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28 Mar 2013

State of the Team: San Diego Chargers

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 "starters" for each unit rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.




After six fairly successful years, Norv Turner’s act in San Diego finally ran its course. Fair or unfair, there had always been questions about the efficacy of Turner’s motivational skills. But what couldn’t be questioned was the efficacy of Turner’s scheme –- until last season. New head coach Mike McCoy inherits all the problems that propagated Turner’s 2012 downfall. The offensive line is weak and in limbo. The run game lacks sustainability. The receiving corps is not as dangerous as it used to be. The question is whether the Chargers have a quarterback good enough to compensate for these things.


QB: Philip Rivers, Charlie Whitehurst
RB: Ryan Mathews, Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead, Le'Ron McClain (FB); Lost: Jackie Battle

Rivers is as good as any quarterback in the league when it comes to diagnosing blitzes before the snap. However, when he diagnoses an aggressive blitz, he tends to panic. That was painfully apparent last season when he got stuck behind an untrustworthy offensive line. His mechanics, downfield accuracy and decision-making all suffered. (Especially on throws with pocket movement or plays that left him outside the numbers.) Consequently, he was more turnover-prone. These issues must be rectified if Rivers is to regain his star form.

Mathews is a fluid, agile runner who shows inconsistent toughness and durability. More problematic are his continued mental problems in pass protection. Those will likely land him behind Brown, or even the smaller-but-shiftier Woodhead, in most three-receiver sets or on passing downs. That’s not what you want with a runner who is better suited to operate out of single-back sets.


WR: Malcom Floyd, Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem

TE: Antonio Gates, John Phillips, Ladarius Green; Lost: Randy McMichael

Floyd is an adequate No. 1 who gets off the line extremely well for his size. He poses matchup problems downfield. Surprisingly, Alexander became Rivers’ favorite target last season after joining the team at midseason. If he can stay healthy, he’s a good No. 2. The big question is: what can the Chargers get from Brown? He’s shown flashes but is still largely unknown after missing most of last season with an ankle injury. As long as he’s healthy (which he should be), he can give San Diego some of the underneath movement skills that Royal hasn’t provided, as well as some of the field-stretching dimension that the disappointing Meachem was supposed to offer. At tight end, Gates isn’t what he once was, but he’s still the guy most defenses build their game plans around.


LT: Mike Harris LG: Chad Rinehart C: Nick Hardwick RG: Johnnie Troutman RT: King Dunlap

Backups: Kevin Haslam, Rich Ohrnberger; Lost: Louis Vasquez, Tyronne Greene, Rex Hadnot, Jeromey Clary, Jared Gaither

Jared Gaither recently got cut, which wasn't surprising. He burned bridges last year with the way he handled his injury. Harris is not even close to the answer in that spot. He's too limited in pass protection and not particularly athletic. Troutman is young and untested. Hardwick is smart and serviceable, but must be surrounded by good players. Rinehart, while respectable in the run game, doesn’t quite qualify as a starter. He’s better as a utility backup. Dunlap, at 6-foot-10, struggles to play with proper leverage and mechanics. His predecessor, Jeromey Clary, was never great, but at least coaches knew what they’d get with him. Though he's still on the roster, he's a likely cap casualty sometime in the next few weeks.



In defensive coordinator John Pagano’s perfect world, his men would line up and play some variation of a single-high base scheme on first and second down with a variety of coverages based on the opponent. On third down, he’d dip into his deep bag of blitzes. Pagano wasn’t able to play this way in 2012. That was due in small part to an underachieving pass rush and in large part to the struggles of cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer. It’s too bad –- aside from the weakness on the outside, San Diego had a very solid defense. New bosses Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco recognized this, which is why they chose to retain Pagano and his mixed 3-4.


DE: Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes, Logan Harrell, Damik Scaife; Lost: Vaughn Martin

DT: Cam Thomas; Lost: Aubrayo Franklin, Antonio Garay

Liuget was quietly disruptive throughout 2012 and should emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber five-technique in 2013. Reyes, a second-round pick a year ago, has an equally bright future. He uses his hands extremely well; the key for him is making more of a down-to-down impact, which should happen as he builds experience. Depth on the outside is a major concern. Inside, it’s nonexistent. Thomas is a solid clogger, but he needs to stay fresh by being part of a rotation.


