This isn't a article about players who we expect big things from like Philip Rivers, Shaun Phillips, Stephen Cooper, Antonio Gates, or Kris Dielman. This also isn't about the rookies coming in to contribute. This is a article about the players who already have more than one season in the NFL and will more than likely make a big impact on the team this upcoming season.
I hope you enjoy the slide as there are more than ten on the team that will more than likely make a huge difference but these are the top ten that I see will have the opportunity to make things happen for themselves.
Mike Tolbert is the epitome of what the Chargers have come to be known, as a team that have a knack for finding diamond in the rough with undrafted free agents.
There are a couple of reasons why Tolbert will have a shot at having a breakout season, at least for a player playing the fullback position.
One of the reasons is he'll more than likely take over the starting job at FB. This is turning out to be likely with the lack of play-making from Jacob Hester. With Kassim Osgood gone, the Chargers made the decision of not retaining his services as Hester emerged as a outstanding special teams player.
With Hester more than likely seeing less play time next season, Tolbert will definitely have many more opportunities to carry the ball. Especially when the Chargers can't convert on short runs. Tolbert had over 5.9- yards-a-carry last season and word has it from OTA's that Tolbert is taking reps at RB.
If Ryan Mathews isn't in the game for third and short plays, look to see Tolbert instead of Darren Sproles to take shots at getting the first down.
Tolbert also did a great job taking short passes for decent gains. With possessing such deceptive speed for a guy close to 250 lbs., he prove to have play-making ability as he took a short screen pass against the Browns for 66 yards.
Expect a much stronger season from Tolbert as he'll get his opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Cooper and Antonio Gates as undrafted free agents.
You'd never thought I'd put a guy like Luis Castillo on this list but the truth is, he hasn't done much in the last three seasons. I honestly do believe that Castillo will at least get back to his Pro Bowl self this year.
Finally having a little over one season of playing in Ron Rivera's system, Castillo have no excuses but to perform.
Under Wade Phillips defense back in 2006, Castillo had seven sacks which is huge for a DE in the 3-4 defense. The reason for sure success was the OLB's ability to pressure therefore setting up Castillo in one on one situation with opposing linemen.
It'll be tough for Castillo to have one on one situations in Ron Rivera's 3-4 defense due to him not consistently blitzing both OLB's. I honestly believe though with the experience he's gain in the past season and a half, he should be able to know how to attack the offense.
For the first time since he's gotten drafted, Castillo has competition with promising young players like Travis Johnson, Vaughn Martin, and Ogemdi Nwagbuo pushing for playing time. With players showing promise behind him, maybe this is what Castillo needed to get back into his old "dominating-the-line-of-scrimmage" self.
Castillo has a chance to have a big year and although he's had his low times the past three years, we know he has the ability to play as he was a Pro Bowler in his young career.
Like Castillo, Eric Weddle has over one year playing in Ron Rivera's system. He hasn't perfected it yet but his numbers seem to have improve a lot more after Rivera took over as defensive coordinator.
Weddle is playing a lot more aggressively in Rivera's system. Mainly due to it being a very simple scheme that relies on a lot of zone all the while running a lot of cover-2 which is not common in the 3-4 defense that most teams use.
He'll definitely be more ready after getting sidelined with a minor injury.
If there is one thing that'll may give Weddle shots at having a breakout year is the fact that nearly 10 out of the 16 games the Chargers play, they'll be facing teams that love to pass a little more than running the ball.
Look for big things from this stable veteran.
Kevin Burnett in my eyes is a very solid LB that plays pass coverage arguably better than any LB in the Chargers LB corps. After suffering a injury last season, it pave way to other players to steal the job keeping Burnett from being in the starting line-up when he was healthy.
Burnett will have a opportunity to take his job back this season. If healthy, he'll be great as he had 66 tackles and 2.5 sacks in eleven games with him starting seven out of 11 of those games. That's not bad stats for a guy that started seven games and contributed in four other games last season.
If Burnett had played out the entire season injury free, for sure last season he'd have his breakout season. So for this reason, I believe Burnett will have a outstanding season this upcoming year.
With players breathing down his neck like Brandon Siler and rookie Donald Butler, Burnett will encounter the same pressure of trying to perform like back when he was in Dallas. There is however one big difference, the Chargers know what Burnett is capable of as a starter.
This may be a surprise to all of you but there are a couple of reasons why I have this veteran on my list.
Tra Thomas has been the staple of the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line for eleven years with ten of those years protecting Donovan McNabb's blind side. After the 2008 season, the Eagles cut ties with their long time veteran looking for bringing in a younger team for the Eagles. Even when Thomas only gave up two sacks, the Eagles needed to cut him for salary cap concerns.
The Jaguars signed Thomas as a insurance policy for their first round draft choice Eugene Munroe.
Now he's with the Chargers. Why is all this information important? It's important because many analyst and fans alike questioned whether Philip Rivers blind side will be protected without Marcus McNeil playing. No one is giving Thomas a chance even if he is a accomplished blind side OT.
