WR Josh Reed, TE Randy McMichael, OT William Tra Thomas, CB Nathan Vasher, CB Donald Strickland.
Early Draft Picks:
RB Ryan Mathews, ILB Donald Butler, SS Darrell Stuckey, NT Cam Thomas.
QB Charlie Whitehurst, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, RB michael Bennett, WR Kassim Osgood, TE Brandon Manunaleuna, C Eric Ghiaciuc, NT Jamal Williams, NT Ian Scott, ILB Tim Dobbins, CB Antonio Cromartie, SS Kevin Ellison.
2010 San Diego Chargers Offense:
Having a franchise quarterback is the key to winning consistently in the NFL, and that's exactly why the Chargers have claimed the AFC West the past four seasons.
The 2009 season marked the official passing of the torch from LaDainian Tomlinson to Philip Rivers pertaining to the face of San Diego's franchise. Rivers threw for 4,254 yards (career-high), 28 touchdowns and just nine interceptions on a 65.2 completion percentage and a very impressive 8.8 YPA. Rivers' elite downfield accuracy was the most prominent reason why the Chargers were able to score at least 23 points in all but three contests last season.
Another reason? Rivers' targets. Antonio Gates paced the squad in receptions (79), which led to 1,157 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Vincent Jackson totaled 68 catches for 1,167 yards and nine scores. No. 2 receiver Malcom Floyd posted career-highs in receptions (45) and yardage (776). And of course, Darren Sproles was there to snag 45 balls out of the backfield.
The one concern here is Jackson's looming suspension and possible holdout. Jackson pleaded guilty in April of driving with a suspended license, and he could miss two to four games. Without Jackson as a deep threat, Rivers could struggle a bit without a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Floyd will really have to step up.
Of course, this won't matter much if the running game comes through. A worn-down LaDainian Tomlinson really struggled last year, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Yet, Norv Turner continuously fed Tomlinson the ball - even in the playoffs - to no avail. Tomlinson is now gone, so rookie Ryan Mathews figures to be the workhorse. The Chargers traded up from No. 28 to 12 in the 2010 NFL Draft to obtain Mathews, so there is no question that the job is his. Even if he's not as good as advertised, he can't possibly be worse than Tomlinson was in 2009. It's worth noting, however, that there have been nothing but positive reports pertaining to Mathews coming out of minicamp. He should have a big year.
What's really impressive about the Chargers is that they were able to score tons of points last year without two starting offensive linemen in the lineup. Center Nick Hardwick played in only three regular-season games, while right tackle Jeromey Clary was lost for the year in Week 11 (ankle).
With Hardwick and Clary back in the mix, San Diego will boast a solid front. Left tackle Marcus McNeill surrendered just five sacks in 2009; left guard Kris Dielman is one of the top players at his position in the NFL; and right guard Louis Vasquez played very well as a rookie until a disastrous performance against the Jets in a playoff loss. McNeil could hold out for a new contract. If so, the decrepit William Tra Thomas will step in and won't nearly be as effective.
2010 San Diego Chargers Defense:
While San Diego's offense should remain one of the league's elite scoring units in 2010, there are tons of concerns with the defense.
Starting with the pass rush, the Chargers registered just 35 sacks last season - an incredibly low total considering how many blowouts they had. Shawne Merriman's knee was entirely to blame, as the former Pro Bowler really struggled and tallied only four sacks. If Merriman can't rebound in 2010, then it'll be clear that he'll never be the same player ever again, leaving Shaun Phillips (7 sacks) as the team's sole consistent pass-rusher unless second-year Larry English improves tremendously.
The defensive line looks like it's going to be a huge problem again as well - and we all saw what Shonn Greene and the Jets were able to do against it in the playoffs this January. Nose tackle Jamal Williams, who played just 45 snaps in 2009, has defected for Denver, leaving rookie Cam Thomas in his wake. Unless Thomas can step in and thrive right away, the nose tackle position looks like a huge area of weakness.
Defensive end isn't much better. Luis Castillo is a talented player, but was beaten down with leg injuries last season and consequently struggled. Jacques Cesaire, who started across from Castillo, was abysmal versus the run. Both Castillo and Cesaire are penciled into the lineup once again in 2010, which is why it's perplexing that general manager A.J. Smith failed to address the position this offseason.
The issues continue in the secondary. Quentin Jammer is entrenched as the No. 1 corner, but who will start across from him? Antoine Cason is the guy right now, but he was benched as the team's nickel last year and went on to whine about it. Other options include Donald Strickland and Nathan Vasher, both of whom aren't very good.
Eric Weddle is the starting free safety, but the strong safety position is unclear. Kevin Ellison was penciled in, but was released in the wake of a drug possession charge. Rookie Darrell Stuckey is currently getting the first-team reps.
There are also questions regarding the inside linebacker position. Stephen Cooper played very poorly during the final two months of the 2009 campaign. At 31, Cooper's skills may quickly be eroding. Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler will rotate at the other inside linebacker slot.
