The San Diego Chargers are like the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. Wait, what? There already is a Dallas Cowboys in the NFL? Well, paint my face red.
But like the Cowboys, the Chargers have disappointed year in and year out while they've had a franchise quarterback and some of the most exciting skill players in the NFL over the better part of the last decade. Count the last ten years up and you've got four years of Drew Brees and six years of Philip Rivers. Ask the Cleveland Browns how much they'd like to even have one year of Billy Volek. But they start out every season in a slump and have to play catch up every December up until they crap the bed in the playoffs.
Marty Schottenheimer got fired after a 14-2 season and yet Norv "I've Got More Blackmail On the Owner than Anyone In the Movie CLUE" Turner enters his sixth season as head coach after missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The Chargers have finished with a top five scoring offense for eight (yep EIGHT) straight seasons. But things are changing slightly with the losses of Mike Tolbert and Vincent Jackson.
Can the Chargers make it nine straight top 5 offensive seasons and can Norv do any damn thing to get fired in San Diego?
2011 Record: 8-8
Drafted Skill Players: Ladarius Green, TE (4th round), Edwin Baker, RB (7th)
Dearly Departed: Vincent Jackson, Mike Tolbert, Patrick Crayton, Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman
I heard a lot of people claiming that the "overrated" Rivers had finally been exposed last year after a terrible start to the season that saw him throw 17 interceptions in his first ten games. Overall numbers in those ten games: 62%, 3,023 INT, 15 TD, 17 INT, 7.9 Y/A. So basically, he had made too many mistakes and probably got unlucky with how many of those mistakes became turnovers, but he was throwing for 300 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game while completing 62% of his passes. I'm not going to say Rivers was good, but he was hardly terrible when you count in everything besides the interceptions. You won't see most quarterbacks throw almost 2 interceptions per game and get away with it, but Rivers still showed part of what makes him one of the best quarterbacks in football. And then he played the last six games:
64.8%, 1,601 yards, 12 TD, 3 INT, 8.05 Y/A and a 103.4 rating. Those games count too.
Rivers hasn't missed a start since he took over for Drew Brees six years ago. He's led the league in Y/A three times, in touchdowns once, in yards once, and in efficiency once. He had a blip in his career to start the season last year and he's going to miss Vincent Jackson, but Rivers is an elite QB. I'll probably try and get him as a discount as my starter this season.
2012 Projection: 65%, 4,600 yards, 30 TD, 13 INT
Some are pegging Mathews as the next big thing in fantasy football, at least this year, and rating him as a top five pick. Last year the guy that I doubted was Charles and I lucked out with my correct decision to avoid him. I'll avoid Mathews not because I don't think he's talented, but because he has a little bit of an injury history and has not consistently proven himself, while the departure of Jackson and Tolbert will put a little more pressure on Mathews.
He rushed for 511 yards and 3 TD in his last five games of last season. I don't think he's going to rush for 100 yards per game, this is still Rivers team and I think the Chargers will spread the ball around at the goal line. Good numbers, but numbers I think I can get with some talent I can find in the second round.
2012 Projection: 240 carries, 1,200 yards, 6 TD. 35 catches, 300 yards, 4 TD
Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley, Jacob Hester, Ronnie Brown, Edwin Baker and Le'Ron McClain
Not all of these players are going to make the roster but Tolbert scored 10 touchdowns last year. I don't think that all of those touches are automatically going to go to Mathews. It's going to be spread around and include whoever wins the fullback and backup running back positions. That's like Battle or Brown, but let's see how the preseason and camp plays out before we decide on a handcuff because I think it's likely that Mathews plays 13 games and takes another ding on his numbers.
It will be interesting to see how the roles play out without Jackson, one of my favorite NFL receivers. Rivers didn't just make Jackson, V-Jax made some unbelievable catches to save Rivers at times. But the pass attempts will still be there, the yards will go somewhere. But where?
Meachem was signed to a nice free agent deal with many in the NFL feeling he can break out in the right system. The former first round pick has averaged 43 catches for 660 yards over the last three years as one of Drew Brees' afterthoughts in New Orleans. He'll take a more prominent role in San Diego but will he maintain a 16 yard average? If so, he could crack a thousand yards finally.
I think he has a career-high year, but not quite that high as the Chargers spread it around.
2012 Projection: 50 catches, 800 yards, 5 TD
The leading returning receiver in San Diego is Floyd, a longtime favorite for the Chargers when Jackson has been absent but what will he do now that Jackson is gone forever? He's averaged 42 catches for 783 yards over the last three years and last season had a career-year, putting up 856 yards in only 12 games with a league-leading 19.9 yards per catch. Floyd had a touchdown in each of the last three games with 318 yards. Will he build on that and be the Chargers leading receiver? He's surprisingly already 31 years old by next month.
2012 Projection: 55 catches, 950 yards, 7 TD
I'm a Brown fan, another big play receiver from a year ago he fits right in with Floyd and Meachem. As a rookie last year (3rd round) he averaged 17.3 yards per catch on 19 receptions. If Meachem disappoints or Floyd goes down, Brown is a good pick as a sleeper and my below projections should go considerably up. These are based on easing Brown into more duty and giving more play to the veterans as the Chargers go for a division title.
2012 Projection: 40 catches, 750 yards, 5 TD
91 catches for 980 yards. That's unbelievably what Royal did as a rookie in Denver. In the three years since: 115 catches for 1,127 yards. To be fair, Tim Tebow, but that's still very disappointing for how he started his career, even if he's only good for 10 yards per catch. However, 10 yards per catch as a 5'10 receiver, you can't expect much from Royal unless he does catch 100 passes. He won't.
2012 Projection: 35 catches for 400 yards and 4 TD
A lot of the focus has gone to the Patriots tight ends and Jimmy Graham, but Antonio Gates is not done. One of the best tight ends ever, Gates can still get it done and be an elite tight end. Just two years ago, in 2010, he caught 10 touchdowns in 10 games. When healthy, expect him to push for 1,000 yards and 10+ touchdowns. This is a guy that's going to step up as well in the absence of Jackson.
2012 Projection: 70 catches, 800 yards, 9 TD
Randy McMichael, Dante Rosario, Ladarius Green
The Chargers will however use more than one tight end and they've got an interesting group of four right now. Gates leads the way, but the Chargers run deep.