The San Diego Chargers have been one of the most talked about teams this off-season, and all the analysts and fans say the same things.
All the roster gaps have been filled. Ryan Mathews will single handedly revive our running game, Cam Thomas will plug up the middle, Donald Butler will be a future LB star, and Darrell Stuckey will make for a solid group of defensive backs.
All of that could prove to be totally true. I've watched tape on all of these guys, and I'm more excited about this draft class than I have been since the 2005 draft.
The problem is that there is a lot of volatility with the Chargers as a team and the AFC West as a division.
The Positive Side of Things
Ryan Mathews is the man. While people doubt his numbers because of the strength of competition at Fresno State, it is easy to see that he possesses everything he needs to break out as a pro. He has great vision, excellent body control and strength, and has top level speed that could make him a home run threat.
Cam Thomas is a beast. He fits the body type of a 3-4 DT perfectly, and could end up a dominant force in the middle, whether he will be sharing time with Vaughn Martin and Ogemdi Nwagbuo or switching in and out with Ian Scott.
Donald Butler likely won't start, but he has a great opportunity to grow and learn. Kevin Burnett, Stephen Cooper, and Brandon Siler together make a complete ILB and could prove invaluable in Butler's development.
Darrell Stuckey has a lot of potential. He didn't see a whole lot of great competition at Kansas, but he has all the physical and mental tools necessary to compete for the starting spot with Kevin Ellison.
The team, as a whole, is stronger. With the departure of Antonio Cromartie comes a better locker room, and the addition of key players like Marcus Mason, Donald Strickland, and Nate Vasher brings veteran force to the defense and the offense.
The Dark Side of Things
This should really be called the dark sides of things, because the Chargers face a lot of issues that could ultimately prevent them from having the great season everyone expects from them.
1. Contract Holdouts: AJ Smith loves to play hardball, and he's been doing a great job of it so far this off-season. Marcus McNeil, Shawne Merriman, Vincent Jackson, and Malcolm Floyd all remain unsigned as we move closer to training camp.
I expect Floyd and McNeil to sign very soon. McNeil is too important to wait, and signing Floyd establishes a base on which to build Vincent Jackson's contract.
Jackson and Merriman, on the other hand, could drag this out for a long time. Merriman is very dissatisfied with his position in the eyes of the Chargers organization and may require a lot of convincing.
Jackson is also very annoyed. He is a top flight talent in the NFL, and he has played at that level at the pay level of a mid round draft pick. It's time for San Diego to open up the checkbook here.
In the end, the length of these holdouts could have far reaching detrimental effects.
Holding out through camp could hurt team chemistry and game readiness. Holding out into the season could destroy early season morale and hurt the Chargers' record.
2. Conference Competition: As strange as it is to admit, the Oakland Raiders have done a lot for themselves in the off-season, and have put themselves in the right place to take second place, if not challenge for the title.
Oakland addressed all its needs. They picked up a stud LB in Rolando McClain, a promising run stopper in DT Lamarr Houston, two OTs with star potential in Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell, and a great return man/speed out in Jacoby Ford.
The biggest add, though, was Jason Campbell. With a competent quarterback behind the wheel, the Oakland Raiders can take advantage of talented receivers Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens.
The jury is still out on the rest of the AFC West, though, considering the high risk/high reward nature of their drafts.
Kansas City created a scary defensive backfield with Eric Berry and Javier Arenas, and added a dynamic offensive weapon in RB Dexter McCluster.
Denver took a shot in the First round on both Demaryius Thomas (WR) and Tim Tebow (QB), whose futures could make or break Josh McDaniels' head coaching career.
3. (Lack of) Vetern Presence: As much as it hurt, everyone recognized that it was time to part ways with San Diego legend Ladainian Tomlinson, because he simply wasn't as effective as he used to be.
It was the same with DT Jamal Williams. He was the rock around which San Diego's defensive line was built, and it will be odd not having him around.
The hardest part about these losses is that they will not be able to groom their replacements. Ryan Mathews will have to come in relatively green and take the majority of the snaps.
Cam Thomas has no one to learn from, and that could make his transition tough, considering that defensive line between college and pro is one of the hardest positions to make the transition to.
4. Rookie Volatility: Simply put, the rookies could be everything we expect them to be, or nothing. If one of them gets injured or one of them doesn't perform like they were expected to, it could prove dangerous to the Chargers.
The Chargers' season is up in the air right now. If holdouts end and the rookies perform well, we could be seeing a Super Bowl run.
On the other hand, if the holdouts last into the regular season or the rookies don't step up, we could see something that would terrify any Chargers fan.
If things don't go the right way, the Oakland Raiders could win the AFC West.