2020 NFL Offseason: Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers (Last Year: 5-11)

2020 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
OT Bryan Bulaga, G Trai Turner, DT Linval Joseph, LB Nick Vigil, CB Chris Harris.

Early Draft Picks:
QB Justin Herbert, LB Kenneth Murray, RB Joshua Kelley. Chargers Rookie Forecast

Offseason Losses:
QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, FB Derek Watt, OT Russell Okung, G Michael Schofield, DT Brandon Mebane, LB Thomas Davis, S Adrian Phillips, S Jaylen Watkins.

2020 Los Angeles Chargers Offense:
For the first time since 2006, Philip Rivers won’t be quarterbacking the Chargers to start the season. The organization has decided to move on from Rivers, as the front office and coaching staff praised Tyrod Taylor ad nauseum during the pre-draft process. This turned out to be a smoke screen, as everyone discovered when the Chargers used the sixth-overall pick on Justin Herbert.

Herbert has plenty of upside as a passer, and he also has some mobility. However, there are questions about the mental part of his game, so he may not be ready to play right away. Taylor is likely to start some games in 2020, but once he’s proven to be ineffective, there will be pressure on the coaching staff to insert Herbert into the game, which could be premature.

With that in mind, it’s a good thing the Chargers finally addressed the offensive line. This had been a problematic area for years, so Rivers must be very frustrated. Nevertheless, the Chargers made a couple of positive moves by trading for former Panthers guard Trai Turner and then signing ex-Packer tackle Bryan Bulaga. Both will be huge improvements up front.

Unfortunately for Herbert, there are still some liabilities on the blocking unit. Right tackle is a major problem area, assuming Bulaga shifts to the blind side. Sam Tevi will start there, which is an issue because he struggled so much last year. The other guard spot is also a question mark, with Dan Feeney performing poorly in 2019. There’s some upside at center with Mike Pouncey, but he always seems to be injured.

Speaking of injury-prone players, tight end Hunter Henry will be a solid target for Herbert if he can remain on the field. The problem is that Henry has missed 20 games in the past two seasons. Perhaps he’ll go the Keenan Allen route and become more durable after some early-career injuries. Allen, who hasn’t missed a single game since 2016, will remain one of the better receivers in the NFL, though his stats could dip a bit in the wake of the quarterback change. He’ll once again start across from Mike Williams, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in 2019.

Rivers wasn’t the only change in the backfield. Melvin Gordon, who missed a chunk of action last year with a holdout, has moved on via free agency. The Chargers never really found a potential replacement outside of fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley, so Austin Ekeler will handle most of the touches amongst the running backs. Ekeler can’t shoulder a full workload on the ground, but he’s a dynamic threat as a receiver out of the backfield, so he’ll be relied upon heavily by Herbert, whenever he takes the field.

2020 Los Angeles Chargers Defense:
It’s a shame for the Chargers that they’ll have to endure a rookie quarterback’s growing pains because they have the defense that can win a Super Bowl. They have stellar players at every level, so even if Justin Herbert or Tyrod Taylor struggles, they’ll be able to remain competitive and win football games.

The pass rush will continue to be the strength of the Chargers’ defense. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will once again be one of the top edge-rushing tandems in the NFL. Ingram missed three games last year, so it’ll be imperative for him and Bosa to remain on the field if the Chargers are to challenge for a wild-card spot.

An excellent pass rush makes a solid secondary into a great one, but what about a great secondary? It could be argued that the Chargers possess one of those in the wake of the Chris Harris signing. Harris is one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, so he’ll be a major upgrade across from another terrific cornerback, Casey Hayward. Also, don’t forget about Desmond King, who is one of the top slot corners in the league.

Derwin James is also one of the best players at his position. The star safety missed the first 11 weeks of the season last year, and he was sorely missed against some of the better passing teams like the Texans and Chiefs, both of whom torched the Chargers with both James and Adrian Phillips out of the lineup. Phillips has moved on to New England, so the mediocre Rayshawn Jenkins might be the one to replace him.

The Chargers added three key defensive players this offseason, with Harris being one of them. Linval Joseph is another. The big nose tackle isn’t quite the pass rusher he once was, but he’s still very stout in run support. That’s exactly what the Chargers need after being gashed so easily versus the run last year. Joseph will likely start next to either Justin Jones or Jerry Tillery. Both are young players, though Tillery has been a major disappointment as a recent first-round pick. Jones has been better, but he possesses less upside.

Kenneth Murray is the third talented defensive player the Chargers acquired this spring. In fact, they surrendered their third-round pick to move up to No. 23 overall for him. Murray is an instinctive, sideline-to-sideline player who will improve the middle of the Chargers’ defense. He’ll play alongside fellow new Charger Nick Vigil, who has been a mediocre player for the Bengals in recent years. The Chargers also have Kyzir White, Drue Tranquill and Denzel Perryman to fill out the linebacking corps. White is the best of the bunch, but wasn’t quite himself last year because he was coming off a knee injury.

