Projected San Diego Chargers Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
The San Diego Chargers are a few weeks away from the start of training camp, and though it may be early to project the final 53-man roster without a single full-contact practice or preseason game to go off, we're going to take a stab at it anyway.
Things could obviously change from now until the start of the regular season, but for now, we'll make judgements based on past performances and educated guesses. This projected roster doesn't account for any injuries or signings that may take place in the near future, so bear with me.
Here's my way-too-early projection of the 53-man roster for the Chargers. Feel free to offer up your own adjustments in the comments section below.
Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup: Kellen Clemens
Rivers enters his 12th season just two passing touchdowns shy of the team record held by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. The six-time Pro Bowler is nearing the end of a $91.8 million extension he signed back in 2009 and has said he won't sign a new deal until his current contract expires after the 2015 season. However, the team is optimistic about a long-term extension with Rivers that would allow him to retire as a Charger, according to NFL media insider Ian Rapoport.
But before that can of worms is opened, you can bet Rivers will be the starting quarterback for the Bolts at least one more season. Clemens, a 10-year veteran, will be providing the backup assuming he's able to withstand pressure put on by Chase Rettig and Brad Sorensen in camp.
Starter: Melvin Gordon
Backups: Branden Oliver, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown
Gordon, the NCAA's leading rusher in 2014, is the early favorite to head up the rushing attack in San Diego, with Oliver, Woodhead and Brown filling out complementary roles. As Eric Williams of ESPN.com reported in June, Gordon has been as good as advertised during offseason workouts, and running backs coach Ollie Wilson is pleased at how quickly Gordon is picking up the offense.
He studies and he’s smart. When you give him something, you know that you’re on to the next thing. Usually with rookies it takes a little while to get it done. Now, he’s still working through some of the protection stuff. But for the most part, when we give him something, he’s pretty much got it. So that’s going to help him stay on the field.
Oliver should also figure heavily into San Diego's game plan, as he managed to lead the team in rushing a year ago as an undrafted rookie. He proved effective both as a runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield, and his compact running style will serve as a nice change-up to the much rangier Gordon.
Woodhead will be called on to provide leadership for the group along with his responsibilities on third down and in the red zone. He missed most of the 2014 season with a broken ankle but has been "one of the pleasant surprises for the Chargers so far during offseason work," according to Williams. "He has flashed the quickness and elusiveness that makes him one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league in his return from a serious ankle injury."
Brown did not make a good impression on the Chargers last season, but he received the backing of GM Tom Telesco and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who provided ringing endorsements for the 27-year-old, per Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"We thought he mixed in well with our guys, and I have a lot of confidence in Donald, I really do. Whether we didn’t see enough out of him this year or not, I’ve had a lot of confidence in him," Telesco said in January. Reich had a similar take on Brown in December. "I think he grades out high week in and week out. I just think he’s an excellent player who’s a great team player and makes us better as a whole offense."
Brown will have competition for his spot at the back end of the roster from undrafted rookies Jahwan Edwards and Dreamius Smith.
Starters: Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson
Backups: Jacoby Jones, Dontrelle Inman
Allen refuses to acknowledge last season as a sophomore slump, but the reality is he failed to be that dynamic receiver for the Chargers like he was in 2013. Allen was held to just four touchdowns compared to the eight he caught as a rookie. He was surpassed for the team lead in receiving by the elder Floyd, who returned from a career-threatening neck injury suffered the previous year.
Floyd is expected to call next season his last, per Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune. However, the 33-year-old soon to be 34 is still one of the Chargers' best talents at receiver. His ability to go up and get it is unique to the receiving corps and he, by far, has the best chemistry with Philip Rivers.
Johnson replaces Eddie Royal in the slot, where he is expected to get more usage than he did with San Francisco in 2014. His best years in Buffalo produced three consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards, and he did so without the services of an elite quarterback, which he now has in Rivers.
Jones is coming off a down year as a receiver but he remains one of the top return specialists in the game today. His biggest asset to the team will be providing the offense with optimum field position.
Rounding out the depth chart is Inman, who impressed in his first season after time spent in the CFL. With Floyd set to retire after this season, the Chargers may be leaning toward naming Inman his successor.
Starter: Ladarius Green
Backups: John Phillips, David Johnson, David Paulsen
With Antonio Gates suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season, Green steps in as the incumbent starter, hopeful to prove himself in a contract year. His combination of size and speed is difficult to match up with one-on-one, and he can make things happen after the catch.
Phillips will also be receiving a bump up in playing time, most of which is likely to be spent as a blocker, but he has better-than-expected receiving skills if called upon to produce in the passing game. Johnson was primarily used at fullback last season but has experience at tight end, and Paulsen could be a temporary fill-in the team keeps to account for the loss of Gates.
Starters: King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, Chris Watt, D.J. Fluker, Joe Barksdale
Backups: Chris Hairston, Johnnie Troutman, Trevor Robinson
The offensive line received extra attention in free agency from the Chargers front office, which managed to retain Dunlap and still seek out quality players with starting experience. Franklin was the top get after four seasons spent in Denver, where he started all but one game. He excelled as both a pass protector and run-blocker in 2014, earning a grade of +15.4 from Pro Football Focus.
