For a team that has won just nine games over the past two seasons, the Los Angeles Chargers receive a surprising amount of attention for the wealth of sheer talent on their roster. And though that might seem like a contradiction, there is a lot to like about what they’ve assembled on both sides of the ball — an interesting mix of veteran stars and promising young athletes.
In fact, if this team can put together a competent offensive line, the franchise’s first season back in L.A. could be a big success. With that in mind, here are the 10 best Los Angeles Chargers for the 2017 season.
10. Tyrell Williams, WR
We were tempted to put Travis Benjamin here, as the veteran receiver has been tearing it up in the preseason. Instead, we’re going with Williams, who led the Chargers in catches (69) and yards (1,059) in his second season, stepping up in a big way after Keenan Allen was injured in the season opener.
Williams has everything you like in a receiver — size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), speed and sticky hands — and figures to blossom even further in just his second season as a starter.
9. Antonio Gates, TE
Signs point to second-year player Hunter Henry eventually taking over as the Chargers’ starting tight end, possibly as soon as next season. But the 37-year-old Gates still has some tricks up his sleeve and you can’t overestimate the importance of his veteran leadership as well as the chemistry he has built up with Philip Rivers during their 11 seasons as starters together.
8. Jatavis Brown, LB
It’s easy to miss Brown on a defense that features Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, but the 23-year-old linebacker out of Akron is poised to become a legitimate star in just his second season.
Brown is undersized at 5-11, 221 pounds, but you can’t deny his impact on the field, as he totaled a team-leading 63 tackles last season. He also had 3.5 sacks and led all non-defensive backs with six pass defenses — and he did it all in only 12 games (seven starts).
While you might not have noticed Brown last season, Pro Football Focus is among those who think you soon will:
Jatavis Brown is a missile at the LB position pic.twitter.com/x7TKp9dbjj
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 8, 2017
7. Jason Verrett, CB
The fourth-year cornerback hasn’t played in a regular-season game since Oct. 2, when he tore his ACL in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.
He returned to the field on Saturday and intercepted a pass in a preseason victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
While the pick was more of a gift from Jared Goff than anything else, Verrett was simply happy to be back on the field and said he is 100 percent healthy. Don’t forget he was a Pro Bowler in 2015.
6. Melvin Gordon, RB
After a difficult rookie season in which he failed to score a touchdown, battled a recurring case of fumble-itis and generally struggled to adjust to the speed of pro defenses, Gordon gave a glimpse of his talent in 2016, gaining 1,416 total yards from scrimmage on nearly 300 touches, fumbling just twice.
He’ll never be a superstar like LaDainian Tomlinson, but Gordon should be a solid, above average back. And when you consider that far too many of his rushing yards came after contact last season, it’s fair to assume his 3.9 yards a carry will improve in 2017 if the Chargers can figure out their offensive line.
5. Casey Hayward, CB
Of all the moves Tom Telesco has made as general manager, signing Hayward away from Green Bay last summer could prove to be among the best. In his first season with the Chargers, Hayward put together his first Pro Bowl campaign, grabbing seven interceptions and leading the team with 20 pass defenses. (Dwight Lowery was second with just nine.)
Hayward has battled hamstring issues during the preseason, but if he can stay healthy this season — and if Verrett can return to form — the Chargers will have a top-notch cornerback tandem.
4. Keenan Allen, WR
Speaking of players who are trying to return to full health, Allen’s ability to stay on the field will be crucial for the Chargers in 2017. Allen went down in the season opener and did not play again in 2016. In fact, with all the talent he has, it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t had (or even approached) a 1,000-yard receiving season since he was a rookie in 2013.
Even so, Allen is still just 25 and has impressed in training camp and in preseason action. He can be — should be — a star, if he can just stay on the field.
3. Melvin Ingram, OLB
In February, we wrote that Ingram was the most important free agent player for the Chargers — on any NFL roster. So it was a good thing when they re-signed him to a four-year, $64 million deal.
Not only is Ingram a great player as an individual, he also presents the perfect complement to Bosa, giving the Chargers one of the best 1-2 pass-rush combos in the NFL. The Rams found that out painfully on Saturday.
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2017
You can expect to see a lot more of that in the years to come.
2. Philip Rivers, QB
Rivers will one day be wearing a gold jacket in Canton as one of the top two Chargers quarterbacks of all time. (Is Rivers No. 1 or is it Hall of Famer Dan Fouts? Your age will likely determine who your choice is in this debate).
But the Hall will have to wait as Rivers tries to bounce back from one of the worst seasons of his career, in which he threw a career-high 21 interceptions and had his lowest passer rating (87.9) since 2007. With a full complement of weapons to go to and an improved offensive line, odds are the Rivers of old will be back in 2017.
1. Joey Bosa, DE
It’s hard to put into words the impact Bosa had in his rookie season, so we’ll go with just one: Wow.
The No. 3 overall pick out of Ohio State didn’t get onto the field until Week 5, thanks to a holdout spawned from the stubborn, self-destructive Scrooge-ness of Chargers management. Once he did, he proceeded to make a mockery of NFL offensive linemen, compiling a team-leading 10.5 sacks in just 12 games. With a high-rpm motor, incredible hands and unmatched technique, Bosa’s ceiling is … well … it’s up there somewhere. We’ll let you know when we see it.
That’s truly special company, and part of the reason why Bosa tops our list as the Chargers’ best player for 2017.
MORE CHARGERS COVERAGE:
- Cardale Jones could be a high-upside backup for LA
- What Joey Bosa did well in 2016 and can improve on in 2017
- Mike Williams injury further proof Los Angeles is cursed