OLB: Melvin Ingram, Jarrett Johnson, Larry English; Lost: Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes

ILB: Donald Butler, Jonas Mouton, Andrew Gakchar; Lost: Demorrio Williams, Takeo Spikes

Phillips is a tough loss, but Ingram is on track to be the headlining front seven attacker that former general manager A.J. Smith envisioned when he drafted him in the first round last year. It’s just a matter of time until his numbers reflect his terrific multidimensional athleticism. Johnson isn’t a dynamic pass-rusher, but he’s as staunch an edge-setter as there is in the NFL. The Chargers need to back him up with a speedster who is more durable and imaginative than the disappointing English. Inside, Mouton looked good in very limited action last season. The past few years Butler, when healthy, has shown Pro Bowl-caliber agility and instincts.


CB: Marcus Gilchrist, Derek Cox, Shareece Wright, Johnny Patrick; Lost: Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer

S: Eric Weddle, Brandon Taylor, Darrell Stuckey; Lost: Corey Lynch, Atari Bigby

Gilchrist and Wright are both young and, hopefully, on the rise. But neither is a sure thing. What is sure –- or close to sure –- is that Gilchrist is best served in the slot. Which means the Chargers need at least one more outside corner to shore up their sub-packages. And that’s only if Wright and Cox –- one of the more inconsistent players you’ll ever see –- can produce. Weddle has blossomed into a top-tier safety since getting a top-tier safety contract in 2011. He’s smart and versatile. His ability to play in space allows whoever is at strong safety to play more aggressively in the box.


K: Nick Novak, P: Mike Scifres

Scifres is still known for his tremendous playoff performance against the Colts ... but that was five years ago. Novak is known for once having taken a leak on the sideline.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 28 Mar 2013

26 comments, Last at 11 Apr 2013, 10:12am by Mr Shush


by speedegg :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 6:41pm

Now I see why it's hard to be objective...

by BywaterBrat :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:21pm

He convinced me they were 2 linemen and some injury luck from being a wildcard contender

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:49pm

They were. Or put another way, they were only 40% of a good O-line away from being a wildcard contender. They played in a number of close games, including 2 last minute losses to the Bengals and Ravens. Flip a few plays and they're 9-7 instead of 7-9, but that's true of most 7-9 teams. Ultimately the O-line was just too terrible and the rest of the team was too inconsistent to be more than mediocre.

by Whatev :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:54pm

Sadly, 40% of an O-line is practically the football definition of a bridge too far.

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:58pm

Yup. To bad its not baseball, 40% is damn good there. Unfortunately its not so good for a drop back passing team with the worst left tackle in football. Harris, poor guy. He tried hard but an UDFA rookie shouldn't be your blindside protection on a 7 step drop.

by Scott C :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 11:44pm

Its very obvious what the answer to "what happened to Rivers?" is. 4 years ago he had pro bowl quality left tackle and guard, and more talent at skill positions.

The OL will be key to this team in 2014, if they get Winston and find young talent in the draft, the OL could be a lot better than last year.

It will be difficult for it to be worse, but that is possible.

by speedegg :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 6:27pm

Nah, I meant the team is so dysfunctional and talent is questionable that it's hard to be objective about where the team is going. A lot of AJ Smith's later picks are busts, so makes you wonder what happened from the Butler/Schottenhemier era to the Smith/Schottenhemier zenith to the Smith/Norv nadir. I would consider Ryan Matthews as "just a guy" since he gets injured often and is bad in blitz pick-up.

The WRs wouldn't be so bad, if they didn't let Vincent Jackson walk. Can't see Floyd as a #1 WR, but can see Vincent Brown being a very good slot guy. Assuming Brown can stay healthy, that was kind of a freak accident. They probably should release Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem but it would be "dead money" against their cap.

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 10:12am

The WR aren't so bad, in theory. Floyd and Alexander were 1 and 3 in DVOA last year, and Brown was pretty good in limited action as a rookie. If by some magic spell they could all managed to stay healthy at the same time they would be a good group. Mathews certainly averages out to "just a guy" over the course of a season. Undoubtedly talented when he's on the field, but not on the field enough.

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:44pm

As of today Clary is still on the roster.

by Sifter :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 6:41pm

Still on the roster, and probably their best lineman...ouch. Just by that I would be keeping him and swallowing the cost. Looking through this roster as a whole, it's almost as bad as the Raiders. Weddle is about the only guy that would be sought after by other teams, maybe Rivers too. Funny how the Chiefs roster looks better yet they have the #1 pick. Poor coach and poor QB really dragged them down.

by Mr Shush :: Sun, 04/07/2013 - 5:17am

This Texans fan would take Rivers in a heartbeat. So should at least half the teams in the league, even allowing for a number of franchises with young guys who aren't as good now but can be expected to be better in the long run.

by eric nielsen (not verified) :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 5:13am

Yes, if Rivers is "good" then half the teams in the league should want to take him. If you define good as being average (amongst the 32 best people at their job in the entire world), then by definition 1/2 the teams should want to get him, everything else being equal.