Barksdale, who started every game at right tackle for the St. Louis Rams in 2014, could be in line to land the same gig with San Diego if the coaching staff prefers him over Fluker. The Chargers have denied the offseason rumor that Fluker would be moving to guard in 2015, but with his strength and ability as a run-blocker, it seems like the most logical place to put him. And competing for the job of swing tackle is Hairston, a former fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2011.
This will also be the first year without longtime center Nick Hardwick, who retired early last season due to injuries. Watt, a former guard-turned center, is taking over the position after making five starts there in 2014.
Troutman and Robinson fill out the remaining spots among the reserves, assuming Troutman does not hold onto his rank as a starter in camp. He performed less than admirably last season as PFF's lowest-graded right guard.
Starters: Corey Liuget, Sean Lissemore, Kendall Reyes
Backups: Ricardo Mathews, Mitch Unrein, Ryan Carrethers, Tenny Palepoi, Darius Philon
The Chargers showed exceptional faith and confidence in Liuget by signing him to a five-year, $58.5 million extension last month, making him the the third-highest paid player on the roster. While he has yet to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl, Liuget is still among the best young talents at his position, as evidenced by his spot on the BR NFL 1000 rankings for 3-4 defensive ends. Out of a possible score of 100, he earned an 81, placing him just outside the top 10.
Lissemore and Reyes were quite the opposite of Liuget in 2014, and as a result, their playing time may be in jeopardy. Mathews and Carrethers were effective in short bursts, which is cause enough to increase their snaps. Mathews was adept at getting pressure on the quarterback, while Carrethers showed some promise in clogging up running lanes.
Unrein, who comes over from the rival Broncos, will also be apart of the effort to challenge for playing time on the defensive line, and he is looking to get payback against his former team, per Eric Williams of ESPN.com. Despite being in a good state of health, he was active for just eight games.
Palepoi and Philon, the fifth-round rookie from Arkansas, finish out the positional depth. Philon's motor on passing downs should help his efforts in making a roster desperate for pass-rushers, and Palepoi flashed potential as an undrafted rookie last season.
Starters: Melvin Ingram, Donald Butler, Manti Te'o, Jeremiah Attaochu
Backups: Tourek Williams, Denzel Perryman, Kavell Conner, Cordarro Law, Kyle Emanuel
San Diego's linebacking corps is young, with the average age of the group topping out at 24.5 years, but it's also one of the most injury-prone units on the roster. Ingram, Butler, Te'o and Attaochu combined to miss 20 games last season. But if the group can remain healthy, they have a chance to be exceptionally good in 2015 under the direction of new linebackers coach Mike Nolan.
Perryman, the Chargers' second-round pick, is an exciting new addition to the roster with enforcer-like qualities that will hopefully resonate throughout the group, and Conner has shown a similar satisfaction in laying the wood. Williams, Law and fifth-rounder Emanuel will factor into the rotation at outside linebacker, where the Chargers have been longing for double-digit sack numbers.
Starters: Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett
Backups: Patrick Robinson, Steve Williams, Craig Mager, Chris Davis
Though small in stature, Flowers and Verrett make up an enticing duo at cornerback, as both earned high marks in the BR NFL 1000. Flowers graded an 84 out of 100 for the 16th spot and Verrett's 85 puts him ahead in the 11th spot as the highest-ranking rookie on the list.
Next season will be more demanding than the last, however, as the Chargers prepare to face off against the gifted receivers of the NFC North. Flowers and Verrett will be tested by names such as Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Alshon Jeffery to name a few.
Robinson, Mager and Jimmy Wilson (not listed) are expected to compete for the role of slot cornerback. Robinson and Wilson both spent time there last season, while Mager is entering his first year in the league as San Diego's third-round draft choice. The Texas State product is an intriguing physical specimen, but he sometimes lacks discipline in his coverage.
Williams made his debut for the Chargers last season after missing all of 2013 with a pectoral injury, and as supported by Ricky Henne's piece on Chargers.com, the third-year cornerback is vying for a bigger role in 2015. Davis completes the rotation serving as both a defender and return specialist. The former Iron Bowl hero wasn't able to take one to the house last year but he might get that chance teaming up with Jacoby Jones.
Starters: Eric Weddle, Jimmy Wilson
Backups: Darrell Stuckey, Jahleel Addae
Weddle may not be in the long-term plans for San Diego, but that doesn't change the fact that he is planning on having "the best season ever for a safety," per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro earned the top spot among safeties on the BR NFL 1000, with an impressive 94 out of 100. He is, without question, the Chargers' best defender, and the glue that holds the secondary together.
Replacing Marcus Gilchrist at strong safety is Wilson, who played multiple spots for the Miami Dolphins. The hard-hitting Addae is also expected to contend for playing time, and he may be the successor to Weddle should the team decide to forgo an extension. And last but not least is Stuckey, who made the Pro Bowl last year for his top-notch play on special teams.
Kicker: Nick Novak
Punter: Mike Scifres
Long snapper: Mike Windt
The Chargers put a little heat on Scifres last year when they signed a punter as an undrafted free agent, and that may be the case this time with Novak looking over his shoulder at former Texas A&M kicker Josh Lambo. Novak's accuracy dipped under 90 percent in 2014, and to add to his troubles, he continues to be among the league's worst at kick offs.
Still, Novak always seems to come through in the clutch for San Diego, as evidenced by the 40-yard field goal he nailed in overtime to lift the Chargers over the 49ers in a Saturday-night thriller late last season, and that should be enough to convince them of his spot on the roster.