2020 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 have been great on special teams in most recent years, thanks to Desmond King, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019. However, the Chargers were outgained on punts and kickoffs.

Speaking of poor special-teams play, the Chargers had endured major kicking woes for years. That was the case last year because kicker Michael Badgley missed eight games with an injury. Badgley returned to convert 13-of-16 attempts, though none were from beyond 50. He didn’t miss an extra point.

Ty Long was ranked in the middle of the pack in net punting average last year, but didn’t do a good job of pinning the opposition inside the 20.

The Chargers have a mixed schedule. Some of their early-season games are against the Bengals, Panthers, Dolphins and Jaguars, but in that span, they also have to battle the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Saints.

2020 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.

2020 Los Angeles Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2020 Los Angeles Chargers Analysis: With an improved offensive line, healthy supporting cast and great defense, the Chargers would be primed for a playoff run if they had a reliable, veteran quarterback on their roster. Ironically, that’s not the case because they decided to move on from Philip Rivers this offseason. Justin Herbert is likely too raw to capitalize on his great teammates as a rookie, so it’s likely that the Chargers will once again be watching other teams play into January.

Projection: 5-11 (4th in AFC West)

2019 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 5-11.
2018 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 12-4.
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 5-11.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: The Chargers don’t have a viable starting quarterback on their roster right now, so that must be addressed at No. 6 overall (or earlier via a trade). Adding a left tackle and a running back to replace Russell Okung and Melvin Gordon, respectively, is also essential. The Chargers don’t have any pressing needs outside of those three areas, so they can focus on adding the best talent available.

2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I’m not the biggest Justin Herbert fan, but the Chargers needed to draft him. With Herbert, they now have a viable starting quarterback on their roster. Besides, as we learned with Josh Rosen, teams are no longer heavily punished for using a first-round pick on a quarterback. If Herbert is terrible, and the Chargers suffer tons of injuries and earn the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft as a consequence, they can just pull an Arizona and select Trevor Lawrence.

The Chargers added a running back, Joshua Kelley, to pair with Herbert, but they didn’t obtain a left tackle at all. That was a mistake in a tackle-heavy class, and it was made possible by the trade in the first round. The Chargers moved up for Kenneth Murray at No. 23, which seemed like a mistake. If they are going to spend such a high resource on a quarterback, they should be building around him.

Excluding the first and last selections (K.J. Hill being the latter), the Chargers didn’t score higher than a “B” on any pick. They can’t be graded highly, but I didn’t hate their draft either.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

6. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon – A Grade
The Chargers must be praised like the Dolphins were for not trading up and yet still being able to land a franchise quarterback. The only reason this isn’t an A+ is because I don’t like Herbert as much as Tua Tagovailoa. I worry about Herbert making lots of mistakes once he’s thrust into real NFL action – unlike the safe Senior Bowl and combine situations – but it’s not like first-round quarterbacks pose much risk anymore. Just look at the Cardinals. They drafted Josh Rosen, then gave up on him for Kyler Murray with no penalty. This is the right pick because of the upside.

23. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma – C- Grade
Had the Chargers just possessed the 23rd-overall pick and selected Kenenth Murray, I would’ve been fine with it. However, they sacrificed a third-round pick to move up for Murray, which seems like a mistake. The Chargers now lack resources to keep improving Justin Herbert’s supporting cast. The Chargers have some holes on their offensive line, and they don’t have much in the backfield beyond Austin Ekeler. They should have used this pick to build around Herbert, especially after giving up a valuable pick.

112. Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA – B Grade
The fit is obvious, as the Chargers lost Melvin Gordon and needed to find a running back to pair with Austin Ekeler. Kelley was projected as a fourth-round choice, so it makes sense for the Chargers to take a local product at this spot.

151. Joe Reed, KR, Virginia – C- Grade
Joe Reed is a kick returner only. I can’t see him playing on offense, but he should be able to help on special teams. The Chargers could have drafted him a round later though.

186. Alohi Gilman, S, Notre Dame – B Grade
Alohi Gilman is an inconsistent tackler and cover player, but he has enough potential to be worth a sixth-round pick. This is a solid choice.

220. K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State – A+ Grade
I look forward to Charlie Campbell’s Why the Slide on K.J. Hill because he could’ve been chosen in the third round. He’s a great route runner, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes an NFL roster and contributes sometime soon despite being a seventh-round pick.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
There’s a chance that the Philip Rivers era is over for the Chargers. He’s an impending free agent, so the Chargers could opt to move on, given that they’re in position to draft a franchise quarterback this April.

Offseason Moves:
  • Chargers sign LB Nick Vigil
  • Chargers sign CB Chris Harris
  • Chargers sign DT Linval Joseph
  • Chargers sign OT Bryan Bulaga
  • Chargers acquire G Trai Turner from Panthers for OT Russell Okung

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: The Chargers should probably re-sign Philip Rivers for one more year and select a quarterback early in the 2020 NFL Draft. They can use Rivers for one more year until the rookie is ready to play.