Is Rivers good enough to drag a now terrible team 1-2 rounds deep in the playoffs? Probably not. IMO they should dump him while they dumped their coaches and go into full rebuilding mode.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 10:12am

He's only 31. They could easily rebuild this team around him in time to contend for several years with him under center.

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:55pm

Scrifes was still top 3 in punting average and top 10 inside the 20.

Yes, I know I'm defending the punter. Gimme a break, I'm desperate for something to look forward to this year.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 9:47pm

You do have something to look forward to -- you get to play the Raiders twice.

by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 10:12pm

Yep--the Chiefs will be a much tougher out for them than last year.

Their "matching" AFC games are Cincy and Miami, along with the entirety of the AFC South. They play the NFC East instead of the NFC South this time--ouch (even if it's hard to predict opponent strength.)

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 10:43am

Considering they went 0-4 against the NFC south last year, things can only get better. Right? And last time they played the NFC east they ran the table. So that's a good sign, right?

by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 5:20pm

My bad, I take responsibility on missing those details and just thinking, "oh, the NFC East is usually harder than the NFC South was last year."

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 10:02am

Probably true. But compared to going 0-4 even 1-3 would be an improvement. Sometimes having low expectations can be a good thing.

by BigWoody (not verified) :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 11:42pm

Most Seahawks fans would argue that "the jury is NOT still out" on Charlie Whitehurst!

by bolts222 (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 1:04pm

They could:
Get a Tackle via trade (Brendan Albert for a 2nd rounder) OR...
Draft L. Johnson at #11 OR trade down and get a LT (and more picks)!

2nd round: Draft an OLB/DE to rush the passer
3rd: CB
4th Safety
5th Backup QB
Get a couple of BIG (literally) free agents (Hampton, Komoeatu) as DL depth
6th BAP
7th BAP/DT (Another big dude)

They should make the playoffs because they have better coaching. Regarding:
OL: Zone blocking and good coaching should improve them (and the addition of a #1 pick along with Dunlap, Hardwick.....Rinehardt is a solid player when given a chance.)

Tom Telesco did a solid job with MANY young/new players with the Colts last year (didn't they go 11-5 and make the playoffs?)

RB: Woodhead/Brown are good

TE/WR: DX, Floyd, Brown are good. So is Gates/Philipps

DL: Solid. Just add the FA vets I stated above
LB: Ingram and Johnson with Butler are good. Just add #2 pick in draft
DB: Cox, Weddle, Gilchirst/Wright could start. A #3 pick CB/S would help!
ST: Solid (Novak upgrade over Kaeding, Scifres is SOLID.)

No worries here bub.

by Dreaming Big (not verified) :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 3:28pm

You should worry. Just because they have better coaching doesnt = more wins. I keep seeing Charger fans with that dream without considering they lost 6 defensivestarters and have 5 road games on the East Coast.

They have limited cap space so trading for Albert is not a realistic possibility. Yes the Colts made the playoffs last year but they also had more cap space(still do) and picked first in every round of the draft.

And why would they sign an aging Hampton? Not going to happen.

They arent going to take the division from Denver which is the only way they will get in the playoffs. With all the big roster moves, id think 8-8 is doing good.

by bolts222 (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 1:06pm

QB: Oh yeah: McCoy is a QB "guru"

by Dean :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 11:22am

I know Dunlap is tall, but there’s no way he’s 6’10.

Also, there’s no point in even suggesting “if” Alexander can stay healthy. He can’t. The fact that he’s even still in the league means he’s playing with house money. Every snap you get from him is a bonus.

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 8:52pm

The FO player page has Dunlap at 6'8", ESPN and NFL.com have him at 6'9". His weight has a 20-pound range, too. Player measurements are always dicey regardless of the NFL's fetish with preciseness in measurements.

by eric nielsen (not verified) :: Thu, 04/11/2013 - 5:18am

The most damning thing to me about the Chargers, is that I think during the Carolina game they got down early a bit. The announcers proceded to ignore the rest of the game and speculate on who the Chargers could dump before next season.