QB Geno Smith, TE Virgil Green, C Mike Pouncey, CB Jaylen Watkins, K Caleb Sturgis.
Early Draft Picks:
S Derwin James, OLB Uchenna Nwosu, DT Justin Jones, S/LB Kyzir White, C/G Scott Quessenberry. Chargers Rookie Forecast
RB Branden Oliver, TE Antonio Gates, G/C Matt Slauson, G Kenny Wiggins, DE/OLB Jerry Attaochu, ILB Korey Toomer, S Tre Boston, K Nick Novak.
2018 Los Angeles Chargers Offense:
The Chargers have sustained terrible luck in recent years. They've suffered numerous injuries each year, and 2017 was no different. Prior to opening weekend, the Chargers lost second-round rookie guard Forrest Lamp to a knee. Their first-rounder, Mike Williams, also had injury issues, so he wasn't able to take the field until Week 6. Williams was never completely effective as a result.
Perhaps the Chargers will have better fortune this time, though the injury to Hunter Henry says otherwise. Getting Lamp back will be huge, as he'll effectively be one of the two upgrades added to the blocking unit, which will need to protect Philip Rivers now that the perennial Pro Bowler is 36 years old. Lamp will be joined by former center Mike Pouncey in the interior. Pouncey is a very skilled blocker, but needs a new hip. He has struggled in recent seasons, but even with that in mind, he'll be an improvement over incumbent center Spencer Pulley, who was atrocious in 2017. Pouncey and Lamp will be accompanied in the interior by 2017 third-round choice Dan Feeney, who wasn't very good as a rookie. Feeney will be able to teach his teammates a thing or two once he gains some experience, but he'll have to resort to receiving neighborly advice from Pouncey for now.
Rounding out the offensive line are tackles Russell Okung and Joseph Barksdale. The latter had a solid 2015 campaign, but has fallen apart since. It's unclear why Barksdale has endured such a decline in production, but if this continues, he'll find himself on the waiver wire. Okung, meanwhile, received a 4-year, $53 million contract last offseason. This was a clear overpay because of Okung's injury history, but he shielded Rivers' blind side pretty well in 2017.
Rivers' pass protection should be better this year, barring more injuries, so he'll have time to locate his plethora of weapons. Keenan Allen played a full 16-game slate for the first time last year, catching 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns. Allen can be a dominant receiver if healthy, so it'll be crucial for him to last the entire season once again. Tyrell Williams will provide some downfield speed, and Mike Williams will need to displace Travis Benjamin, who crushed the Chargers with some horrible mental gaffes last year. Henry, as mentioned, is lost for the season, so perhaps Antonio Gates will be re-signed to replace him.
Rivers won't be the only one counting on improved blocking. Melvin Gordon needs larger holes to burst through, as he has yet to average better than four yards per carry in his career. Gordon is undoubtedly talented, so perhaps Lamp's return and Pouncey's presence will help in that regard. At the very least, Gordon will once again be a prominent force in the passing game; he registered 58 receptions in 2017.
2018 Los Angeles Chargers Defense:
The Chargers shocked everyone when they selected Joey Bosa with the third-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The move looked like it was a mistake when Bosa held out prior to the season and missed the first four weeks of the year as a result. However, Bosa has been a monster ever since. He tallied 10.5 sacks as a rookie and then improved that figure to 12.5 last year. He and Melvin Ingram arguably form the best edge-rushing duo in the NFL, though the Broncos might have something to say about that if Bradley Chubb lives up to expectations. Ingram registered 10.5 sacks in 2017, so that means that he and Bosa combined to bring down opposing quarterbacks on 23 occasions this past season. That's more than the entire Buccaneer roster accumulated in 2017!
