Chargers: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit Before Camp Begins

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaFeatured Columnist IIIJuly 23, 2015

Chargers: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit Before Camp Begins

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Mike McCoy has gone 9-7 in each of his first two seasons as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, and while that may be a winning record to some, it has produced only one trip to the postseason. Getting back to the playoffs is easier said than done, but McCoy may have caught a break with the roster he has in 2015.

    In years past, the Bolts weren't able to make a lot happen in free agency because of financial restrictions, but there was more than enough money to go around this offseason, which led to several high-priced signings. The draft was also a success as the team aggressively pursued decorated prospects from the collegiate ranks.

    San Diego narrowly made the postseason last year with the group it had, and because upgrades were made at a lot of the weaker positions, this year's group has the potential to get over the hump in 2015. Let's take a look at how the position units stack up for the Chargers.

Quarterback

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press
    StarterPhilip Rivers
    BackupKellen Clemens

    There are only so many quarterbacks considered to be elite, and Rivers is one of them. Though he failed to maintain his MVP candidacy past the first six games of 2014, No. 17 was clutch in come-from-behind wins versus Baltimore and San Francisco.

    For his efforts, Rivers was awarded the 15th spot on the Bleacher Report NFL 1000 for quarterbacks (out of 50) and the 43rd spot on the NFL Top 100. He may not have the star power or skill set of an Aaron Rodgers, but his football mind is among the sharpest in the league, and as long as he has that, Rivers will continue to be an above-average starter under center.

    The quarterback position, not surprisingly, is one of the strongest on the Chargers roster.

    Grade: 

Running Back

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press
    StarterMelvin Gordon
    BackupsBranden Oliver, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown

    You know a lot is expected of you when you're named the top rookie in fantasy for 2015, and that is exactly the pressure Gordon is facing. ESPN.com's Christopher Harris had this to say on the Chargers' first-round pick:

    A sprinting, stiff-arming collegiate superstar, Gordon lands on a good offense to replace Ryan Mathews as the lead back in San Diego. Danny Woodhead will return from his broken leg to be the Chargers' receiving back, but Gordon is so much better than Donald Brown and Branden Oliver that he should be a cinch for early-down work. He'll probably be a top-15 RB in drafts this summer.

    This group has the potential to be very good with Gordon leading the pack, and having a healthy Woodhead is a definite plus for the Chargers' passing game.

    Grade: B

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Wide Receiver

    StartersKeenan Allen, Malcom Floyd
    BackupsStevie Johnson, Jacoby Jones, Dontrelle Inman

    Tight End

    StarterLadarius Green
    BackupsJohn Phillips, David Johnson

    *Antonio Gates eligible to return Oct. 12 against Pittsburgh Steelers

    The Chargers had three receivers featured on the B/R NFL 1000, with Allen earning the 14th spot and Floyd and Johnson ranking 24th and 49th, respectively, out of 100 receivers. Such a trio won't be keeping defensive coordinators up at night, but with Rivers at the helm, it has the means to frustrate opposing secondaries. Allen and Johnson will make defenders work to keep up in the short passing game, while Floyd challenges them over the top on deep passing routes.

    As for tight end, the Bolts will be without Gates for the first four games of the season because of a suspension, but his replacement in Green is of a similar breed in the sense that he's able to stretch the field and create mismatches on defense. He may not have the same pedigree as Gates, but his athleticism will make life difficult for defenders nonetheless.

    These units aren't riddled with star power, but they get the job done.

    Grade: B

Offensive Line

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    Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
    StartersKing Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, Chris Watt, Johnnie Troutman, D.J. Fluker
    BackupsJoe Barksdale, Trevor Robinson, Jeremiah Sirles

    The Chargers spent big money in the offseason to upgrade the offensive line, mainly at left guard where Orlando Franklin signed for $35.5 million with $15 million guaranteed. Formerly of the rival Denver Broncos, Franklin played both guard and tackle last season, which makes him a versatile addition to the squad. Joe Barksdale, a 16-game starter at right tackle for the St. Louis Rams in 2014, was also added to bolster depth.

    Meanwhile, the team did little to improve weak spots on the right side. Troutman, Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded right guard, continues to hold a starting job, and Fluker is coming off a down year at right tackle. There has been speculation that Fluker would move to guard next season, but the team remains mum on said possibility.

    Overall, this year's group is a lot better than last year's, but question marks on the right side are keeping it down.

