offense, San Diego's scoring attack has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, their two most important players, Rivers and Tomlinson, are coming off serious knee injuries. If either struggles for the majority of the 2008 campaign, the Chargers' playoff chances will be in jeopardy.
2008 San Diego Chargers Defense:
I'm very thankful the Chargers didn't have many picks in the 2008 NFL Draft, as assigning prospects to their selections would have been difficult, given that they don't have many needs. It's really hard to find any holes on their defense.
The main concern going into the 2007 season was the interior linebackers. Donnie Edwards, Steve Foley and Randall Godfrey all left, leaving unknowns Stephen Cooper, Matt Wilhelm, Brandon Siler and Anthony Waters manning the middle. Well, Cooper and Wilhelm started every game they appeared in, and finished first and second on the team with tackles, combining for 205. The fact that San Diego didn't address the interior linebacking corps in the draft should indicate how much faith Norv Turner and A.J. Smith have in the unit. Of course, it's probably not difficult to play well when you're right behind one of the best three-man lines in all of football. Igor Olshansky, Jamal Williams and Luis Castillo are all exceptional, though there is some concern with the latter pair. Williams, a 330-pound mammoth run-stuffer, just turned 32, but he's probably OK for another year or two. Castillo, meanwhile, has missed 12 games the past two seasons. I'm not sure if Castillo can be relied upon. Luckily for the Chargers, they have solid reserves like Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire who can step in.
This is the third paragraph, and I've yet to talk about the three most dangerous play-makers on this stop unit. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips form arguably the most lethal pass-rushing duo in the NFL. The two hybrid linebackers combined for 21 sacks last season and 28.5 in 2006. There's no reason they won't match that sort of production in 2008.
The third play-maker emerged midway though the 2007 campaign. Despite starting just eight games, Cromartie picked off 10 passes. Cromartie terrorized Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the playoffs, intercepting them once each. Cromartie will be the full-time starter in 2008 across from Quentin Jammer, a very solid corner. The second-year Eric Weddle will start his first career game at free safety in September. Weddle will be taking over for the departed Marlon McCree. Weddle doesn't have any experience as a full-time starter, but A.J. Smith, one of the better general managers in the NFL, loved Weddle so much coming out of Utah that he traded a bunch of picks just to snag him. I'll be shocked if he doesn't become a dynamic player. The weak link in this starting secondary could be strong safety Clinton Hart, which is saying a lot because he's a pretty good defensive back. Depth, however, could be an issue here if Antoine Cason and DeJuan Tribble don't pan out.
2008 San Diego Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
A.J. Smith was criticized everywhere, including this Web site, for firing Marty Schottenheimer in favor of Norv Turner. I'm still not a huge fan of Norv's, but Smith has proven he knows what he's doing, so I'm not going to question Norv's presence on the team any longer. He got the Chargers two playoff victories, and may have even gone the distance if Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson didn't get hurt.
The Chargers have exceptional special teams. Thanks to Darren Sproles, they scored on two returns in 2007, while giving up none to opponents. Nate Kaeding nailed 24-of-27 field goal attempts, including 8-of-10 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Mike Scifres, meanwhile, maintained a 46.1 average and nailed 36 punts inside the opponents' 20. As a comparison, opponents hit only 16 punts inside San Diego's 20.
Unlike last year's slate, in which they battled the NFC champion Bears, Patriots and Packers the first three weeks, the Chargers have an absolute cakewalk prior to their Oct. 12 clash against New England. San Diego could be 5-0 going into that contest, as it plays Carolina, Denver, New York Jets, Oakland and Miami to kick off the 2008 season. An easy start should help ease along Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson, both of whom are coming off serious knee injuries.
The rest of San Diego's schedule is about average. The team will have to battle New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, and will have the luxury of beating up on Atlanta, Oakland and Kansas City twice.
2008 San Diego Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 San Diego Chargers Analysis: The Chargers are a great team with very few holes in a weak division. However, Philip Rivers just had ACL surgery. LaDainian Tomlinson tore his MCL in January. Antonio Gates just had foot surgery and won't be ready until September. Safe to say that I'd be concerned if I were a San Diego fan.
I know Rivers looks like he's ahead of schedule - I mentioned that earlier - but Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer reportedly looked ahead of schedule too after their knee injuries. Like Ron Jaworski once said, it's all mental for players coming off knee injuries. How will they react when they're being rushed for the first time?
I could see 11-5, 12-4 if the injuries don't bother the Chargers, but I think they'll play a huge factor.