The combination of Bosa and Ingram is just one reason the Chargers have been so difficult to throw against. The other is the tremendous group of cornerbacks. Casey Hayward is one of the top players at that position; he's a legitimate shutdown corner who was better than his second-team All-Pro distinction said he was. Most teams would just take Hayward, but the Chargers had two other excellent cornerbacks last year. Trevor Williams, who played receiver at Penn State, has blossomed from an undrafted free agent in 2016 to a solid starter in the pros. Meanwhile, Desmond King thrived as a fifth-round rookie. King slipped in the 2017 NFL Draft, so credit general manager Tom Telesco for finding such a steal on Day 3. King had a great rookie campaign, so he should continue to improve. The Chargers also have Jason Verrett, a talented slot corner, but he's had trouble staying healthy; he's been on the field for just five games the past two seasons.
While the Chargers boasted a terrific group of cornerbacks, they needed help at safety. Jahleel Addae is a solid starter at the position, but help had to be acquired next to him. Telesco wasn't supposed to find help in the opening round of the 2018 NFL Draft because there were just two first-round-caliber safeties, both of whom were expected to be top-10 picks. Yet, Florida State's Derwin James somehow slipped to the Chargers at No. 17 overall. This was a huge steal, and the Chargers were very fortunate to obtain such a dynamic player.
The Chargers were expected to use their No. 17 pick to bolster the interior of the defensive line or linebacking corps. Instead, they addressed both areas on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft. N.C. State's Justin Jones was added to the defensive tackle rotation, where he won't face much competition. Corey Liuget is a decent, albeit injured player, but that's all the Chargers have at the position. Brandon Mebane has been a bust signing ever since the Chargers brought him in on a 3-year, $13.5 million deal in March 2016, while Darius Philon is just a mediocre run-stuffer.
Meanwhile, the linebacking corps received an influx of talent with second-round rookie Uchenna Nwosu. The USC product is a versatile player, so he should be able to help the group. Of course, that's not saying much, as the Chargers' linebackers were the weak part of the defense last year. A major reason for this happens to be that Denzel Perryman was on the field for six games. Perryman's return will assist the Chargers, but he has yet to play a full season in the NFL. Jatavis Brown is also fine, but the Chargers can do better.
2018 Los Angeles Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
There is no home-field advantage in Carson City, Calif. The Chargers constantly play in front of opposing teams' fans, and it's gotten to the point that it's a complete embarrassment. The NFL will have to consider moving the Chargers, perhaps to Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio or Salt Lake City.
The Chargers were much better than opponents on punt returns, but were far worse on kickoffs last year.
The primary reason the Chargers missed the playoffs last year were kicking woes from Nick Novak, Travis Coons, Nick Rose and Younghoe Koo. Perhaps newly signed Caleb Sturgis can help. Sturgis was a solid kicker for the Eagles (35-of-41 in 2016) before he lost his job to an injury.
Mike Scifres used to be a great punter for the Chargers, but he's no longer with the team. Drew Kaser proved to be a strong replacement, ranking ninth in net average last season.
The Chargers have a fairly easy schedule outside the division. Excluding the Rams, Steelers and perhaps the 49ers, there isn't a team that will pose a very difficult challenge. Some of their non-divisional contests are against the Bills, Bengals, Ravens, Browns, Titans and declining Seahawks.
2018 Los Angeles Chargers Rookies:
Go here for the Chargers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2018 Los Angeles Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2018 Los Angeles Chargers Analysis: The Chargers endure miserable luck each year. Whether it's a rash of injuries, or the weekly routine of missed field goals at the end of games, it seems as though something always goes wrong for them. Will the Chargers finally snap out of their funk this season? It's certainly possible, though the Hunter Henry injury isn't a good sign. If the Chargers don't suffer any other significant injuries, they'll be a potent threat in the playoffs, thanks to Philip Rivers' terrific quarterbacking and the dominance of their defense.
Projection: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7. 2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 5-11.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Chargers are in a tough position. On one hand, they need to add some talent around Philip Rivers (blockers, better interior defenders) to make one last playoff push with him. On the other hand, they must prepare for the future, finding a quarterback to eventually replace Rivers. I don't envy general manager Tom Telesco's position.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Telesco was certainly in a tough spot entering this draft, but I think he did a good job of accumulating talent. In fact, only one individual grade scored worse than a "B," which was Uchenna Nwosu in the second round. Nwosu was a slight reach and doesn't fill a substantial need.
