DC Greg Manusky, WR Laurent Robinson, DE/OLB Travis LaBoy, ILB Takeo Spikes, SS Bob Sanders.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/DT Corey Liuget, S/CB Marcus Gilchrist, ILB Jonas Mouton, WR Vincent Brown, CB Shareece Wright.
DC Ron Rivera, RB Darren Sproles, WR Legedu Naanee, WR Craig Davis, DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite, ILB Kevin Burnett, ILB Brandon Siler, SS Paul Oliver.
2011 San Diego Chargers Offense:
Philip Rivers didn't lead the Chargers into the playoffs last year, but he was able to prove just how talented he is by carrying an offense in shambles.
Rivers threw for 4,710 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He maintained a completion percentage of 66.0 and a YPA of 8.7. All of this despite the fact that: His No. 1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, played in only four games; his All-Pro tight end, Antonio Gates, missed six contests with a foot injury; his left tackle, Marcus McNeill, held out for five games; his starting running back, Ryan Mathews, started just nine games due to yet another foot injury; his No. 2 wideout, Malcom Floyd, was yet another teammate to miss five games; and his third receiver, Patrick Crayton, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 11.
Things can't possibly go worse for the Chargers this season. Rivers is not expected to match his 4,710 yardage total because his attempts will probably be down, but he could very well be more efficient in 2011.
Of the players mentioned above, every single one of them will be back; Malcom Floyd was the last to re-sign. Gates (50 catches, 782 yards, 10 touchdowns) was on pace for a career year prior to that foot ailment, while Jackson hauled in five grabs for 112 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 15 tilt against the 49ers - a sign that he was finally in game shape following his long holdout.
The No. 3 wideout position is up for grabs between three players: Crayton, Vincent Brown and Seyi Ajirotutu. The former is currently the favorite; he generated an impressive 18.4 yards-per-catch average last year, notching 514 yards on just 28 receptions. Brown is a third-round rookie who runs solid routes. Ajirotutu, meanwhile, is raw, but showed flashes at times during his rookie campaign last season.
Speaking of showing flashes, Mathews, chosen No. 12 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries against the Broncos in the season finale. While that generated some optimism in the fantasy football community, Mathews disappointed by showing up to training camp out of shape, possibly because of an injured toe. Mathews was often injured at Fresno State, so this is nothing new. If Mathews gets hurt, the 245-pound, plodding Mike Tolbert will get most of the rushing attempts again. Tolbert will also garner most of the receptions out of the backfield; Darren Sproles signed with New Orleans.
Half of San Diego's offensive line is very good. As mentioned, McNeill held out for five weeks, but he surrendered only one sack in 11 starts. Left guard Kris Dielman is one of the top players at his position. Center Nick Hardwick played well last year after missing most of the 2009 campaign.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, the other two positions up front are in serious doubt. General manager A.J. Smith re-signed right tackle Jeromey Clary to a 4-year, $20 million contract this offseason despite the fact that Clary was guilty of eight sacks and six penalties in 2010. The right guard slot, meanwhile, is up for grabs between two underwhelming players: oft-injured Louis Vasquez and pedestrian Tyronne Green.
2011 San Diego Chargers Defense:
The Chargers boasted some pretty impressive rankings last year. They were fifth versus the rush (3.7 YPC), third against the pass (6.5 YPA) and tied for third in terms of sacks (47), falling only behind the Packers (57) and Steelers (56). However, it'll be difficult for San Diego to maintain that sort of success in 2011.
The big loss is defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who is now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. The Chargers brought in former 49ers coordinator Greg Manusky to take his place. Manusky is a very good coordinator who also runs the 3-4. In a shortened offseason, however, the transition could prove to be somewhat difficult - at least in the beginning of the season.
In addition to Rivera, San Diego lost its entire inside linebacking corps save for Stephen Cooper. Replacing Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler are rookie Jonas Mouton and 34-year-old Takeo Spikes. Mouton was selected in the second round despite the fact that most scouting services had him listed as a mid- or late-round prospect. Regardless of how talented he'll become, Mouton, like most rookies, is expected to struggle early on because of the lockout. Spikes, meanwhile, is obviously past his prime, but happens to be very familiar with Manusky's system, having played for him in San Francisco.
The star in San Diego's linebacking corps is Shaun Phillips, who registered 11 sacks in 2010. Unfortunately, the Chargers failed to acquire a legitimate pass-rushing presence to man the other side. Larry English, chosen with the 16th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has been a bust thus far. It's unlikely that he'll turn his career around, as he's coming off the second foot surgery of his career. Free-agent acquisition Travis LaBoy totaled five sacks in 13 games last year under Manusky. He could win the job, which wouldn't be good news for the Chargers.