Projection: 9-7 (1st in AFC West)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Philip Rivers: I projected Philip Rivers to have 3,650 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. I was close, as I fell 500 yards and four touchdowns short. Rivers played really well down the stretch - he had 17 touchdowns and only five picks in between Weeks 12 and 19. However, Rivers had ACL surgery this offseason to repair an injury he suffered in the second round of the playoffs. Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer both really struggled coming off ACL surgery, and it would be foolish to expect Rivers to break that pattern. I wouldn't take him unless he fell into the later rounds of my fantasy draft.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,850 passing yards. 19 passing TDs. 10 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 258.
LaDainian Tomlinson: Another Charger coming off a knee injury. LaDainian Tomlinson stood silently on the sidelines in New England, as his team lost in the AFC Championship, 21-12. Tomlinson tore his MCL, but reports indicate that he's 100 percent. Fantasy owners who draft him better hope so. If there was ever a year for Tomlinson to go bust, this is it. Coming off a knee injury, Tomlinson told reporters recently that he doesn't expect to be in the NFL much longer. Has he been working hard this offseason?
My saying all of this makes it sound like I wouldn't draft him No. 1 overall, but I probably would if I had the top choice. When healthy and determined, Tomlinson is an unstoppable force. San Diego has a very easy schedule early on, so if you draft Tomlinson, you could start off 5-0 in your fantasy league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,410 rushing yards. 450 receiving yards. 18 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 294.
Antonio Gates: I had Antonio Gates on three of my five fantasy teams last year. I was not pleased with his production. He was so inconsistent late in the year. One week, he had six catches for 105 yards; the next, one reception for eight yards. So, what happened to a guy who started off so hot (639 yards and five touchdowns the first seven games)? Well, Gates played through a dislocated toe during the latter stages of the season. He had foot surgery in late February and is still in recovery. Gates will probably miss all preseason, though the team expects him to be ready for the season opener.
So, will Gates be ready to go? Tony Gonzalez missed all of training camp and preseason in 2002 and set the league on fire that year. But every player is different. My advice is to stay away from Gates unless he slips in your fantasy draft.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 850 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 133.
Vincent Jackson: Vincent Jackson exploded in the postseason, catching 18 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns in just three contests. So, should you use your fourth-round pick on this 6-5, 241-pound target? Well, considering Philip Rivers is coming off ACL surgery and Jackson has only five quality games in his career, I'd stay away unless he becomes value in a later round.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 850 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 121.
Chris Chambers: It's odd to say that Chris Chambers had a poor statistical season last year. Chambers managed just 970 yards and four touchdowns, mainly because he spent the middle of the year learning San Diego's offense. I say it's odd because it was Chambers' third-best statistical year. Chambers has always been plagued with bad quarterbacking in Miami, whether it was Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feeley, Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green or John Beck. Chambers' numbers will thrive in San Diego, as long as Philip Rivers is healthy. Rivers may not be, so Chambers' full potential may not be realized in 2008. But hey, it'll be like every other season in his career.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,025 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 138.
Craig Davis: Craig Davis was more consistent down the stretch, but we're talking like two receptions per game. Don't draft him.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 250 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 31.
Nate Kaeding: Kaeding has missed only 14 field goals in his entire NFL career, so he's dependable. He nailed 7-of-8 attempts from 40-49 yards in 2007. He was 1-of-2 from 50-plus.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 24-28 FG (1-2 50+). 47 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 127.
San Diego Defense: Tons of sacks. Tons of picks. Some kick-return touchdowns. What more could you want?
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 3 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
I probably would have drafted an offensive tackle in Round 1, but the Chargers found themselves a quality corner in Antoine Cason. Meanwhile, DeJuan Tribble, a great value pick at No. 192, will only increase depth at that position.
Look, I can't really criticize A.J. Smith because everyone who does ends up looking like a fool. But why trade up for Jacob Hester? The Chargers probably could have obtained him where they were sitting. And in my opinion, Hester wasn't the best fullback on the board ... I don't get Marcus Thomas either. There were better running backs available ... San Diego has a huge hole at right tackle that it failed to address until the seventh round. I hope Philip Rivers doesn't get run into the ground, though I'm willing to bet Jay Cutler wants that to happen ... Once again, if Matt Millen or some other idiot were running this team, I'd probably give it a D grade. But if I do that to an A.J. Smith draft, he will debacle me like a Dr. Seuss book did to Emmitt the other day.