The Chargers did very well elsewhere. They were given a gift when Derwin James slipped to them at No. 17. It was the opposite of transpired last year when the Chargers mistakenly passed on Malik Hooker, who also tumbled into the teens. James will provide a huge upgrade at safety, which was one of the top needs.
Telesco found help on the defensive line with Justin Jones, a strong value in Round 3, and the offensive front with Scott Quessenberry, who was a bargain in the fifth frame. A quarterback wasn't obtained, but the Chargers can find one next year (check out our 2019 NFL Mock Draft here.)
I think the Chargers had a very strong draft. They filled their key needs with value selections for the most part. They should be better as a result in 2018.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
17. Derwin James, S, Florida State A+ Grade
I think Tom Telesco is one of the better general managers in the NFL, but I thought he made a rare mistake last year when he opted for Mike Williams over Malik Hooker. The Ohio State product fell to the late teens, but should have been the seventh choice.
It's nice to see that Telesco made amends for that decision. This time, James inexplicably fell, and Telesco wisely scooped him up. The Chargers have had a huge hole at safety for several seasons, but that's no longer the case. James could have gone in the top 10, so this value is incredible. This is an A+ pick.
48. Uchenna Nwosu, OLB, USC C+ Grade
I had the Chargers picking Uchenna Nwosu, but in the third round (I moved him to Round 4 at the very end just to make the pieces fit.) Nwosu is a great fit for the Chargers' defense, and he fills a big need as an edge rusher behind Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. However, considering he won't start, I think the Chargers should've addressed bigger needs and hoped to get him in Round 3. I don't dislike this selection, but I would've gone a different route.
84. Justin Jones, DT, N.C. State A- Grade
The Chargers wanted Rasheem Green, but Justin Jones definitely isn't a bad consolation prize. Jones has a quick first step and can beat his opponents with plenty of moves to collapse the pocket. He should be able to help San Angeles apply some much-needed interior pressure on the improving quarterback group in the AFC West. This is a solid pick, as I thought Jones may have gone earlier than this. If he were more consistent, he would've definitely gone in the second round.
119. Kyzir White, LB/S, West Virginia B+ Grade
Kyzir White is very instinctive and should do well covering tight ends. White, a solid third- or fourth-round prospect, should help keep Travis Kelce in check... maybe. White should move from linebacker to safety, addressing a need.
155. Scott Quessenberry, C/G, UCLA A Grade
Scott Quessenberry is someone who could've been taken a round earlier than this. He's a versatile blocker who can start at center or guard eventually, but I imagine the Chargers will want to use him at center once Mike Pouncey gets hurt. I can't criticize the Chargers for adding to Philip Rivers' blocking.
191. Dylan Cantrell, WR, Texas Tech B Grade
An insurance policy for Mike Williams, in case the young receiver continues to be injured. Dylan Cantrell is a high-upside receiver who tested very well during the pre-draft process. The range makes sense for him in the sixth round.
251. Justin Jackson, RB, Northwesten A- Grade
Justin Jackson was extremely productive at Northwestern, and when he tested very well at the combine, I thought he could go in the fifth or sixth round. Jackson provides strong value here toward the end of the draft. I like this move a lot, as Jackson could end up being a solid backup behind Melvin Gordon.
The Chargers blew so many games early that it cost them late despite a surge at the end of the season. They finished among several teams at 9-7, but lost on tie-breakers.
Chargers sign QB Geno Smith
Chargers sign CB Jaylen Watkins
Chargers sign C Mike Pouncey
Chargers sign K Caleb Sturgis
Chargers sign TE Virgil Green
Offensive Tackle: The Chargers' top priority is fixing the offensive line. Joseph Barksdale has been woeful at right tackle the past two seasons and needs to be upgraded. Ideally, the right tackle the Chargers find can move to the blind side once Russell Okung departs.
