Excitement and enthusiasm is in the air for the 2016-2017 edition of the San Diego Chargers. At this time in the offseason, it’s in the air for the fans of the other 31 NFL teams as well. With the free agency, NFL Draft period over and what looks to be a loaded 90-man roster in place, hope for a successful season is renewed.
Time to take off the rose-colored glasses for a moment and look at the team from an analytics standpoint. The Chargers do look like they have helped themselves immensely this offseason. To take a closer look I am going to dissect the offense and assign each aspect of the offense a point value. These will be the points I expect that aspect of the offense to generate every game. Of course that number is subject to change based on injuries, offseason acquisitions etc…
The points will then be added and that will be the expected points-per-game expectation for the offense. Some of you will think I’ve graded too harshly while others will think not harshly enough but it’s a jumping off point and that’s the objective. I’ll be looking forward to reading your views in the comments below.
The offense begins and ends with Philip Rivers. The Chargers’ iron man, Rivers has not missed a single game in ten seasons. His streak is second-longest in the NFL behind Eli Manning of the New York Giants (183). Rivers only trails Manning because Rivers didn’t start until his third season while Manning started in his rookie year.
Over the last three seasons, Rivers has averaged a stat line of 398-591 for 4,518 yards passing with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and two fumbles lost. What’s more, he has averaged 56 passes of 20-yards or more and slightly over seven completions of 40-yards or more. This impressive stat line comes despite woeful offensive line play that has him getting sacked an average of 35 times over that same three-season period.
Last season, Rivers threw for career-highs in attempts (661), completions (437) and yards (4,792). The running game was non-existent and the Chargers went through 25 offensive line changes. The weight of being the only reliable offensive option took its toll on Rivers and the Bolts record. This year, a more balanced offense will yield better results on the scoreboard and in the standings.
Points-per-game expectation: 14
Running backs and fullbacks
Franchise running back Melvin Gordon had a disappointing rookie season. The Chargers, the fans and Gordon himself expected better than the 184 carries for 641 yards he accumulated in 14 games. Gordon is still awaiting his first NFL regular season touchdown and needs to improve his ball security. Four of Gordons’ six fumbles were recovered by the defense.
Danny Woodhead was the most consistent running back and the leading receiver for the Chargers last season. Woodhead had 98 carries for 336 yards and three touchdowns. Receiving, Woodhead amassed 80 receptions for 755 yards with six touchdowns. Take away the 2014 season in which Woodhead missed all but three games with a broken leg; in 2013 and 2015 Woodhead has averaged 382 yards and 2.5 touchdowns on 102 rushing attempts and 680 yards and six touchdowns on 78 receptions.
Branden Oliver was rarely seen in 2015 but showed his worth in 2014 after the injury to Woodhead where he emerged to lead the Chargers in rushing in 2014 as a rookie. Last season he had 31 attempts for 108 yards rushing at 13 receptions for 112 yards receiving. The coaching staff has expressed their desire to add Oliver in the mix in 2016 which is an intriguing prospect. Time will tell.
In the sixth round San Diego selected Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt. The significance of this selection is Watt was Gordons’ blocking fullback each of his three seasons at Wisconsin. It’s reasonable to expect the two already have a chemistry and understanding of one another that will translate to the field.
The new rule that chop blocks will not be allowed on the line of scrimmage will make having a good fullback on the field more important. This will also slowly bring about the re-emergence of Power-I formations. Not coincidentally, the Power-I is the formation Watt and Gordon ran to NCAA record-smashing success. There is change brewing in the run game and it will only help the offense as a whole.
Points per-game expectation: 6
At 36 years young, Hall of Fame bound Antonio Gates enters his 14th NFL season after re-signing with the Bolts for two more seasons. The eight-time Pro Bowler began the 2015 season on the suspended list, missing four games for taking a banned substance. He played well in the eleven games he saw the field afterward, tallying 56 catches for 630 yards and five touchdowns. Gates contemplated retirement before the end of last season but after the Chargers dismal season, Gates opted to return. He told the media “I didn’t want to go out like that.”
Gates finds himself on the precipice of NFL history this season. With eight touchdowns, Gates (104) will surpass Tony Gonzalez (111) into first place for touchdowns scored by a tight end. Over his brilliant career, Gates averages eight touchdowns a season. He is the most reliable part of the passing game. Starting the season from week one, expecting a better statistical season than 2015 is almost a certainty as long as he stays healthy.
The Chargers did draft the heir apparent to Gates when they drafted Hunter Henry our of Arkansas with their second round pick. The 6’5″, 250-pounder was a first-team All-SEC selection and winner of the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end in 2015. Henry collected 51 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns. As sure-handed as they come, Henry did not drop a single pass last season.
Vying for a slot on the roster are Sean McGrath, Asante Cleveland, Jeff Cumberland, and undrafted free agent Matt Weiser. All fit the mold the Chargers like at standing 6’5″, 260-pounds. The most intriguing prospect may be Tim Semisch, a one-year pro who stands an imposing 6’8″, 267.
Points per-game expectation: 4
Come back tomorrow for part two of my breakdown including the wide receivers, offensive line, coaching staff and final summary. I hope you have enjoyed my analytical breakdown. Do you agree or disagree so far? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
The Greg One