Malcom in the Middle: Is Floyd Ready to Step Up in San Diego?

William RisserCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2009

Being older than clear No. 1 Vincent Jackson, but younger than veteran starter Chris Chambers, Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd finds himself in the middle of San Diego's receiving corps. Which is right where he needs to be entering the prime of his career. 

Now, is he finally ready for the role? Can he be the reliable option the Chargers need him to be? Will he be able to stay healthy?

We'll see. Only time will tell, but based on last year it may be in the cards. The offense is so stacked that any Chargers third receiver will be seeing some very favorable matchups.

Opposing defenses will undoubtedly devote much of their attention to stopping Jackson, Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson in the receiving game. That leaves everyone else open to exploit beneficial coverages. 

No doubt the steady Chambers is the other starter and a sturdier Craig Davis isn't going to roll over for playing time, but Floyd, who turns 28 this Sept., has everything in his favor to open camp.

After playing in 13 games in 2008, with two starts, Floyd missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs after suffering a punctured lung in Week 13. His ability to stay healthy is paramount, as it is with any NFL player. 

Despite that, it was the best year of his career by far. Floyd caught 27 balls, 77.7 percent for first downs, 465 yards, and four touchdowns. He also broke his previous deep-ball record by three yards with a 49 yard TD against New England in Week Six.

Not exactly eye popping numbers, but consider that those numbers doubled his career receptions, yards and touchdown numbers. He had 27 catches, 356 yards, and four touchdowns in his first 22 NFL games.

Floyd matched or exceeded all those statistics in 13 games last season in an offense where no receiver had more than 60 catches.  

Does anyone remember Alvin Harper ripping it up with limited opportunities across from Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek in Dallas

Who was the Cowboy's offensive coordinator back then? Norv Turner of course, but I digress. 

Still, M-80 has never had a multiple TD game and has only one 100 yard receiving game in 35 career games played. And that was a 109 yard day against the Cincinnati Bengals in '06, a year in which he finished with 210 total receiving yards after being sidelined with an ankle injury. 

Needless to say he's got more to prove. Measuring in at 6'-5", 225 lbs., Floyd has beyond prototypical size and speed, having run a 4.4 sec. 40 in pre-draft work-outs.

And looking at Chambers' numbers from last year the similarities are ridiculous; the ninth-year wideout pulled down 33 catches for 462 yards and five TDs with 63.7 percent of those catches going for 1st downs.  

And entering his fifth year in the league, the former undrafted free agent out of Wyoming could be the poster boy for the old adage that receiver is the slowest position to adapt to the NFL game. 

But when I looked at his numbers, they made me wonder how good he could be with more opportunity. Of Floyd's 27 catches, 21 went for first downs and his 17.2 yard-per-catch average was second only to Jackson on the team. So he's no shrinking violet and has the tools for big plays.

While he did have more catches in the 4th quarter last season that any other last season with 11, his big plays waned with only one catch over 20 yards. That's compared to eight first quarter catches, five of which went for more than 20 yards, last season. 

The most notable aspect of Floyd's numbers I found is that the bulk of production came when the Chargers were behind. Of the 19 receptions he had when San Diego trailed, 73.7 percent went for first downs and five for more than 20 yards. Three TDs too. That's clutch production people. 

This offense is so complete that this is only so-called skill position seeing a real battle in camp. Gates works the mid to deep middle while Jackson just goes deep. That leaves the outside and for Chambers and Floyd. Tomlinson, and now Darren Sproles, handle most underneath routes.  

It looks for now that Jackson won't be suspended and the aging Chambers remains productive even though he hasn't been as durable since his last season in Miami. Eventually, you've got to think that the Chargers would love to see Floyd grow into a more explosive version of Chambers, who turns 31 this month, on the other side of Jackson.

It's been a tough road for Floyd after not being drafted, signed as a free agent, cut, re-signed to the practice squad before seeing limited playing time, cut again only to be relegated to the practice squad once more before being activated again.

It all payed off when the Chargers re-signed him to a one-year deal last season. This year he re-signed for a contract worth $1.5 million.

It would be nice to see the guy who's first career TD reception, a 13 yarder against the Chiefs in '04 that was also Philip Rivers' first career TD strike, be in the middle of what the Chargers do this season. And that could be something special.