San Diego Chargers: 3 Potential Sleepers to Watch for in Training Camp
GM A.J. Smith has taken a lot of heat lately for losing his "golden touch" in evaluating talent. The criticism is deserved since, as Smith himself has said, the San Diego Chargers have done nothing with their five division titles since 2004.
They haven't even gotten into the postseason the last two years.
But while some fans believe Smith simply tries to outsmart his colleagues to feed his massive ego, he has had some notable finds. Guys like Legedu Naanee and Mike Tolbert were unknowns who went on to make plays in some pretty big spots for the Bolts. However, they are both ex-Chargers right now.
Are there any players on the current roster who could surprise this summer and beyond?
I've decided to exclude all the former Ravens, Saints and Broncos who have been brought in this offseason from the discussion. I don't think contributions from any of them would warrant "sleeper" status.
1. Jonas Mouton
Like Donald Butler the year before, this linebacker missed his entire rookie season.
The Chargers are hardly set at linebacker, even though they seemingly have upgraded the position. But no one, including Shaun Phillips, is entirely dependable.
John Pagano will continue to run a 3-4, even though it feels like an eternity since the Bolts have generated enough quarterback pressure to justify it. Mouton will have ample opportunities to contribute during camp and in the coming season.
2. Curtis Brinkley
Before Philip Rivers fumbled the snap in Kansas City on Halloween, this former Syracuse running back looked like he'd helped the Bolts escape with a win. I haven't seen that kind of unexpected, north-to-south running late in a game since Michael Bennett in the Chargers’ last playoff win against the Colts.
Brinkley looked really strong running between the tackles and followed up his game-tying touchdown run by hauling in a Rivers pass for the ensuing two-point conversion.
The signing of Ronnie Brown will push Brinkley a little farther down the depth chart behind Ryan Mathews, but he'll still get a shot. He'll have to beat out Edwin Baker and Michael Hayes, according to beat writer Michael Gehlken of the Union-Tribune.
However, at least Brinkley has proven he can play big in a tough spot.
3. Brandon Taylor
Gehlken also intimated that the Bolts will shore up their cornerback situation with a veteran signing.
Quentin Jammer looked slow and disoriented in 2011, allegedly due to his failing marriage. His skills have always seemed better suited for playing safety, but the Chargers have been reluctant, even though Jammer has said he'd be open to the idea.
Eric Weddle backed up his big contract with his best season and a Pro Bowl berth last year, but Atari Bigby isn't anyone's idea of a long-term fix to replace Steve Gregory. Gregory was never the same player after returning from a performance-enhanced suspension, anyway.
Brandon Taylor was picked in the third round, even though everyone in the world knew the Chargers needed a safety. Remember all the speculation that they were going to trade up for Alabama’s Mark Barron?
Besides their multiple needs and the steep asking price for Barron, the Chargers opted for this safety from LSU. Charger fans have been waiting for a true strong safety since Rodney Harrison’s release. This could be our guy.