The San Diego Chargers lost starting wide receiver Danario Alexander to a season-ending ACL injury on Tuesday, a huge blow to an offense still trying to find their identity under new head coach Mike McCoy. In just 10 games last year, Alexander became the Chargers' second-leading receiver and tied for the team lead with seven touchdowns.
Luckily for the Chargers, they drafted Alexander’s potential replacement in the third round of last April’s draft. The 6'2", 206-pound Keenan Allen was considered a first-round talent, but he fell due to injury concerns. So far, he’s done enough to be listed as third string on the depth chart.
Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal are listed as second string, but their primary role will be as slot receivers. That means Allen’s only real competition on the outside is Robert Meachem, who may only have a roster spot in San Diego because of the huge contract he signed with the team last year as an unrestricted free agent.
With Alexander out, Allen is going to get a chance to earn snaps. A veteran receiver may get the first-string designation on the depth chart, but they aren’t really replacements for Alexander. Brown was already going to be a big part of the offense, and expanding Royal’s role to include snaps on the outside isn’t a great use of his talent.
All signs point to Allen getting significant playing time as a rookie, especially if any other receivers miss time with injury. For Allen, that’s just what he wanted.
"I want to be a starter," Allen said via U-T San Diego in June. "I don't want to watch. I want to be part of the moment. I don't want to watch it."
Unless Meachem can make a quantum leap forward, Allen’s not going to be watching very much in 2013. Meachem’s career high in receptions is 45, and Alexander caught 37 passes last year in a nine-game span.
Even if Meachem has a career year, the Chargers are going to need more production from their wide receivers. Brown was already being counted upon to elevate the offense, not keep it from losing production.
The veterans Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates will still be heavily involved in the passing game as always, but the Chargers can’t expect too much extra production from players on the wrong side of 30. Floyd has also only played through an entire 16-game season once in his career, so the Chargers have to expect that they will lose some of his production for a few games.
There are also few quick-fix free agents available to help the Chargers. The best receiver available is probably the veteran Laurent Robinson. Last year in Jacksonville, Robinson caught 24 passes in just seven games, but he’s he was more productive in 2011 when he caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games for the Dallas Cowboys.
According to ProFootballTalk, Robinson has worked out for the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints this offseason and will work out for the Indianapolis Colts as well. Interest is there for Robinson, so if the Chargers are interested, they need to get in the mix soon.
If the Chargers don’t make a move for Robinson, the rookie Allen becomes a key player for a new-look offense. Allen might not be able to completely replace Alexander’s production, but he can get the Chargers close enough to where it’s not a noticeable drag on the offense.