Center: Here's another void on the front line that needs to be addressed. The Chargers had one of the weakest centers in the NFL this past season. Signed Mike Pouncey
Defensive Tackle: The Chargers need to improve their run defense, and they could use a nose tackle to help in that regard. I have to imagine they'd love for Vita Vea or Da'Ron Payne to fall to them in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Quarterback: The Philip Rivers retirement talks are always rampant, and he's going to hang up his cleats soon. The Chargers need to find a young quarterback to eventually replace him. Signed Geno Smith
Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen just broke the Chargers' single-season reception record. However, a second wideout is needed, regardless of whether or not Tyrell Williams is re-signed.
Safety: Tre Boston is a significant free agent. He'll need to be re-signed or replaced.
Kicker: Can the Chargers finally find a quality kicker!? Signed Caleb Sturgis
Backup Running Back: Melvin Gordon is great, but there's not much depth behind him. Rivers misses someone like Darren Sproles or Danny Woodhead.
Rush Linebacker Depth: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are the strength of the team, but with Jerry Attaochu heading into free agency, there's not much depth behind them.
Caleb Sturgis, K, Eagles. Age: 29. Signed with Chargers
Caleb Sturgis lost his job to Josh Elliott this past season, but not because of anything Sturgis did. Sturgis was a perfect 3-of-3 prior to getting hurt, and he was 35-of-41 in 2016, including 4-of-6 from 50-plus.
Mike Pouncey, C, Dolphins. Age: 29. Signed with Chargers
Some might be surprised by this release, but Mike Pouncey hasn't played well for a while. He was horrible this past season, thanks to failing hips. Pouncey is unquestionably talented, but all of the injuries he has suffered over the years have caused him to regress. There's a chance he bounces back in 2018, but no team should spend a lot on him because he carries high risk.
Virgil Green, TE, Broncos. Age: 30. Signed with Chargers
Virgil Green has never caught more than 22 passes in a season, but that's usually not his role; he's a strong blocker.
Geno Smith, QB, Giants. Age: 27. Signed with Chargers
Geno Smith was once a second-round pick with promise, but he's been hurt by inaccuracy and an inability to grasp the mental part of the game. He still has potential at just 27, which is why I'm giving him two stars, but I don't have much hope for him.
Jaylen Watkins (RFA), CB, Eagles. Age: 26. -- Signed with Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Tre Boston, S, Chargers. Age: 25.
Tre Boston was inconsistent in Carolina, so he signed a 1-year "prove it" deal with the Chargers last offseason. That definitely worked, as Boston had a strong 2017 campaign, earning himself some money. Boston missed some tackles, but was tremendous in coverage.
Matt Slauson, G/C, Chargers. Age: 32. Signed with Colts
Matt Slauson can play all three positions in the interior of the offensive line. He had a down year in 2017 that ended early because of torn biceps, but because inside blockers can play well into their mid-30s.
Tyrell Williams (RFA), WR, Chargers. Age: 26. Tendered by Chargers (2nd round)
Tyrell Williams caught 43 passes for 728 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. He made some big plays, but seemingly made just as many crucial mistakes. He's way too inconsistent to trust, but could improve in that department.
Jerry Attaochu, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 25. Signed with 49ers (1 year)
Jerry Attaochu was a former second-round pick, but hasn't quite lived up to it. He didn't even log a single sack in 2017. That said, he didn't have many snaps behind Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, so perhaps he'll improve if he gets more of a chance.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers. Age: 38.
Antonio Gates said he still wants to play in 2018, claiming that he still has the "juice." Gates didn't have much of a chance to do anything because of Hunter Henry, but he was solid when Henry got hurt. The old man still has some tricks up his sleeve.
Korey Toomer, ILB, Chargers. Age: 29.
Sean McGrath (RFA), TE, Chargers. Age: 30.
Branden Oliver, RB, Chargers. Age: 27.
Adrian Phillips (RFA), S, Chargers. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Chargers
Michael Schofield, OT, Chargers. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with Chargers (2 years)
Kenny Wiggins, G, Chargers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Lions