The San Diego Chargers' passing attack seemed to fire on every cylinder last year. Philip Rivers looked rejuvenated, Danny Woodhead was as slippery as ever and rookie wideout Keenan Allen made waves across the NFL in his standout first season. However, all the excitement around San Diego's vaunted offense masks the fact that wide receiver is a crucial issue this offseason.
The defense—especially the woeful secondary—is still the top priority, but take one look at the stats for wide receivers in San Diego and you can see just how perilous the drop-off from Allen to the rest of his teammates really was:
These stats are mitigated by the fact that Antonio Gates remains an above-average tight end (77 catches for 832 yards) and Danny Woodhead is the consummate checkdown option (76 receptions out of the backfield).
But Gates is slowing down with each passing year, and the good health of Woodhead or Allen is no guarantee in the brutal NFL.
The second most prolific receiver on the team, Eddie Royal, will be 28 next season and is entering his prime. However, he isn't much more than a dependable third option, though he adds value to the team as a punt returner.
His eight touchdowns look great, until you consider he racked up five of them in the first two games of the season. Royal also never broke the 100-yard mark in a game and snagged more than five catches just once: Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game in which he also scored three touchdowns and inflated his fantasy football stock to unprecedented and unwarranted heights. As a No. 2 wide receiver, he doesn't pose much of a threat.
Not that he was intended to be a top threat. Malcom Floyd lasted just one game in 2013 before missing the remainder of the season to an unfortunate neck injury. Floyd has 233 catches for 4,133 yards over the course of his career, but he will be 32 at the beginning of next season and can no longer be considered a long-term option. Not to mention the latest news on his neck injury, reported last month by U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken, was that Floyd was still wearing a neck brace and had been told by Dr. Robert Atkins that his spinal disk injury could threaten his career.
On the injury front, there is also the sobering case of Danario Alexander, who missed the entirety of 2013 with an ACL injury—an issue that has plagued him since he first tried to break into the league with the St. Louis Rams. According to Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk, he has had seven total surgeries on his knees in his career and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
According to Matt Calkins of U-T San Diego, general manager Tom Telesco is looking to add some speed to the offense, but the wide receiver corps could also use another large target for Philip Rivers to take aim at downfield, which he was adept at doing in the past when paired with Vincent Jackson.
A big target at wide receiver could make the Chargers even more dominant and complement Allen, who stands at 6'2" but gets by on his polished route running and sure hands rather than dominant athleticism or physicality.
The Cardinals (14th) are no slouch with Tyrann Mathieu on the field and may be even better in that department next year as well.
NFL rosters revamp and reload quickly in this unforgiving league, so there is little virtue in a team resting on its laurels.
There are a couple attractive options in this mold in free agency this offseason, such as Hakeem Nicks or Anquan Boldin, but they are hindered by injury and advanced age, which the youthful Chargers may want to stay away from considering their current familiarity with that exact issue at wide receiver.
If the Chargers forego the free-agency route, there are a couple of big targets they could set their sights on in the NFL Draft.
What is the best way for the Chargers to address the need at wide receiver?
Penn State's Allen Robinson is listed at 6'3" and is one of the top receivers in this year's class, but the Chargers could also wait and try to pick up the physical Davante Adams of Fresno State in a later round.
The physicality will certainly be addressed on defense, especially in the early rounds of the draft. But for the Chargers to make even greater strides in 2014, they will need to find another wide receiver to stretch the field and stretch the team's potential.