Chargers' Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
San Diego's receiving corps isn't getting the attention it deserves.
With two of its top receivers lost to injury early in 2013, the passing game still managed to thrive and finish in the top five by season's end. In Malcom Floyd's absence came the emergence of Keenan Allen, and for the first time since September of last year, both are expected to take the field in 2014.
Joining Floyd and Allen will be the familiar trio of Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal and Seyi Ajirotutu, who each had their respective moments last season. As Eric D. Williams of ESPN alluded to, the Chargers may have "one of the most underrated receiving units in the league."
Let's take an early look at which receivers have the best chance at filling out the depth chart and how they'll contribute in 2014.
On the Bubble: Dontrelle Inman
Six receivers should be about the max San Diego carries on its 53-man roster, but keep an eye out for Inman on the bubble.
After two seasons in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts, Inman is back to give the NFL a second go after a brief time with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. He won a Grey Cup in his rookie season in Toronto and finished his CFL career with 100 receptions, 11 touchdowns and a little over 1,500 yards receiving.
The Chargers signed the 25-year-old to a futures contract in January along with fellow CFL star Cordarro Law. Standing 6'3" and 205 pounds, Inman could give San Diego some length at the receiver position.
6. Tevin Reese
Reese could develop into a real bright spot for the Chargers given who will be throwing him the ball. Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense tied for fifth in passing plays of 40-plus yards with 11 last season, and that number could increase with a home run hitter like Reese in the lineup.
In Baylor's spread offense, Reese set an NCAA record with 21 touchdowns of 40-plus yards. His ability after the catch was also pretty remarkable, as he averaged 19.4 yards per catch the last three seasons.
Where Reese draws the most concern, however, is his physical makeup. He weighed in at 163 pounds at the scouting combine, and there are some who question his ability to withstand the punishment of the NFL.
But as Reese told Eric D. Williams, this isn't the first time his size has been called into question: "I’ve always been small my whole life, and I’ve found a way to make it work. And I’m still going to do that in the NFL. You can’t tackle what you can’t catch, and that’s what I live by."
5. Seyi Ajirotutu
Ajirotutu pulled double duty as a receiver on offense and gunner on special teams—two areas his impact was felt in 2013.
On special teams, Ajirotutu tied for the fourth-most tackles last season with 16, according to Team Rankings. Fellow teammate Darrell Stuckey was also high on that list.
As a receiver, Ajirotutu had just three catches—one of which led to a game-winning touchdown that landed on NFL Network's Top 100 Plays of 2013. Although small, his contribution on offense was needed in the spur of the moment.
This season, Ajirotutu's role on offense could grow, as Eric D. Williams noted during OTAs: "Ajirotutu is showing his winning touchdown reception against Kansas City last year was no fluke, and he can consistently get open if given an opportunity for more snaps with the first-unit offense."
4. Eddie Royal
Royal was plagued by a toe injury for the majority of the year, but he grinded his way through 15 regular-season games and two playoff games for the Chargers, even tying Keenan Allen for the most receiving touchdowns on the team with eight. The year prior, Royal played only 10 games and had just one touchdown, as he was limited by a nagging hamstring.
The combination of improved health and reuniting with Mike McCoy resulted in one of Royal's better seasons. If health allows him, Royal could be in for more of the same as he resumes his role as the team's slot receiver in 2014.
3. Vincent Brown
Brown was given ample playing time in 2013 because of injuries to the receiving corps, but for whatever reason, he didn't make good on the opportunity and had just an average season as the team's No. 2 receiver. Having to sit out all of 2012 due to injury may have slowed Brown's development, however, and general manager Tom Telesco seems to see it that way, per Ricky Henne of Chargers.com:
I know he's been in the league for a couple years, but really, as far as heavy playing time, it was almost like a rookie year for him. He ended up with (41) catches. (He’s) definitely good moving forward. He's shown some promise. He finishes some tough catches downfield, and he's a good route runner, so we'll see where it goes.
Even with Malcom Floyd returning in 2014, Brown still has a shot at starting games and playing a large number of snaps. Playing the final year of his rookie contract should also motivate him to do well.
2. Malcom Floyd
Floyd had been one of San Diego's most consistent receivers for quite some time before a neck injury forced his 2013 to come to a screeching halt. From 2011-12, Floyd had more than 800 yards receiving and five touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. He and Philip Rivers developed a chemistry unlike any other on the football field, and now that he's back, Floyd hopes he can "add some more firepower," according to Ricky Henne.
Now that defenses will be scheming around No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen, Floyd should benefit from minimized attention coming his way. Another potentially dangerous hit like the one he suffered last season will be a lingering thought in the back of his mind, but a healthy Floyd could have a major impact in 2014.
1. Keenan Allen
The odds are already against Allen to repeat his rookie production in 2014.
For starters, he's facing the dreaded sophomore slump. Expectations for the star receiver couldn't be higher in his second year, but replicating that level of production with such a difficult schedule just doesn't seem likely. When he has a bad game, the media will talk and criticize him for it, and when he has a good game, they'll say that's what should be expected from him.
Another key factor will be the attention Allen draws from opposing defenses. As a rookie, Allen benefited from being unknown, but that obviously won't be the case now. He'll face the top corners on a regular basis, including arguably some of the best in Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich touched on Allen's consistency with Eric D. Williams:
He has great wide receiver qualities. He’s great off the line of scrimmage against press. He’s got great feet. He’s really good with the ball in his hand. You just ask him to keep building on what he did last year. From the fifth game on, he literally was a Pro Bowl-caliber player in his rookie year. He was phenomenal. Now, it’s all about consistency. Can you do it year in, year out?
But being the gifted talent that he is, Allen should manage to leave his mark on games even if it's in a limited capacity. With the crop of receivers San Diego has surrounding Allen, he doesn't need to go out and put up 100 yards receiving every game to help the Chargers win games.
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