For San Diego fans and NFL fans everywhere, this is the time of year where expectations are the highest. All teams went through a draft, have not lost a game and can possibly win their division – on their way to becoming the next Super Bowl Champion. The jaded fans grow into optimists about the players, coaches and organization.
Heading into the 2016 NFL season, every sports writer makes their attempt in finding that diamond in the rough; predicting which players will exceed everyone’s expectations. It is an easy task to take on, considering there is no accountability in the event those prophecies don’t pan out.
On the flip side, those players named in their write-up will become that writer’s metaphorical “baby.” Cheering on the named players as if they were the ones who drafted and molded them, hoping they turn into an 18-carat jewel and not a cubic zirconia. Some writers base their forecasts strictly on stats, and possibly going to the extreme with logarithms and equations that would make any math genius giddy with excitement. Others, like myself, use statistics sparingly, mixing in their gut-feeling about certain players.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
After the dreadful 2015 season, where the team from America’s finest city landed in the bottom of almost every offensive and defensive category, 2016 fills the lungs anew, smelling of sweet hopefulness and the taste of victory. With that, let us look at a few players whom this writer feels will surpass expectations.
Branden Oliver – The undrafted running back out of the University of Buffalo is playing in his third season with San Diego. After 191 rushing attempts and 49 receptions in two seasons, Oliver has yet to fumble the football.
After Ryan Mathews went down with another injury in 2014, Bo was able to showcase his talents and determination. Watching him closely his rookie season, I was amazed with this lower body strength and ability to fight for those extra yards.
Entering his second year in 2015, he was back down on the depth chart with the selection of first-round draft pick Melvin Gordon and the recovered Danny Woodhead.
Bo, entering his final season under his rookie contract, is a hard worker and might be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Oliver has latched on to Woodhead as his mentor and seems to have healed from last season’s turf toe injury that he sustained in Week 8, landing him on the injured reserved and ending his season.
With Gordon entering his second season after an insipid rookie campaign and Woodhead healthy, Oliver will more than likely begin again as the third back. As the third on any depth chart, expectations are slim. It is no secret that the run game will be targeted to emerge as a force, especially with Ken Whisenhunt once again calling the shots. In addition to his strong work ethic and ability to hold on to the ball, his quickness and power will allow Oliver to gain more snaps and targets this upcoming season.
Brandon Flowers – The 30-year-old cornerback enters his third season with the Chargers. A former Pro Bowler, Flowers initially signed a one-year contract with San Diego and played as well as expected, earning him a four-year contract at the end of the 2014 season. With a lucrative contract in the books, Brandon’s body language and his constant lack of effort was that similar to former Chargers’ linebacker Donald Butler, who signed a big contract only to show nothing on the field.
According to Pro Football Focus, Flowers ended the 2015 season being graded as the third-worst corner out of a possible 111 qualifiers. It might be too simple to pick Brandon as someone who will exceed expectations, because it would not seem possible to get any worse.
Not wanting to follow in Butler’s footsteps, who to this day is still unsigned, the cornerback has come into San Diego with resurgence and a body that shows how hard he has worked in the offseason.
With Jason Verrett earning a Pro Bowl spot after his second season, Brandon will be looked upon as a mentor for Verrett while he is learning to play the inside more.
Flowers is a defensive back and not just a corner. At his age, and his horrid season where he did not record one interception, it might be easy to imply that his tank is on empty, not being able to perform like he did in Kansas City and his first year in America’s Finest City. However, Brandon is a professional and entered spring in great shape, with a competitive spirit and a smile on his face.
If healthy, he will return this season and reestablish himself as the reliable corner who the organization can count on.
Jeremiah Attaochu – A decade ago, San Diego was enjoying the fact that they housed the an incredible pass-rushing tandem of Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. With the 2016 season approaching, Chargers fans might once again be able to see two outside linebackers strike fear into opposing offenses.
Melvin Ingram has solidified his dominance and respect around the league and Jeremiah is catching up. Combined, Ingram and Attaochu accounted for a little more than half of the total sacks for the Bolts in 2015.
A vast improvement from his rookie season to last year’s crusade, Jerry needs to stay consistent all year if he is to improve on his six sacks. Utilizing his quickness and his ability to get in the backfield, there is no reason why his numbers will not again balloon in 2016.
One of the hardest and most diligent workers on the team, Jeremiah already showed improvements at spring practices. He might be underrated, and if teams will focus on Ingram, which they will, the second-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech will continue to disrupt the opposition with an even stronger force than teams have seen so far. Expect a sizeable jump in both sack numbers and tackles for loss this upcoming season, all the while creating a ferocious duo with teammate Ingram.
Comment below on which players you feel will exceed expectations.
Thanks for reading.
Brian “Big Kahuna” Scott