To offset the loss of Jackson, the Chargers signed Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. Meachem figures to start in Jackson's old spot and Royal should be the primary slot receiver. While Meachem will replace a chunk of the production from Jackson, it's Royal who will really help the Chargers survive without him.
Royal has a chance to be a very good offensive weapon for the Chargers, and he's likely to be overshadowed by Malcom Floyd, Gates and Meachem.
Royal had a phenomenal rookie season in 2008 and produced over 1,000 total yards. He caught 91 passes for 980 yards and five scores from the arm of Jay Cutler his rookie year, and the Chargers are hoping he can approach those numbers in San Diego with Philip Rivers.
Royal was saddled with average to below-average quarterbacks from 2009 to 2011—Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow have never been accused of inflating the stats of their receivers. Royal also never received the same opportunities under Josh McDaniels and John Fox as he did under Mike Shanahan.
Given the opportunities and the personnel in San Diego, Royal has a chance to approach the production from his rookie year if he can stay healthy and Norv Turner gives him the opportunity.
Captain Check Down
Many will point to the production lost by the Chargers when Sproles left as an area where Royal will help, but Ryan Mathews actually did a nice job catching passes and replaced most of that production in 2011. You could make a case that most of Royal's production in this area would be in addition to Mathews' production, but the Chargers want Mathews to get better in pass protection and could shift some of his responsibilities.
If the Chargers choose to keep Mathews in for protection more often, Royal and the rest of the passing game could be a beneficiary. Given Mathews' struggles in pass protection, Royal would be the logical check-down receiver.
Gates was once a 1,000-yard threat who would add 10 touchdowns, but those days may be past him. It's not uncommon for Gates to line up in the slot for much of the game, a role now designated to Royal. Royal will be the slot receiver in many situations instead of Gates, particularly in the middle of the field where Royal can use his agility.
A fresher Gates will remain a red-zone weapon, and it wouldn't be surprising if he scored more touchdowns but had fewer yards in 2012. Royal will have to pick up any loss of yardage to keep the Chargers moving.
Don't Leave It to Meachem
Meachem is a capable and talented receiver, but no one expects him to replace all the production Jackson took with him to Tampa Bay. There will be a gap in production, and that's where Royal will help the Chargers' offense.
The gap between Meachem and Jackson last year was 486 yards and three touchdowns. Royal needs to be the receiver that makes up that yardage gap.
Meachem is known for being a deep threat and should clear out space for Royal in the short and intermediate passing game. The Chargers are hoping this can become a pick-your-poison situation and the combination of Meachem and Royal will actually more than replace what the team lost with Jackson.