With Thomas playing only 3 games in 2009 due to the Jaguars trying to see what they are getting out of rookie Munroe, we have to gauge what Thomas did in 2008. What Thomas did was not only give up two sacks, but they gave up two sacks against Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, Demarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, and James Harrison to name a few he faced that season.
Thomas will prove again that he can still do the job and this is the season to prove it with McNeil out.
Louis Vasquez did a pretty good job last season as a rookie starting for one of the better teams in the NFL. Coming out of Texas Tech didn't help him because most teams will look at his lack of experience in the run game with Texas Tech's "run and shoot" offense.
Vasquez helped a offensive line give up only 26 sacks last year. If there is something that Vasquez going to need to do this year is help out the running game on the right side of the offensive line.
I believe after a very strong rookie season, he'll only get better and with some fresh legs at RB, Vasquez will have some help in looking good in the run game as I believe himself, along with the rest of the line, will help the Chargers become a respectable rushing attack again.
With Vincent Jackson holding out. It pushes Malcolm Floyd into the limelight all the while giving Legedu Naanee the opportunity to contribute greatly.
Over the years, Naanee kept proving himself to be reliable when his name is called upon to make plays. This will be his first year he'll be a full time starter.
Naanee might not be a guarantee constant down-field threat but the man can make plays. With most defenses rolling coverage towards Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates, Naanee will be facing a lot of one on one coverage. I believe Naanee will beat one on one coverages. He has had over three years to soak up Norv Turners offense. This is good timing for a player of his status to make a great contribution.
With a QB like Philip Rivers throwing the ball to him, we're going to get to see the best out of Naanee and what he can bring to the table and they type of dynamic he can bring to the Chargers receiving corps.
Hopefully this will be a season where Naanee can bring that same magic that he had on him as a player from Boise State. The same player that was part of the team that beat Oklahoma. Maybe what the Chargers need is some luck and a little magic to get to the big game. Look no further than Naanee to prove to everyone that he belongs in the NFL.
With the departure of Antonio Cromartie, it opened up the opportunity for former first round draft choice Antoine Cason to make a immediate impact.
I honestly feel that Cason fits Ron Rivera's "bend but don't break" defense much better than Cromartie. One of those reasons is the ability to tackle. You may laugh but it's the truth. Cromartie was never praised for being a good tackler. The reason why tackling is such a big deal with the Chargers CB's is because in this defensive scheme, the run support isn't the safeties, it's the CB's. Safeties are in coverage most of the time in this defense so having very physical hard hitting CB's are needed to run this defense. Jammer has one side locked down and Cason should have the other side on lockdown.
Cason is going to have a breakout season due to him being a zone type of CB. He played in a multiple zone defense in college that made him into the best CB in the nation his last year of playing for the University of Arizona Wildcats.
Look for Cason to have a breakout season as he's going to be playing in a defense he's comfortable with.
This is a huge year for Larry English. With Shawne Merriman being a stubborn unhappy player, this is a chance for English to make Merriman into a afterthought.
With the limited time English did play last season, he showed flashes of what is to come if given the opportunity to be a starter. The Chargers brought in English for one reason and one reason only, to pressure the opposing QB's. Last season, he did just that when he played.
What English will have to do is finish off those plays with sacks.
There is one thing for sure though, English has no one to compete with for his job. He's a blue collar type of OLB and will continue to progress into becoming a complete OLB, especially with the help of Ron Rivera.
Expect big things from English this year.
There is many reasons why I consider Malcolm Floyd will be the top player in having a breakout season.
First of all, he's going to be the number one WR. Why is this important? It's important because passing plays are meant for number one WR's to succeed having the QB look at them as their first option.
Floyd does have the ability to stretch the field. Maybe not as consistently as RFA holdout Vincent Jackson, he have proven last season he can play just as good.
Floyd started only one game last year as the top WR and it was against the Washington Redskins. In that game, Floyd responded well as the "go to" guy with nine receptions for 140 receiving yards. Why is this such a significant stat? Floyd had those good stats against a top ten Redskins defense that was eighth in pass defense. Not to mention, Floyd did that with back-up Billy Volek in a QB.
With Philip Rivers throwing the ball, and the experienced he's gained with Rivers, Floyd is looking to have a great statistical season as a first time 16 game starter. With defenses respecting Antonio Gates, Floyd very well can face the same type of opposing defensive game planning that Jackson faced in the last two years.
For a guy that had 45 receptions, 776 receiving yards, one TD, and doing it last season where he started only nine games, that's not a bad year at all.
Look for big things from Floyd as he is going to prove that he can play just as good as Jackson.
There will be many players on the Chargers depth chart that will improve but these are the ten that I feel will more than likely have a breakout season. I hope you readers enjoyed my article.
Honorable mention: Jeromey Clary, Darren Sproles, Josh Reed, and Nate Kaeding.