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
Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was a landmark moment for the San Diego Chargers’ two most popular players, quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates. The Chargers’ win signaled the end of a six-game losing streak. Philip Rivers became the 17th player to surpass 40,000 career passing yards and became the fourth-fastest player to accomplish the feat. With four touchdown passes in the game, Rivers leapfrogged Joe Montana and is currently in a tie with Vinny Testaverde for 11th place for career touchdown passes.
Not to be outdone, Rivers’ favorite target is rewriting the record books himself these days. The season began on the suspended list for Gates after testing positive for an unspecified performance-enhancing drug. Since returning, Gates has picked up where he left off, and to date has 33 catches for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
In the Jacksonville game, Gates caught two of Rivers’ four touchdown passes. In doing so, Gates passed Kansas City Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez into first place for most two-touchdown games from a tight end. Gates now has 21 such games and counting. Only nine receivers (wide receivers and tight ends) have over 100 touchdowns in NFL history. Gates sits in 7th place on that list.
Another mark Gates is chasing Gonzalez for is most touchdown catches from a tight end. Gonzalez leads the list with 111 touchdowns. Gates currently has 103. Had it not been for the suspension, Gates would have likely passed Gonzalez this season. Also worthy of note is Gonzalez has played four years longer than Gates has at this point.
While it’s still possible Gates could break the record this season, he would likely have to play one more season to set the new standard for tight ends. There has been no formal statement, but many expect the Chargers’ tight end to retire after the season.
Rivers and Gates are already the most prolific quarterback/tight end combination in NFL history, as they have connected for touchdowns 76 times counting the Jaguars game. Now in his 12th NFL season, Gates has more than cemented his place as a future Hall Of Famer. While we would love to see the pair ride off into the sunset together, Gates predates Rivers by one year and injuries have worn him down through the years. Gates is in the final year of his contract. It remains to be seen if he will return for another season or call it a career.
We have all been witness to a true rags-to-riches story. Antonio Gates arrived at Chargers Park in 2003 as an undrafted free agent. Chargers’ brass saw something special in the power forward — who led the Kent State Golden Flashes hoops team into the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA Division I Men’s basketball tournament. Gates was able to use his prodigious talent on the basketball court and translate it to football where he and Gonzalez revolutionized the use of the tight end in the passing game instead of predominantly as a blocker.
Twelve years later, he is arguably the greatest tight end to play the game. He has provided Chargers fans with countless jaw-dropping, show-stopping moments, keying many wins for San Diego. These may be the last five opportunities we have to see Gates in lightning bolts. Show him your support and wear the No. 85 with pride.
The Greg One
San Diego Chargers All-Pro, future Hall-Of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates made headlines this summer when he said he wanted a lighter workload this season. After years of dealing with debilitating plantar fasciitis, Gates looked like his old self as he caught 12 touchdowns, one short of his career high of 13 touchdowns in his breakout 2004 season.
The next touchdown Gates catches will be the 100th of his career, the rarest of air for a tight end. To date, only one tight end has caught more than 100 touchdown passes in NFL history, Kansas City great Tony Gonzalez with 111. Gates will do it in three fewer seasons than Gonzalez.
This will be a season to watch number 85 for a number of reasons. Barring injury, he is most assuredly going to catch number 100. It will be worth keeping an eye on Gates all season to see if Philip Rivers can get him 13 touchdowns this season, placing him at No. 1 all-time for touchdown catches by a tight end.
Fittingly, like Rivers, Gates is also in the last year of his contract.
Can all this talk of wanting a lighter workload be indicative of wanting to complete an unspoken farewell tour in one piece? No one is more deserving of a victory lap than man that revolutionized the tight end position by using his basketball background as a standout frontcourt player at Kent State to become the greatest undrafted free agent in Chargers history.
While it is possible Gates could continue his career beyond this season, the writing is on the wall. It is time for the heir apparent to Gates’ throne to step up and claim it. Who will do it? Let’s look at the candidates.
Ladarius Green: Now entering his fourth season on the roster, the 6’6″, 240 lb. Green was expected to have a breakout year last season. Instead, Gates found the fountain of youth and played most of the snaps last season. Green has shown flashes of potential on offense. The highlight of his season was a 60-yard touchdown grab against Kansas City, where he showed great agility and surprising breakaway speed for a man his size. He’s had three seasons to learn from the master, now it’s time for him to put up or shut up.
John Phillips: The 6’5″, 250 pounder is a seven-year veteran. Used for protection, Phillips proved to be an asset due to his skill as a blocker. During the 15 games he played for the Chargers last season, he lined up at fullback in addition to his tight end duties. He caught one pass for one yard last year, but it went for a touchdown. A knee injury landed him on IR for the last game of the season, but he looks to be ready to go when the new season begins.
David Johnson: Like Phillips, Johnson (6’2″, 260) is entering his seventh season. Signed away from the Pittsburgh Steelers last offseason, Johnson was primarily used as the de facto fullback. He was a good physical point of attack blocker and utilized on special teams. He had one reception for four yards. Expect more of the same this season unless an unknown makes a stronger case for his spot.
Kyle Miller: Two weeks ago the Chargers claimed Miller off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons. The 6’5″, 260 pound product out of Mount Union is a second-year pro. He played one game with Indianapolis in 2012 and was cut from the Miami Dolphins in 2013. Last season he was on the Falcons practice squad. Miller is the son of former NFL quarterback Mark Miller. At 27, he is still looking for his first official NFL reception. In college, he was a three-time Ohio Athletic Conference first team selection as a tight end. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do in training camp.