    Grade: C

Defensive Line

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
    StartersCorey Liuget, Sean Lissemore, Kendall Reyes
    BackupsMitch Unrein, Ryan Carrethers, Ricardo Mathews, Tenny Palepoi, Darius Philon

    Defensive line was thought to be a high priority in the draft, but the Chargers waited until the sixth round to address it with Arkansas' Philon, who will be competing for a spot on the back end of the roster, no less. The offseason wasn't a total loss, though, as San Diego completed a five-year extension with the talented Liuget, who has led the team in sacks in each of the last three seasons.

    The Chargers are also expecting more from last year's fifth-rounder Carrethers, who played well in limited snaps before getting injured. He and Lissemore should operate as a tag team at nose tackle, with Carrethers serving as an early-down run-stuffer.

    There's not a lot to brag about with this group aside from Liuget, as defensive line figures to be among the team's weakest units next season.

    Grade: C-

Linebacker

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Inside Linebacker

    StartersDonald Butler, Manti Te'o
    BackupsDenzel Perryman, Kavell Conner

    Outside Linebacker

    StartersMelvin Ingram, Jeremiah Attaochu
    BackupsTourek Williams, Cordarro Law, Kyle Emanuel

    Butler admitted to playing bad last season, but the 26-year-old is highly motivated for 2015. "I’ve been working, working and working,” he told Ricky Henne of Chargers.com. “And then putting in more work. I am working to get better because as a collective group, we all feel like we didn’t do well enough last year. So I know for myself, I’ve been working all offseason to get my mind and body back right to where it needs to be."

    Butler was once one of the most promising young linebackers on the roster, but after the disappointment that was 2014, it's difficult to acknowledge him as such.

    Te'o has also been somewhat of a tease, playing well in some games and others not so much, but the most frustrating thing about him has been the constant struggle with injuries, mostly to his feet. He's had at least three foot injuries since he came into the league in 2013.

    Injuries have been a problem for many in this group, including Ingram, who has missed 19 games over the past two seasons. And although he may be the most talented of San Diego's pass-rushers, that means nothing unless he can stay on the field.

    Attaochu, last year's second-round pick, will also try to get pressure on the quarterback, this time in a starting role with the recent departures of Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson.

    Probably the youngest position unit on the roster, linebacker isn't brimming with experience, but the collection of talent from previous drafts is something to admire.

    Grade: C

Secondary

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Cornerback

    StartersBrandon Flowers, Jason Verrett
    BackupsPatrick Robinson, Steve Williams, Chris Davis, Craig Mager

    Safety

    StartersEric Weddle, Jahleel Addae
    BackupsJimmy Wilson, Darrell Stuckey

    What's not to like about San Diego's secondary? It boasts two former Pro Bowlers in Weddle and Flowers and two former first-round picks in Verrett and Robinson, the likes of which make up arguably the strongest position unit on the roster. And as added depth, the Bolts have heaps of young talent with which to develop including Mager, a third-round pick out of Texas State.

    Wilson is also a solid get for the team, having played multiple spots in Miami's secondary last season. He's either a fit at strong safety or slot corner, though it wouldn't be surprising to see him play a little of both.

    Verrett and Flowers ranked 11th and 16th, respectively, on the B'R NFL 1000 for cornerbacks (out of 101), while Weddle outplayed the competition for the top spot at his position.

    This group could be special next season, especially if Verrett is able to stay healthy after missing 10 games as a rookie in 2014.

    Grade: A

Special Teams

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
    KickerNick Novak
    PunterMike Scifres
    Long snapperMike Windt

    Novak finished last season with a field-goal percentage under 90 percent for the first time since 2011 but not before setting a team record in consecutive field goals made with 32. The team accolades and clutch field goals, like the game-winner he kicked in San Francisco, are all positives for Novak, but he remains a liability in kickoffs. According to Sporting Charts, no player has allowed more returns and return yards on kickoffs than Novak.

    Meanwhile, the Chargers have no complaints at punter, where Scifres has assumed the position for the last 12 seasons. Despite missing the final three games of 2014 because of injury, he tied for the second-most punts inside the 10-yard line (12) while placing another 21 inside the 20. He also managed to earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his dazzling performance in a 13-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders, in which four of his punts were downed inside the 10-yard line.

    Scifres was an absolute stud last season and continues to be a valuable weapon for San Diego, but the same can't be said for Novak, who took a step back in 2014. 

    Grade: B-

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