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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

San Diego Chargers 2010: Winning Without McNeill and Jackson?

Last Years Record            13-3
Wins:  Raiders (x2), Dolphins, Chiefs (x2), Giants, Eagles, Broncos, Browns, Cowboys, Bengals, Titans, Redskins
Biggest Playmaker            Philip Rivers
QB, NC State, Drafted #4, 7th Year
Philip Rivers has turned himself from an above average, trash-talking quarterback into one of the game’s best.  Rivers is coming off a pro bowl season in which he threw for 28 touchdowns to just nine interceptions and for 4,254 yards.  With LT Marcus McNeill and WR Vincent Jackson currently holding out, Rivers is going to have to step up and play better than ever. 
Impact Player            Antonio Gates
TE, Kent State, Undrafted, 8th Year
Gates, a college basketball star, worked out as an undrafted free agent for the Chargers and the Chargers made one of their biggest signings of the decade.  Gates has been to the pro bowl the last six years and is a threat vertically from his tight end position.  Gates is a huge red zone target for Rivers, and can change a game very quickly.
Biggest Offseason Addition            Ryan Mathews
RB, Fresno State, Drafted #12, Rookie
With the loss of record holding RB Ladanian Tomlinson, the Chargers needed a feature back.  They have incredible confidence in Mathews, as they jumped 16 spots to grab him at #12 in the first round.  Mathews will be immediately inserted into the starting lineup and may carry the ball around 300 times this year, according to HC Norv Turner
Biggest Offseason Loss            Jamal Williams
NT, Oklahoma State, Drafted 2nd Round (Supplemental Draft), 13th Year
Jamal Williams is aging (34), but made the pro bowl three straight years from 2005-2007.  After missing all but one game of the 2009 season with an elbow injury, Williams was cut by the Chargers and signed by the Broncos.  However, the Chargers may lose production here, as they list Antonio Garay as their starter and Rookie Cam Thomas as the backup at the ever-important 3-4 nose tackle spot.  Garay has appeared in 16 games since being drafted in 2003 (signed off the Jets’ practice squad last year) and Thomas may well end up starting, as a true steal in the fifth round. 
Biggest Draft Steal            Cam Thomas
NT, UNC, Drafted #146, Rookie
Thomas, standing at 6’3” and roughly 330 addresses a need of the Chargers with the departure of Jamal Williams and could push for a starting spot early on.  He was projected by many experts to go in the second round of the draft.  This draft was deep at defensive tackle, and grabbing Thomas in the 5th round was definitely a steal. 
Biggest Draft Reach            None
The Chargers had a very solid draft overall.  They may have jumped a bit higher than they needed to take Ryan Mathews in the first round, but he will be a big factor in the Chargers’ offense from day 1 and proved he can be a feature back at Fresno State.  In addition, the Seahawks very likely could have taken Mathews at 14.  Second round ILB Donald Butler is out for the season with an achilles injury.
Offseason Grade            B
The Chargers had a good draft, filling needs with Mathews, Thomas and SS Darrell Stuckey from Kansas.  They gained depth at CB after the departure of Antonio Cromartie by signing Nathan Vasher and Donald Strickland.  Right now, their biggest concerns are two of their best players on offense, Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill.  Both could hold out well into the season, possibly not returning until week 10 (when they must return to accrue a season towards free-agency) or beyond.
X-Factor            Jackson and McNeill
The Chargers must have players step up in place of Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill during their holdouts.  I don’t believe they have anyone on their roster capable of their production (maybe Malcolm Floyd at WR) but replacing these two is crucial if the Chargers are going to contend in the playoffs.
Name You Should Know            Shaun Phillips
OLB, Purdue, Drafted #98, 7th Year
Somehow Shaun Phillips is not a well-known playmaker.  He has been very consistent for the Chargers and has been overshadowed by fellow OLB Shawne Merriman.  He has recorded 41.5 sacks in the last five seasons and plays a crucial role opposite Merriman.
Rising Star            Malcolm Floyd
WR, Wyoming, Undrafted, 7th Year
Malcolm Floyd may be a bit old to be considered a rising star, but when he was finally given the chance as the #2 receiver in 2009 he caught 45 balls for 776 yards, an average of 17.2 yards per catch.  If Vincent Jackson does not play this year, Floyd will be a go-to guy for Rivers.  He is an outstanding deep-threat with the ability to catch the ball with ease over smaller defenders. 
Offensive Outlook            B+
Insert Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill into the starting lineup and the Chargers offense receives an A.  However, they are not there, and the Chargers are likely left with Legedu Naanee as their 2nd receiver (1 career start) and former undrafted free agent Brandyn Dombrowski at left tackle.   The Chargers also have an untested rookie RB, but they do have the ever-consistent Antonio Gates at tight end and Rivers at quarterback. 
Defensive Outlook            B
The development of a consistent, dominant nose tackle is vital for the Chargers.  Shawne Merriman recently returned from a holdout but simply must regain his 2007 (and earlier) form.  Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett will be solid inside, with the secondary composed of Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, Eric Weddle and rookie Darrell Stuckey
Special Teams Outlook            A-
Little Darren Sproles has been electric as a return man since he entered the league.  Nate Kaeding has the best field goal percentage in NFL history…in the regular season.  He has been sub-par in the playoffs, missing three field goals in the Chargers ‘playoff loss to the Jets.  Punter Mike Scifres is very good at what he does.
Projected 2010 Record            10-6
The Chargers are currently missing two important pieces in their WR and LT, but they have a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball.  If Merriman can return to his pro bowl form the Chargers’ pass rush will take a lot of heat off of the secondary, and the Chargers must be productive at the NT spot.  The Chargers are putting a lot on the shoulders of rookie RB Ryan Mathews, while Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates will continue to be deep threats in place of Vincent Jackson.    However, the Chargers will need to run the ball far more efficiently than a year ago, averaging 3.3 yards per carry.  All that said, the Chargers have a pretty clear path to an AFC West title.  

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