Dave Paulson: The (6’4″, 240) former Oregon Duck spent the first two years of his NFL career (2012, 13) in Pittsburgh. The Chargers signed him to their practice squad shortly after the beginning of last season. Coming from Oregon, Paulson was recognized as a dependable pass catcher and leader. His ability to block will most likely determine whether he will make the team.
UDFA rookies Eric Frohnapfel and Brain Parker: Frohnapfel is an intriguing prospect from a size standpoint. He stands 6’7″ and weights 235 pounds. As a member of the Marshall Thundering Herd he accounted for 37 catches for 420 yards and five touchdowns. If his blocking and route running are on par, he could be an unstoppable red zone target after the staff gets time to coach him up.
The 6’4″, 260 lb. Parker logged similar numbers in college at Albany, where he collected 39 balls for 500 yards and five touchdowns. The two are camp bodies but the scouts have seen enough impressive tape on them to extend invites and give them the chance to make the team. The Chargers obviously won’t carry seven tight ends on the roster, but three on the active roster and one on the practice squad is very likely.
At this point Green, other than Gates, is the only person I would pen onto the opening day roster. Everyone else is expendable. All of these players will have the advantage of being able to watch how a future first ballot Hall-Of-Fame player at their position prepares and trains. They will also have the benefit of having a legend of the game as their position coach in Buffalo Bills’ great Pete Metzelaars. Metzelaars won a Super Bowl ring as an offensive quality control coach for the Indianapolis Colts. It’s up to them to learn and adapt as much of their expertise to their game as they can.
We all look forward to seeing this camp battle play out. Who do you think will secure the role of Rivers’ next security blanket?
The Greg One
I recently read an article about the TE class coming out in this year’s draft. An AFC personnel director was quoted as saying that “they were not impressed with this year’s TE class and was adamant that there will not be a TE taken in the first round.” …wow….that was profound.
In the last 10 years there has always been a TE drafted in the first round with two exceptions: 2011 and 2012 there were no TE drafted in the first round, and then 2004 and 2006 there were 2 TE drafted in the opening round. Of those 6 drafts where only one was selected, the average spot drafted is with the 26th pick. What I am getting at here, is that outside of Kellen Winslow Jr (#6 in 2004) and Vernon Davis (#6 in 2006), there has not been a TE selected until very late in the first round. One could even say that those could be looked at as early picks in the second round. To further my point, that stud TE can be found later in the draft or sometimes after the draft is done.
In the mid-to-late 70’s through the 80’s, this position was developing more and more with the likes of Todd Christensen, Mark Bavaro and our own beloved Kellen Winslow. Fans were beginning to look closely at the TE position and coaches were figuring out that they have another pure offensive player that can help the team; not just blocking.
Then in the 90’s through 2000’s, TE’s were bigger, faster and necessary for teams to rise to the next level. Hate to admit the first players name (mainly due to the team he played for and the fact that he should not be a commentator on a national NFL show) but the play of Shannon Sharpe earned him a spot in the Hall of fame. Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and our own Antonio Gates then continued to catapult the position to a whole different atmosphere. Now defenses were guarding 3 wide receivers AND a tight end with tremendous hand strength, difficult to tackle and a mismatch for most LBs who were trying to cover them.
Jimmy Graham, who some say might be the best current TE in the NFL, wasn’t drafted until the 3rd round. So why would it be such a surprise that a TE is not drafted in the 1st round? Would any of us be that surprised? Clearly this is a deep draft especially, on the defensive side of the ball, so those AFC teams who are in need of a TE (Jets, Bills and Patriots), would be fine with waiting until the 2nd round (or later) to draft one. Because there are other diamonds in the rough to be found for the TE position in later rounds. Let’s look at our guys.
I love. I mean LOVE Antonio Gates. A future HOF who was undrafted. That’s right, UNDRAFTED! If Antonio’s picture is not next to the text-book definition of “A Diamond in the Rough” then something is wrong. Where I am in Southwestern Florida, I have met one die-hard Charger fan like myself. We usually watch the Charger games at BWW and anytime, over the last 5 seasons, Gates catches a ball, we shout…IT’S THE GATES SHOW BABY!!!! Of course, over time with age and injuries, Gates numbers have declined. In his defense, last year he had his most yards receiving since 2009. I want Gates to finish his career here and am not lobbying for him to hang the cleats up anytime soon, not even close. However, behind him, there looms greatness
I’m a 6’6” and 240 pound TE out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. My nickname is “PeeWee” which clearly is an oxymoron. I was drafted in the 4th round (110th overall) and took my rookie year to sit back and watch THE GATES SHOW, learning both on and off the field. Last year, I was interviewed and stated that I wanted to make a contribution in my 2nd year. I then backed it up. There is not a better TE, a better man than Antonio Gates and I am going to continue to learn all that I can from him. I am a quick learner, as I successfully earned a college degree in finance in a little over 3 years. I fit perfectly in the Charger offense and I aim to be humble and classy in addition to being a great teammate. I know that whenever Gates decided to retire, I will be right there taking his legacy and the TE position on a pedestal: There is no ceiling for me.
I am the next great TE…I am Ladarius Green.
The Big White Kahuna