San Diego's first-round selection this April was used on five-technique Corey Liuget out of Illinois. Though Liuget didn't project as a 3-4 defensive lineman, he could still be an upgrade over the mediocre Jacques Cesaire. The winner of that battle will play next to end Luis Castillo and nose tackle Antonio Garay; the latter coming off an incredible 2010 campaign, registering 5.5 sacks and stuffing the run tremendously.
In the secondary, A.J. Smith was able to retain free agent free safety Eric Weddle by giving him a 5-year, $50 million contract with $19 million guaranteed. That's way too much for any safety not named Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed, but Weddle is a very good player despite his lacking statistics. He's exceptional in run support, and is decent in pass coverage.
Weddle definitely benefits from working with two very good cornerbacks. Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason combined to surrender a completion percentage of 51.7 to opposing quarterbacks last year, though it helps that they went against Matt Cassel twice, Jason Campbell twice, Kyle Orton, raw rookie Tim Tebow, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, Vince Young and Alex Smith.
Bob Sanders is currently slated to play with Weddle, Jammer and Cason. "Slated," being the key word because the former Colts Pro Bowler has missed 39 games in the past three seasons. He's a long shot to play even half this season's games, and who knows how effective he'll be after all of those injuries?
2011 San Diego Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
San Diego's special teams were ridiculously bad last season, costing the team a playoff berth. The Chargers surrendered four special-teams touchdowns and four blocked punts. They spent several selections on possible special-teams upgrades in the 2011 NFL Draft, so perhaps this area will improve. It can't get worse.
Thanks to Darren Sproles, the Chargers had scored on four returns since 2007. Sproles won't be back, but he didn't reach the end zone on special teams last year.
Nate Kaeding nailed 23-of-28 field goal attempts last year, which is pretty solid. Of course, he hit 32-of-35 tries during the regular season in 2009, but choked like a dog in a playoff loss to the Jets, missing from 36, 40 and 57 yards out. Kaeding has a dubious history of coming up short in the postseason. San Diego may regret relying on him once again come January 2012.
Punter Mike Scifres, meanwhile, is one of the league's best players at his position. He maintained a 46.7-yard average despite in 2010.
The Chargers don't have a first-place schedule for once, so unlike the Chiefs, they're fortunate to avoid playing the Steelers and Colts. Of course, San Diego had stupid losses to inferior teams last year like the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders (twice) and Rams, so it may not matter if they aren't focused.
With that in mind, the Chargers must avoid their perennial early-season swoon. Despite finishing with an 8-8 record or better every year in Norv Turner's tenure, they are a poor 10-15 under Turner between Week 1 and Oct. 24.
2011 San Diego Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2011 San Diego Chargers Analysis: It's pretty simple. If the Chargers improve their special teams, they will be AFC West champions. If, however, they continue to shoot themselves in the foot by surrendering a plethora of blocked punts, and punt and kickoff return touchdowns, they'll open the door for one of the other AFC West teams to claim the divisional crown.
As mentioned earlier though, the special teams can't get worse, so the Chargers should win the AFC West. As for their Super Bowl aspirations, it's unlikely that they'll make an appearance in Indianapolis come February; Norv Turner and Nate Kaeding remain postseason liabilities.
To be blunt, I didn't like San Diego's draft at all. The team really didn't improve its pass rush, and most of the selections were reaches. Jonas Mouton, projected by many as a Round 5-6 prospect, was an embarrassing reach in Round 2.
One player who wasn't a reach was Corey Liuget at No. 18. Liuget, projected to go to the Rams at No. 14, was one of the top players available. However, once Liuget measured in at 6-2 at the Combine, no one talked about him as a possible five-technique. Liuget doesn't project well into the 3-4, but we'll see what happens.
I'm also disappointed that the Chargers didn't upgrade the rush linebacker position at all. I didn't think they would do so in the first round, but they had plenty of opportunities to find someone to challenge Larry English on Day 2. They'll have to target someone in free agency.
Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: C-
2011 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
18. Corey Liuget, DE/DT, Illinois
No Cameron Jordan? I had Corey Liuget available here in my 2011 NFL Mock Draft, and I would have mocked him to San Diego if I thought he could play the 3-4. At just 6-2, Liuget doesn't project as a good fit for the Chargers' defense, so I'm giving this a C. But as I wrote in the Redskins' grade page, scheme projections are really tricky. (Pick Grade: C)
50. Marcus Gilchrist, S/CB, Clemson
A little bit early. Marcus Gilchrist is a Mike Mayock favorite, but where does he fit in? His natural position is safety, but the Chargers don't have a need for that. The good news is that Gilchrist will automatically improve San Diego's dreadful special teams. (Pick Grade: C)
61. Jonas Mouton, ILB, Michigan
Worst pick in the second round - and it's not even close. Neither Scouts Inc. nor CBS had Jonas Mouton in their top 150, and yet San Diego picked this guy at 61!? How about 161? Mouton will help on special teams, but... yeah. Epic fail. (Pick Grade: Millen on Roofies)
82. Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego State
Vincent Brown was a rising prospect heading into the final week of the 2011 NFL Draft, so it doesn't surprise me to see him in the third round. Brown ran a poor 40, so I'm glad to see that he wasn't hurt at all by the stopwatch. He makes sense for the Chargers, who may lose either Vincent Jackson or Malcom Floyd soon. (Pick Grade: B)
89. Shareece Wright, CB, USC
The Chargers needed cornerback depth going into the 2011 NFL Draft, so this is a solid pick. Shareece Wright definitely fits the range; most services had him as a Round 3-4 prospect. (Pick Grade: B)
183. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut
A replacement for Darren Sproles, Jordan Todman was a steal in the middle of the sixth round. He should have gone much earlier than this. (Pick Grade: A)
201. Steve Schilling, G, Michigan
The Chargers get another great value in the sixth round. Steve Schilling was projected to come off the board early on Day 3. (Pick Grade: A)
234. Andrew Gachkar, ST, Missouri
I never imagined that Andrew Gachkar would get drafted. He might contribute on special teams, which I guess is exactly what San Diego is looking for. (Pick Grade: C)
It's the same story every year: start slowly, heat up toward the end and choke in the playoffs. The 2010 season offered a different ending for the Chargers, however. They lost one too many games they should have won and fell short of the Chiefs in the AFC West race. Amazingly, Norv Turner was not fired, so expect more of the same in 2011.
Chargers re-sign ILB Stephen Cooper
Ravens sign TE Kris Wilson
Chargers re-sign WR Malcom Floyd
Bills sign WR Craig Davis
Panthers sign WR Legedu Naanee
Chargers sign WR Laurent Robinson
Saints sign SS Paul Oliver
49ers sign DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite
Chiefs sign ILB Brandon Siler
Chargers re-sign QB Billy Volek
Jets sign CB Donald Strickland
Chargers re-sign C Scott Mruczkowski
Dolphins sign ILB Kevin Burnett
Chargers sign DE/OLB Travis LaBoy
Saints sign RB Darren Sproles
Chargers cut TE Kris Wilson
Chargers cut CB Donald Strickland
Chargers cut DE/OLB Brandon Lang
Chargers re-sign CB Dante Hughes
Chargers re-sign RB Mike Tolbert
Chargers re-sign WR Kelley Washington
Chargers re-sign DE/DT Jacques Cesaire
Chargers re-sign S Eric Weddle
Chargers re-sign DE/OLB Antwan Barnes
Chargers cut WR Craig Davis
Chargers re-sign OT Jeromey Clary
Chargers sign ILB Takeo Spikes
Chargers cut DE/OLB Jyles Tucker
Chargers re-sign TE Randy McMichael
Chargers sign SS Bob Sanders
Chargers tender OT Brandyn Dombrowski
Chargers tender OLB James Holt
Chargers franchise WR Vincent Jackson
Rush Linebacker: Larry English has been a huge disappointment. The Chargers may still give him another chance, but they'll probably spend a Day 2 selection this April as competition. Signed Travis LaBoy
Defensive End: Jacques Cesaire, a declining player, is a free agent. He needed to be upgraded anyway. Cameron Heyward would be a great fit with the 18th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Drafted Corey Liuget; re-signed Jacques Cesaire
Right Tackle: The Chargers have needed an upgrade over Jeromey Clary at right tackle for years. Nate Solder will be an option at No. 18 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Re-signed Jeromey Clary; drafted Steve Schilling
Inside Linebacker: San Diego's top three inside linebackers - Kevin Burnett, Stephen Cooper and Brandon Siler - are all free agents. At least two obviously need to be re-signed. Signed Takeo Spikes; re-signed Stephen Cooper; drafted Jonas Mouton
Wide Receiver: If Vincent Jackson isn't re-signed, the Chargers will need a new No. 1 wideout. And if Malcom Floyd isn't retained, add a No. 2 wideout to the list. Franchised Vincent Jackson; re-signed Malcom Floyd; drafted Vincent Brown; signed Laurent Robinson
Free Safety: Re-signing Vincent Jackson and Eric Weddle are priorities 1 and 1a this offseason. Re-signed Eric Weddle
Nickel Cornerback: I'm not buying Donald Strickland as San Diego's nickel. Drafted Marcus Gilchrist
Running Back: Darren Sproles is as good as gone. Drafted Jordan Todman
Special Teamers: The worst special teams unit in the league is in desperate need of some help. Drafted Andrew Gachkar
2011 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Takeo Spikes, ILB, 49ers. Age: 34. Signed with Chargers (3 years)
Takeo Spikes just enjoyed another great year with the 49ers. However, he turned 34 in December, so there could be a massive dropoff sometime soon.
