State of the Franchise
The Chargers began 2012 uncharacteristically fast, winning three of their first four games, but a series of costly turnovers and blown leads translated into six losses in their next seven games. The year ended with a disappointing 7-9 record, a third straight playoff absence and the firing of coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith.
In 2012, the offense once again lived and died on the right arm of QB Philip Rivers. Seven times Rivers had a passer rating of 100 or better last year, and the Bolts went 6-1 in those games. Of course the flip side of that equation was that the team was a dreadful 1-8 in games in which Rivers was not at his best. At the wide receiver position, the Chargers were led by the steady but unspectacular Malcom Floyd, who had 56 grabs, but when Danario Alexander was signed in midseason, he quickly became the team's hottest receiver, averaging 17.8 yards per catch, while hauling in seven touchdowns down the stretch. This year, the pair will be joined by rookie Keenan Allen, who is recovering from a knee injury, but may just be the most talented player of the bunch. At tight end, Antonio Gates is entering his 11th year in the league and is coming off the lowest yardage total since his rookie season, but he can still make big plays when called upon.
Running back Ryan Mathews is fast approaching the point where he needs to deliver on some of his vast potential if he wants to avoid the dreaded “bust” tag. After his breakout 2011 season in which he tallied over 1,500 total yards and six touchdowns, Mathews regressed badly in 2012, with 707 rushing yards, 252 receiving yards and only one touchdown. To help carry some of the load, the Chargers signed Danny Woodhead from the Patriots this offseason. The elusive Woodhead can make plays as a pass-catcher and should capably fill a change-of-pace role. Meanwhile Ronnie Brown returns to the mix after proving that he still has a little gas left in the tank last year, posting solid averages of 4.8 yards per rush and 7.6 yards per reception in 2012.
On defense, the team parted ways with a few of its more widely known stars, but S Eric Weddle, LB Donald Butler and DE Corey Liuget all return to lead a young and rapidly improving group. John Pagano will once again serve as the defensive coordinator after his unit played fairly well last season, ranking sixth against the run and ninth overall. With the addition of veteran LB Dwight Freeney, rookie LB Manti Te'o and the expected continued development of young players like S Brandon Taylor, the arrow appears to be pointing up on this side of the ball.
Manti Te'o - LB, Notre Dame
(Round 2, 38th overall)
One of the most dominating college linebackers of all time is expected to immediately start for the Bolts and should fill up the stat sheet every week.
Danny Woodhead - RB, Patriots
Became a very productive back in three seasons in New England, piling up 747 combined yards and seven touchdowns last year.
Keenan Allen - WR, California
(Round 3, 76th overall)
A big target, who is a fluid route runner with soft hands; he dropped in the draft due to injury concerns.
Dwight Freeney - LB, COLTS
A proven pass-rusher brought in to help offset the loss of Melvin Ingram to a knee injury.
DEREK COX - CB, Jaguars
One of the most coveted corners on the market after leading Jacksonville in interceptions each of the last four seasons with a total of 12.
D.J. FLUKER - OT, Alabama
(Round 1, 11th overall)
Will immediately shore up the right side of an offensive line in desperate need of help, but the team still has issues at left tackle.
TAKEO SPIKES - LB, FA
A tackling machine, posting 100-plus total tackles in two of the last three seasons, but the new regime wanted to go in a different direction.
RANDY MCMICHAEL - TE, FA
Played well in spot relief of Antonio Gates over the last few seasons, but the team likely feels that Ladarius Green is ready to step into that role.
THE NEW REGIME LOOKS SOLID
New coach Mike McCoy, new GM Tom Telesco and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt all come to the Bolts with tremendous credentials. McCoy is widely regarded of as one of best football minds in the game and was considered a very hot commodity this past offseason. Telesco was one of the architects of the wildly successful Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis, and Whisenhunt led the Cardinals during what was arguably the best run in the history of their franchise. So far so good with the new brass, as the experts agree that San Diego had a great draft and has also made a few shrewd free agent signings. Of course, QB Philip Rivers will be learning a brand new playbook, so there might be some growing pains, but these guys sure look like they are going to get the job done eventually.
MATHEWS: STUD OR DUD?
When the Chargers traded up to pick Ryan Mathews in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, they surely thought they had landed a franchise back who would be a worthy heir to the throne of the great LaDainian Tomlinson. While he has shown glimpses of greatness, Mathews' production has been severely limited by a laundry list of injuries, which have forced him to miss a total of 10 games. In his first two years in the league, he was bothered by various ankle, foot, calf, wrist, groin and knee issues, and then last season he somehow manage to break not just one, but both of his collarbones. To make matters even worse, when Mathews was actually on the field in 2012, he just wasn't very good. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 12 games and was even benched for a game after losing a costly fumble early in the season. Add it all up, and it's starting to look like we may never see Mathews reach his true potential.
TE'O TAKES CENTER STAGE
For obvious reasons, all eyes will be on the Chargers newest linebacker all season long, but lost amidst the uproar over his “catfish” scandal and the relative egg he laid in the BCS championship game is the fact that Manti Te'o was one of the best linebackers in college football last season. His 111 tackles and seven interceptions on the year earned him multiple awards and a second place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. Because Te'o is a hard hitter with incredible football instincts, he is all but guaranteed to make an immediate impact as a pro as long as he doesn't let the constant media attention get to him.
Rising: After being added last October, Danario Alexander immediately became Philip Rivers' favorite target, catching seven touchdowns in just 10 games.
Declining: Ryan Mathews has tons of talent, but he just can't seem to stay healthy. A pair of broken collarbones caused him to miss a total of four games in 2012.
Sleeper: Danny Woodhead could be used liberally as a rusher, a receiver and a blocker and will likely become a fan-favorite in San Diego if Mathews once again disappoints.
Supersleeper: Keenan Allen was a first-round talent who slid in the draft due to injury, and the players ahead of him on the depth chart don't really share his same level of pedigree.
Eric Weddle - S
As one of the team leaders, he has averaged 90 tackles per year in his six-year career and has a total of 16 interceptions.
Corey Liuget - DE
Showed marked improvement in his second season in the league, with sacks in each of the last five games.
Donald Butler - LB
With 77 tackles and three sacks in 2012, he and rookie Manti Te'o will make a great pair of young playmakers at the inside linebacker spot.
RotoWire Rank: 11