San Diego Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd is lighting up training camp after suffering a career-threatening neck injury in Week 2 of the 2013 season. This is huge for the Chargers—they get the excellent deep threat and No. 2 receiver that they desperately needed in their playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.
The addition of Floyd makes San Diego’s resurrected offense even better. And that makes the Chargers serious contenders in the AFC.
It’s a miracle Floyd is even returning to the NFL in the first place. He had five catches for 102 yards versus the Philadelphia Eagles before going down with an injury that put his NFL career in limbo. Once medically cleared in May, Floyd returned to the Chargers. He has been looking like his old self ever since.
Tom Krasovic of The San Diego Union-Tribune said that Floyd would be his choice for MVP of Chargers spring training. The receiver was quarterback Philip Rivers’ “most-targeted pass-catcher” and didn’t show any rust.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers, experiencing his first offseason with Floyd, said Floyd can make defensive backs look bad and is one of the Chargers’ many explosive receivers.
There is visual evidence of Floyd’s comeback, too—take a look at this grab he made in training camp recently:
Floyd has been just as healthy and effective this offseason as he has been his entire career. The 32-year-old receiver is well on his way to producing a stat line like he has in past years—a stat line of one of the league’s premier deep threats.
At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Floyd sounds more like a tight end than a DeSean Jackson-like field-stretcher. But his long strides beg to differ—Floyd ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at his combine and hasn’t lost a tick of that deadly speed.
Floyd’s height/speed combo helped him post four consecutive seasons of 700-plus receiving yards, along with 17 total touchdowns, before his 2013 injury. He is second in yards per reception among active players with 17.3, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
If those statistics haven’t made it obvious, Floyd is almost exclusively a deep receiver. The best way to utilize him is to toss the football up 40 yards down the field and have him make a play on it. Most defenders don’t stand a chance against Floyd’s towering frame, and the ones who do can’t run with him. If he was drafted today, Floyd would be considered one of the league’s many new-age tight ends.
Although it doesn’t do Floyd justice to just talk about his red-zone-worthy style of play—let’s look at a few of his best catches.
This was the only catch Floyd made during last year’s game versus the Houston Texans. That’s not a bad thing, as the leaping grab over cornerback Johnathan Joseph went for 47 yards. Floyd already had a step on Joseph—if he didn’t have to adjust to Rivers’ throw, this would have been a touchdown.
Floyd beats man coverage with ease on this diving catch against the Tennessee Titans in 2012. If Floyd was bracketed, the Titans could have prevented this from happening. However, that would make life much easier for San Diego’s other receivers. Pick your poison.
This was a catch. Antonio Cromartie was dumbfounded. The picture says the rest.
Floyd is the rare combination of elite statistical consistency and a GIF-worthy style of play. If he stays healthy (a big if—Floyd has missed 28 regular-season games since 2008), Floyd’s return to San Diego will make the Chargers a legitimate contender in the AFC. He won’t just pile up empty stats—Floyd will boost the Chargers’ conservative offense and reduce the defensive flexibility of their most formidable opponent.
Yes, the Chargers offense surprised many, due to the emergence of Keenan Allen and the offensive line performing way above expectations. But it lacked a legitimate threat opposite Allen, which limited San Diego’s offense when its running game was struggling.
This year, things will be different. Floyd is the perfect complement for Allen, Rivers and the revitalized Chargers offense. Olivia Hops of Sports Out West summed it up perfectly:
The drought of receivers catching the ball laid heavily on Floyd’s absence. With the 6-foot-5 receiver on the sidelines, there was no one stretching the field, leaving it relatively short. Receivers often struggled to become open due to the crowded area and not knowing the whereabouts of their fellow receivers on the field. But with Floyd back, the team’s passing game gains an entirely new element.
That new element is a player who can take the top off the defense. With Floyd running deep and taking away defenders, Allen will have more room to operate in the short and intermediate areas of the field. The same applies for Chargers receiving backs Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. Floyd’s return will also put Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal in more suitable positions on the wide receiver depth chart, so San Diego gets a collective boost at the position with just one addition.
Floyd’s importance to the new Chargers offense was obvious in the two games he played last year—he averaged 74.5 yards per game before going down with injury, which would have been a career high. Floyd likely would have stayed near that average, due to him being Rivers’ most familiar wide receiver on the roster and the improved performance of the offensive line.
So the Chargers offense gets more explosive—what does it matter if the Denver Broncos are still setting scoring records left and right?
If San Diego is serious about making a run in the playoffs, then it will have to go through Denver, the clear favorite to repeat as AFC champions. As tall of a task as that sounds, the Chargers were very competitive with the Broncos throughout 2013, and the addition of Floyd makes the team less of a minor nuisance and more of a worthy opponent.
“Very competitive” does not mean the Chargers were within 20 points each game against the Broncos—in their first 2013 match, San Diego lost by eight points. The Chargers won 27-20 at Denver in December. In the playoffs, they lost by seven points. Every match was a one-score game.
And the playoffs could have gone differently if the Chargers had a receiver besides Allen to make plays—Royal was second on the team in receiving that game, with one catch for 30 yards.
The Chargers were very close without Floyd—just a couple of more deep completions, or at least the looming threat of a 6’5” matchup nightmare would have made that divisional-round playoff game much more interesting.
Floyd could help flip the AFC West script this season, despite Denver’s defensive upgrades. Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib will likely shadow Allen, which leaves rookie Bradley Roby stuck with guarding Floyd on the outside. If Roby needs safety help, then more space opens up for the running backs and tight ends.
Yes, San Diego has major question marks on defense. But the roster was worse last season and somehow managed to hold the Broncos to 24 points per game. Now the offense is massively upgraded with the addition of Floyd—that gives the Chargers a legitimate shot. And if San Diego can topple Denver, it can topple any other team in the conference.
That’s the power of the Malcom Floyd effect.