2010 San Diego Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
Thanks to Darren Sproles, the Chargers have scored on four returns since 2007 (one last year). Unfortunately, they surrendered two special-teams scores in 2009.
Nate Kaeding nailed 32-of-35 field goal attempts during the regular season, but choked like a dog in a playoff loss to the Jets, missing from 36, 40 and 57 yards out. Kaeding has a dubious history of coming up short in the postseason. San Diego may regret relying on him once again come January 2011.
Punter Mike Scifres, meanwhile, is one of the league's best players at his position. He maintained a 45-yard average despite knocking in 44 percent of his boots inside the 20.
The Chargers could easily begin the season 6-0, as they "battle" Kansas City, Jacksonville, Seattle, Arizona, Oakland and St. Louis right off the bat. Of that group, only the Cardinals made the playoffs last year, and they no longer have Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin and Karlos Dansby.
Things get a bit more challenging for San Diego later on, as the team has to take on New England, Tennessee and Houston in Weeks 7-9. The Chargers later visit the Colts and Bengals.
2010 San Diego Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2010 San Diego Chargers Analysis: What was written last year still applies: "The AFC West is such a cakewalk that the Chargers could take September and October off, finally show up in the first week of November and win enough games to clinch the division by Christmas." That's essentially what they did. After starting 2-3, San Diego reeled off 11 victories in a row.
The big question is whether or not the Chargers can avoid yet another January choke-job. Considering that Norv Turner's still the coach, Nate Kaeding's still the kicker, and the defense is still soft, it could be another disappointing winter for San Diego fans.
I really liked San Diego's draft. They had two areas they needed to address: running back and nose tackle. They did both while collecting the top players on their board.
Some may not like general manager A.J. Smith's decision to move all the way up from 28 to 12 for Ryan Mathews. I love it. Mathews is the only sure-fire every-down running back in this class and fits San Diego's offense like a glove. There was no way he was making it all the way to 28 (in fact, Seattle may have selected him at 14), so it was a vital move for the Chargers.
Donald Butler, Darrell Stuckey and Cam Thomas are all quality choices. Mike Mayock said during the Combine that Thomas would not make it out of the second round, so getting him in Round 5 was an unbelievable steal.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: A
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
12. Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State
The Chargers moved up from No. 28 to get Ryan Mathews. Some may consider that a reach, but he was the only sure-fire every-down back remaining on the board, and he fills San Diego's biggest need. I really like this pick - Mathews is perfect for San Diego's offense. Still, it's a lot to give up to go from No. 28 to 12. (Pick Grade: B)
79. Donald Butler, ILB, Washington
The Chargers traded Tim Dobbins yesterday, so a need at inside linebacker opened up. Lots of scouts are high on Donald Butler, as his stock rose a ton between Janauary and April. (Pick Grade: B)
110. Darrell Stuckey, SS, Kansas
Darrell Stuckey is a solid value here and fills a position of need. Good pick. (Pick Grade: B)
146. Cam Thomas, NT, North Carolina
How could these teams allow Cam Thomas to drop to the Chargers like this? Thomas was a second-round prospect and fills a huge need for San Diego. (Pick Grade: A)
168. Jonathan Crompton, QB, Tennessee
Jonathan Crompton has the physical skills of a starting quarterback, but really needs to be coached up. He's a really good developmental project. (Pick Grade: A)
235. Dedrick Epps, TE, Miami
The Chargers needed someone behind Antonio Gates and Kris Wilson. A fine Round 7 pick. (Pick Grade: B)
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
Seji Ajirotutu, WR, Fresno State
Brandon Lang, DE/OLB, Troy
Shawnbrey McNeal, RB, SMU
Jeremy Williams, WR, Tulane
New year, same story. Every season under Norv Turner, the Chargers stumble out of the gate, catch fire toward the end of the season, but ultimately blow it in the playoffs. Having said that, it's tough to blame this one on Turner; had Nate Kaeding made all of his easy kicks, the Chargers would have defeated the Jets and advanced to the AFC Championship.
