Monday, July 25, 2016

San Diego Chargers 2016 Season Preview

2015 Record: 4-12

It could easily be argued that the 2015 Chargers were the worst team in football. Yes the Titans and Browns both had more losses, but one was breaking in a new QB who got hurt and the other is hasn’t had a decent QB since the 80’s. The Chargers still have a solid though aging starting QB in Phillip Rivers, but injuries decimated the team around him. For 2016 to be different, the Chargers are going to need a lot of health and good fortune. Between that and yet another season of “relocation talk,” it could be another long year for the Bolts.

Offseason Moves

Key Additions – WR Travis Benjamin, C Matt Slauson, NT Brandon Mebane, CB Casey Hayward, S Dwight Lowry
Key Losses – S Eric Weddle, LB Donald Butler, DE Kendall Reyes, TE Ladarius Green, RB Donald Brown, CB Patrick Robinson
2016 Draft Class – DE Joey Bosa, TE Hunter Henry, C Max Tuerk, LB Josh Perry

2016 Offensive Outlook:

Offensive Coordinator – Ken Whisenhunt
Base Offense – Singleback 3 WRs 1 TE or 2WRs and 2TEs

With the return of Ken Whisenhunt to the OC spot, the Chargers are hoping to recapture some of the magic he and Rivers had a few seasons ago. Look for the offense to spend a lot more time in the no huddle. With the savvy veteran ready to make calls at the line of scrimmage, the offense should be much more dynamic and open better holes in the run game as well with option calls to take advantage of weaknesses. Behind Rivers, long-time backup Kellen Clemens should hold the clipboard all year, but might face a tough training camp challenge from Zach Mettenberger (who Whisenhunt brought back with him from Tennessee).

The running back spot was supposed to have been solved with the drafting of Melvin Gordon in the 1st round last year. But Gordon struggled through injuries and seemed to get forgotten at times on offense. While Gordon is unlikely to become the focal point in 2016, he should find a better fit running downhill from singleback sets. Behind him is complimentary back Brandon Oliver and 3rd down specialist Danny Woodhead. Also look for 6th rounder (and brother of JJ Watt) Derek Watt to get some time at FB and as a goalline option.

The addition of Travis Benjamin from Cleveland was big this offseason. As an option to stretch the field, Benjamin should nicely compliment #1 WR Keenan Allen, if Allen can just stay healthy. Stevie Johnson is the only other established wideout on the roster and he is starting to lose a step. The Chargers deciding to add another dynamic pass-catching TE in Hunter Henry of Arkansas in the 2nd round of the draft to augment their passing attack. Paired with the ageless Antonio Gates, look for the Chargers to play a lot of 12 personnel (single back, 2 TEs, 2 WRs) that is really more like a 4 WR set.

The OL really struggled in 2015 and is surprising mostly in intact this year. King Dunlap at LT was resigned shockingly, as was their best OL in 2015, RT Joseph Barksdale. With heavy investments at both spots and backup Chris Hairston, that left the Chargers out of the market on the top OTs in the draft (Tunsil, Stanley or Conklin). In the middle, Franklin and Fluker return at the guard spots, though the leash is likely short on the disappointing Fluker. At center they drafted outstanding USC Trojan Max Tuerk, but a severe knee injury might result in a red shirt year in 2016. Likely the job will fall to late FA signee Matt Slauson.

Overall, the Chargers are really hoping that new OC Ken Whisenhunt can get the most out of this group of highly drafted or highly paid players to reach their potential. If he can, the Chargers could be a real force in the West. If not, this is likely Mike McCoy’s last year as HC.

2016 Defensive Outlook:

Defensive Coordinator – John Pagano
Base Defense – 3-4 gap shooting defense

The Chargers finished 29th in yards/play in 2015 and 30th in rush yards/play. That primarily falls at the feet of DC John Pagano and must improve in 2016. To do so, the Chargers spent heavily in FA money and draft picks but the questions still remain.

On the defensive line, the Chargers jettisoned DE Kendall Reyes for 1st round pick Joey Bosa. Bosa was a surprise choice for San Diego as many saw him as a traditional 4-3 DE. However, in Pagano’s scheme, Bosa will likely be split out a bit wider than a traditional 3-4 DE and will use his excellent technique to win the individual battles. With Bosa out wider, stopping the running attack will fall a lot more on both DE Corey Liuget and the newly acquired NT Brandon Mebane from Seattle. Mebane will likely play more of a 1 technique than a true NT and use his penetration to beat the inevitable double teams he faces inside (reminiscent of the Wade Phillips scheme in Denver). The effectiveness of this strategy is the key for the 2016 Chargers run defense.

At the LB spot, the Chargers are chock full of early round drafted talent that must produce. 2nd round picks Manti Te’o and Denzel Perryman man the inside of the Pagano 3-4 and must prove they can stay healthy as undersized ILBs. Josh Perry from Ohio State was drafted in the 4th round to fill the void if they cannot. Outside, the Chargers should be set with 1st rounder Melvin Ingram and 2nd rounder Jeremiah Attaochu bringing speed off the edge. But again injury concerns and little depth has this position with a big question mark.

In the secondary, Brandon Flowers should rebound from an atrocious 2015 campaign where he got paid big bucks and came in overweight. To supplement, Casey Hayward was signed away from Green Bay and should be the #2 CB allowing Jason Verrett to man the nickel. At safety the loss of Eric Weddle is huge. In his stead they signed veteran Dwight Lowry to pair with SS Jahleel Addae. This unit will be decidedly lesser and will need help from the corners and the pass rush.

Overall, the defensive outlook is very similar to that of the offense’s: highly drafted or FA talent with little depth behind it and injury concerns all over. Watching the development of Joey Bosa will be interesting but that could be the highlight of the Chargers in 2016 defensively.

2016 Prediction:

Record – 6-10 (4th in AFC West)

The Chargers are a team without a home. Putting the fans and the players through another year of stadium limbo is just cruel. Add to that a division of dynamic pass rushers and rising talent and it will be a tough year as they move to LA next season.

Fantasy Oulook:

Stud – WR Keenan Allen, QB Philip Rivers
Sleeper – WR Travis Benjamin, TE Hunter Henry
Bust – RB Melvin Gordon

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