Bob Sanders, SS, Colts. Age: 30. Signed with Chargers (1 year)
Despite being 30 years old and coming off multiple injuries, Bob Sanders is a 4-star talent. The problem is that he has 1-star durability. I just averaged the two together to get 2.5 stars. Sanders is a huge risk, but he's worth taking a chance on at the right price.
Travis LaBoy, DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 30. Signed with Chargers (2 years)
A situational pass-rusher, Travis LaBoy recorded five sacks in 13 full games this season.
Laurent Robinson (RFA), WR, Rams. Age: 26. -- Signed with Chargers
San Diego Chargers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: No cap.
Eric Weddle, S, Chargers. Age: 26. Re-signed with Chargers
Eric Weddle is due for a massive contract. Excluding Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, Weddle might be the best safety in the NFL (though Nick Collins may have something to say about that).
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. Age: 28. Re-signed with Chargers (1 year, $11.9 million)
Vincent Jackson amazingly has never caught more than 68 passes in a single season, but with his size (6-5, 230) and downfield ability, he's one of the top physical talents at the wide receiver position in the NFL.
Kevin Burnett, ILB, Chargers. Age: 28. Signed with Dolphins (4 years)
After a few forgettable years in Dallas, Kevin Burnett has really come into his own in San Diego. Staying put would probably be best for his career.
Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers. Age: 29. Re-signed with Chargers (2 years, $5 million)
Malcom Floyd caught 37 balls for 717 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, giving him an amazing 19.4 yards-per-catch average. However, he battled through injuries in the second half of the year and consequently did nothing when Vincent Jackson returned to the lineup.
Stephen Cooper, ILB, Chargers. Age: 32. Re-signed with Chargers (1 year)
Stephen Cooper turns 32 in June, but is coming off a very good year. Cooper played well throughout until suffering an MCL sprain in December.
Mike Tolbert (RFA), RB, Chargers. Age: 25. Re-signed with Chargers (1 year)
At 5-9, 243 pounds, Mike Tolbert definitely is not a break-away threat. However, he's a very solid power/goal-line back who scored 11 touchdowns in 2010.
Darren Sproles, RB/KR/PR, Chargers. Age: 28. Signed with Saints (4 years, $14 million)
Given a 3-star ranking because of his kick-returning ability, Darren Sproles will be 28 in June. He seemed to lose some of his speed last season.
Billy Volek, QB, Chargers. Age: 35. Re-signed with Chargers (2 years)
Billy Volek is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL. It sounds as though he may join Ron Rivera to temporarily take over as Carolina's starting quarterback.
Scott Mruczkowski, C, Chargers. Age: 29. Re-signed with Chargers
Scott Mruczkowski barely played this season, but filled in really well for an injured Nick Hardwick the year before.
Legedu Naanee, WR, Chargers. Age: 27. Signed with Panthers
Legedu Naanee is a talented receiver, but didn't play much this season because of various injuries.
Paul Oliver, SS, Chargers. Age: 27. Signed with Saints
Paul Oliver performed very well while filling in for Steve Gregory at strong safety this season.
Antwan Barnes, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 26. Re-signed with Chargers (2 years, $3.2 million)
Antwan Barnes was signed in October and did a great job as a situational pass-rusher.
Brandon Siler, ILB, Chargers. Age: 25. -- Signed with Chiefs
Jacques Cesaire, DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 31. -- Re-signed with Chargers (2 years)
Jeromey Clary, OT, Chargers. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with Chargers (4 years, $20 million)
Antwan Applewhite, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 25. -- Signed with 49ers
Travis Johnson, DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 29.
Brandyn Dombrowski, OT, Chargers. Age: 26. -- Tendered by Chargers
Randy McMichael, TE, Chargers. Age: 32. -- Re-signed with Chargers (1 year)
Kris Wilson, TE, Chargers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Ravens
Divisional Rival History: Denver Broncos: The Raiders swept the Broncos in 2010, winning the two matchups by a combined score of 98-37. Kansas City Chiefs: The host has been victorious in 19 of the previous 26 battles. San Diego has won six of the past seven matchups. Oakland Raiders: The Chargers won 13 in a row in this rivalry prior to this past season. However, the Raiders swept San Diego in 2010.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2011 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)