Chargers re-sign DE/OLB Shawne Merriman
Chargers sign S Quinton Teal
Seahawks sign SS Kevin Ellison
Chargers cut NT Ian Scott
Chargers cut SS Kevin Ellison
Chargers sign WR Josh Reed
Chargers sign OT William Tra Thomas
Chargers re-sign WR Malcom Floyd
Chargers sign TE Randy McMichael
Raiders sign RB Michael Bennett
Dolphins acquire ILB Tim Dobbins from Chargers in 1st-round swap
Chargers re-sign DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite
Chargers re-sign ILB Tim Dobbins
Chargers re-sign OT Jeromey Clary
Browns sign C Eric Ghiaciuc
Chargers re-sign RB Darren Sproles
Chargers re-sign FB Mike Tolbert
Chargers sign CB Nathan Vasher
Chargers waive WR Demetrius Byrd
Seahawks acquire QB Charlie Whitehurst from Chargers for 2011 3rd-rounder and the swap of 2010 2nd-rounders
Jets sign RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Chargers sign CB Donald Strickland
Broncos sign NT Jamal Williams
Chargers claim RB Marcus Mason
Jaguars sign WR Kassim Osgood
Bears sign TE Brandon Manumaleuna
Jets acquire CB Antonio Cromartie from Chargers for conditional 2011 third-round pick
Chargers re-sign TE Kris Wilson
Chargers cut NT Jamal Williams
Chargers tender WR Vincent Jackson
Chargers tender OT Marcus McNeill
Chargers re-sign DE/DT Antonio Garay
Chargers cut RB Michael Bennett
Chargers cut RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Running Back: LaDainian Tomlinson is done in San Diego, so the Chargers will be using one of their first two draft picks on a running back. A.J. Smith likes backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield, so Anthony Dixon, Jahvid Best, Ryan Mathews and Joe McKnight are prime options. Drafted Ryan Mathews; claimed Marcus Mason
Nose Tackle: Jamal Williams turns 34 in April. He's due $5 million in 2010 and is coming off a season-ending injury. A successor at the position is needed. A Round 1-3 selection will be used on one. Drafted Cam Thomas
Defensive End: Outside of Luis Castillo, who has missed 16 games the past four years, the Chargers don't have much besides mediocrity at defensive end. Jared Odrick will be considered with a first-round pick this April.
Cornerback Depth: Antonio Cromartie's lack of effort in the Jets playoff game was alarming. I don't know how he's brought back at this point. The Chargers will need depth behind Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. It wouldn't shock me if A.J. Smith spent his first-round pick on this position; he values defensive backs and often takes them high in NFL Drafts. Signed Nathan Vasher and Donald Strickland
Safety Depth: Someone is needed to push San Diego's mediocre safeties. A Round 3-5 pick should suffice. Drafted Darrell Stuckey
Kicker: Nate Kaeding is a tremendous regular-season kicker, but he chokes like a dog every postseason. If he can't make his field goals in the playoffs, nothing he does during the year really matters.
Special Teamers: The Chargers surrendered two touchdowns on special teams in 2009.
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Randy McMichael, TE, Rams. Age: 31. Signed with Chargers (1 year)
Randy McMichael caught more than three passes in a game only once all year. He also averaged a depressing 9.8 yards per reception.
Nathan Vasher, CB, Bears. Age: 28. -- Signed with Chargers (2 years, $4.5 million)
Josh Reed, WR, Bills. Age: 30. -- Signed with Chargers (1 year)
Marcus Mason, RB, Redskins. Age: 26. -- Claimed by Chargers
Donald Strickland, CB, Jets. Age: 29. -- Signed with Chargers (2 years)
Quinton Teal, S, Seahawks. Age: 26. -- Signed with Chargers
San Diego Chargers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Jan. 16): No cap.
Vincent Jackson (RFA), WR, Chargers. Age: 27. Tendered by Chargers (1st, 3rd round)
Vincent Jackson amazingly has never caught more than 68 passes in a single season, but with his size (6-5, 230) and downfield ability, he's one of the top wideouts in the NFL.
Marcus McNeill (RFA), OT, Chargers. Age: 26. Tendered by Chargers (1st, 3rd round)
A franchise left tackle, Marcus McNeill surrendered five sacks in 16 contests last season. McNeill has missed only two starts in his career.
Darren Sproles (RFA), RB/KR/PR, Chargers. Age: 27. Re-signed with Chargers (1 year, $7.2 million)
Given a 4-star ranking because of his kick-returning ability. Darren Sproles is a lightning-quick back who can go the distance at any moment, but it's very telling that he didn't receive 10 or more carries in any game after Week 3 this season.
Malcom Floyd failed to catch more than four passes in any game this year except for the season finale. He has intriguing size (6-5, 225), but hasn't been able to put it together yet.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers. Age: 31. Signed with Jets (2 years, $5.2 million)
LaDainian Tomlinson is done - as a feature back. The reason I've given him a 2.5-star rating is because he would be one hell of a goal-line back for some team. Just ask Houston fans if their team would have made the playoffs with Tomlinson getting some chances from the 1-yard line. Unfortunately, Tomlinson is a bit delusional and may overprice himself instead of just accepting this new role.
Divisional Rival History: Denver Broncos: The Chargers have won six of eight, with the two exceptions happening because of poor officiating. In 2008, it was the Ed Hochuli Bowl. Last year, the dirtiest referee in the business, Scott Green, was calling phantom penalties all night. Kansas City Chiefs: The host has been victorious in 17 of the previous 24 battles. San Diego has won the past five matchups. Oakland Raiders: The Chargers have won the previous 13 meetings. That number will increase to 15 in the near future.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)