Grade give on 4/29/08: C+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
27. Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona
I can't really argue with A.J. Smith because he's a draft genius, but what are the Chargers going to do at right tackle? They better make a move in the third or fourth round. (Pick Grade: A)
69. Jacob Hester, FB, LSU
When the Chargers traded up into New England's spot, I thought Carl Nicks or Anthony Collins. But Jacob Hester??? Why!? What about a right tackle? I know A.J. Smith is a draft genius, but even Albert Einstein was wrong sometimes. Still, how can you give up a second-rounder in 2009? (Pick Grade: F)
166. Marcus Thomas, RB, UTEP
No right tackle, eh? There were better running backs avaiable. I'm disappointed with this pick. (Pick Grade: D)
192. DeJuan Tribble, CB, Boston College
DeJuan Tribble was a second-round prospect a couple of months ago. You can't go wrong here in the sixth. (Pick Grade: A)
234. Corey Clark, OT, Texas A&M
A right tackle six rounds too late. (Pick Grade: B)
The Chargers do not pass the drunken coma test. If you asked 10 people to get into an extremely drunk stupor prior to the season, slip into the coma and wake up in January, at least nine would have been shocked that Norv Turner led San Diego to the AFC Championship. Turner and general manager A.J. Smith deserve all the credit in the world; everyone criticized the Chargers for firing Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season. No one expected San Diego to experience more success under Turner.
Chargers cut WR Eric Parker
Chargers sign C Jeremy Newberry
Chargers sign OT L.J. Shelton
Chargers re-sign OLB Marques Harris
Chargers re-sign OT Jeromey Clary
Chargers re-sign WR Malcolm Floyd
Chargers re-sign FS Steve Gregory
Chargers re-sign NT Brandon McKinney
Chargers re-sign CB Cletis Gordon
Chargers re-sign QB Billy Volek
Chargers cut FS Marlon McCree
Chargers cut FB Lorenzo Neal
Chargers cut OT Shane Olivea
Chargers sign ILB Derek Smith
Nose Tackle: The Chargers looked completely helpless against the run when Jamal Williams went down with an injury. Williams, who turns 32 in April, cannot be relied upon to stay healthy anymore. San Diego needs a solid backup nose tackle. Perhaps the team can trade down and get someone like Red Bryant.
Right Guard: Mike "Chip and Putt" Goff just turned 32, so the Chargers need an upgrade at the right guard position. I currently have them taking Branden Albert in the first round.
Offensive Tackle: Jeromey Clary took over for the lackluster Shane Olivea and did an OK job. Marcus McNeill, meanwhile, struggled in his sophomore campaign. The Chargers need some help at offensive tackle. They can get someone to protect the blind side and move McNeill over to the right, or simply acquire a right tackle and hope McNeill returns to his rookie-year form. Signed L.J. Shelton; drafted Corey Clark
Defensive End: Luis Castillo has missed 12 games the past two seasons, so I'd like to see San Diego add some depth here.
Running Back: The Chargers were pretty lucky they had Michael Turner as a backup when LaDainian Tomlinson got hurt in the playoffs and decided to replace himself with a stunt double during the second half of the Patriots game. Unfortunately for San Diego, Turner earned quite a bit of money when he ran over Colts and Patriots defenders en route to coming within 10 points of reaching the Super Bowl. There are tons of quality free-agent running backs, including Julius Jones, Derrick Ward and Jesse Chatman, all of whom would all be solid reserves. Drafted Jacob Hester and Marcus Thomas
Safety Depth: Marlon McCree could be cut this offseason, which would create depth issues for the Chargers.
San Diego Chargers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 23): $33.03 million
Michael Turner, RB. Age: 26. Signed with Falcons (6 years, $34.5 million)
Michael Turner made some money in the playoffs. He looked great, trampling Indianapolis' and New England's front seven. Turner's well worth the truckload of money he's bound to get this offseason.
Billy Volek, QB. Age: 32. Re-signed with Chargers (3 years, $9 million)
Billy Volek scored the winning touchdown in the playoffs against the Colts. He's a solid backup for any team.
Marlon McCree, S. Age: 31. Signed with Broncos
Marlon McCree is a decent, veteran free safety who was just getting too expensive for the Chargers to keep. He should be able to find a job elsewhere.
Eric Parker, WR. Age: 29.
The oft-injured Eric Parker is effective - when he actually plays. Parker's injury history kills his value, but he's worth a shot at the veteran minimum. Parker generated 57 receptions two years ago.
Lorenzo Neal, Chargers. Age: 37. Signed with Ravens
Could still get it done, but a 37-year-old coming off a broken leg won't garner much attention.
Gene Mruczkowski, C. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Chargers (3 years)
Drayton Florence, CB. Age: 27. - Signed with Jaguars
Steve Gregory (ERFA), S. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Chargers
Divisional Rival History: Denver Broncos: The home team has won 10 of the last 14 meetings, although San Diego has claimed the previous four. Kansas City Chiefs: Going into the 2007 season, the host had been victorious in 15 of the previous 18 battles, while eight of the last 11 had been decided by five points or less. So, you can say I was a bit shocked when each visitor blew out the host last year. Oakland Raiders: Not even close. The Chargers have won the previous nine meetings. That number will increase to 11 in the near future.