    2. Two Offensive Tackles: Rivers never had a chance in 2019 because the Chargers often missed three starters on the offensive line. Russell Okung can’t stay healthy, while Sam Tevi is sub par, so the Chargers will need two new edge blockers. Signed Bryan Bulaga

    3. Two Guards: The Chargers spent some early-round picks on guards recently, but none of them have panned out yet. Two new guards are needed as well. Traded for Trai Turner

    4. Center: And here’s the fifth offensive lineman. Mike Pouncey will return from injury for 2020, but he never stays healthy.

    5. Cornerback: Moving on to the other side of the ball, the Chargers need a better starting cornerback across from Casey Hayward. Signed Chris Harris

    6. Defensive Tackle: The Chargers struggled against the run for most of 2019. They’ll need to bolster the interior of the defensive line. Signed Linval Joseph

    7. Linebacker: San Angeles has a pair of promising, young linebackers, Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill, but the rest of the players at the position are either old or injury-prone. Signed Nick Vigil

    8. Running Back: Melvin Gordon is an impending free agent, so the Chargers will need someone to replace him if he leaves.

    9. Tight End: Hunter Henry is another free agent-to-be the Chargers will need to replace if he departs. Franchised Hunter Henry

    10. Safety: Adrian Phillips must also be re-signed.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2020 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Chris Harris, CB, Broncos. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers

      Chris Harris is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, but age is starting to become a concern; he turns 31 in June. Harris should still be able to play on a very high level for the next two years, but regression is coming soon.

    2. Bryan Bulaga, OT, Packers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years, $30 million)

      Bryan Bulaga is still one of the top right tackles in the NFL. If it weren’t for his checkered injury history, he’d be graded even higher than four stars.

    3. Linval Joseph, DT, Vikings. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years, $17 million)

      One of the casualties of the Kirk Cousins contract, Linval Joseph had been a dominant interior presence for the Vikings since 2014. Joseph didn’t play on a Pro Bowl level last year, but he was still a very effective player. Joseph turns 32 in October, so a decline is coming, but he should still be able to perform very well for the next year or two.

    4. Nick Vigil, ILB, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers (1 year)

      Nick Vigil is a solid cover linebacker, but he gets bulldozed in run support. He should just be playing in sub packages, but he’s pretty good at what he does best.

    Los Angeles Chargers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos (2 years, $16 million)

      Melvin Gordon is coming off a down year, but that can be attributed to his decision to hold out. Gordon is usually one of the better runners in the NFL, and he’s pretty solid as a receiver out of the backfield.

    2. Adrian Phillips, S, Chargers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Patriots (2 years)

      Adrian Phillips played just seven games in 2019 because he broke his forearm in September. However, he was excellent upon his return from injury. Turning 28 in March, Phillips deserves a healthy deal.

    3. Austin Ekeler (RFA), RB, Chargers. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Chargers (4 years, $24.5 million)

      Austin Ekeler can’t handle a full workload, but he’s an elite receiver out of the backfield. He’s been an excellent weapon for the Chargers, who probably haven’t even used him enough.

    4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers. Age: 38.
      Signed with Colts (1 year, $25 million)

      Many say Philip Rivers is done after throwing 20 interceptions in 2019, but that’s a silly and incorrect stance. Rivers actually did well – 66-percent completions, 7.8 YPA – despite playing behind an offensive line missing three starters for most of the year. Rivers is nearing retirement, but he can still lead a good team to the playoffs for the next year or two.

    5. Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers. Age: 25.
      Franchised by Chargers

      Hunter Henry would be ranked much higher if he didn’t come with injury concerns. Henry has yet to play a full season, missing 20 games in the past two years. He’s a terrific talent, but he’s been unreliable thus far.

    6. Thomas Davis, OLB, Chargers. Age: 37.
      Signed with Redskins

      Thomas Davis played surprisingly well for the Chargers last year despite being a 36-year-old. He turns 37 in late March, so there’s a decent chance he regresses.

    7. Michael Davis (RFA), CB, Chargers. Age: 25. — Tendered by Chargers (2nd round)
    8. Brandon Mebane, DT, Chargers. Age: 35.
    9. Michael Schofield, G, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Bears
    10. Isaac Rochell (RFA), DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Chargers (1 year)
    11. Jaylen Watkins, S, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with Texans
    12. Derek Watt, FB, Chargers. Age: 27. — Signed with Steelers (3 years, $9.75 million)
    13. Sean Culkin (RFA), TE, Chargers. Age: 27.
    14. Geremy Davis, WR, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    15. Sylvester Williams, DT, Chargers. Age: 31.
    16. Nick Dzubnar, LB, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Titans

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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