2014 NFL Season Preview: San Diego Chargers' Offseason Moves, Fantasy Sleepers, Plus Predictions
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Last Season: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West, Lost in Divisional Round)
Key Additions: CB Brandon Flowers, RB Donald Brown, QB Kellen Clemens, ILB Kavell Conner, CB Jason Verrett (1st round), OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (2nd round), OG Chris Watt (3rd round)
Key Losses: FB Le'Ron McClain, NT Cam Thomas, CB Derek Cox, CB Johnny Patrick, QB Charlie Whitehurst
Games to Watch: Sept. 14 vs. Seattle, Oct. 19 vs. Kansas City, Oct. 23 at Denver, Dec. 20 at San Francisco
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
WHO ARE PHILIP RIVERS' MAIN WEAPONS?
Don't let Philip Rivers' resurgence fool you. Aside from second-year wide receiver Keenan Allen, San Diego's offense is composed of washed up, injury-plagued targets.
Written off entering 2013, Rivers thrived under new head coach Mike McCoy. It was a welcomed change for the five-time Pro-Bowler who was finally allowed to call his own plays. McCoy gave him freedom and, in turn, Rivers led the Chargers to their first playoff berth since 2009.
Rivers notched a career-high 378 completions and surpassed 30 touchdown passes for the first time since 2010. A season after surrendering 22 turnovers- 15 interceptions, seven fumbles- he neared career-lows in both. One can only wonder how Rivers did it without a dependable supporting cast.
Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd were supposed to be San Diego's playmakers. A year removed form a season-ending ankle injury, Jackson was ineffective in his return, for the most part. He didn't take advantage of weak NFC East secondaries despite starting 12 games.
His only commendable game--a seven-reception, 117 yard effort against Dallas--was followed by sub-40 yards performances. If this trend continues, and it might since he's been sidelined with a calf injury through training camp, "bust" labels will be warranted.
Floyd only played two games before a brutal neck injury ended his season. If he makes a full recovery, it would be a big boost to an otherwise depleted receiving core. After all, Floyd averaged 24.8 yards per reception on six catches before his injury.
Allen was Rivers' only viable option, and he exceeded expectations. The 2013 third-round selection compiled 71 receptions, eight touchdowns, and a team-leading 1,046 receiving yards. His short game is stellar and finds open spaces like a veteran.
Speed was Allen's only fault. A PCL injury limited him during combines prior to the draft and lingered throughout the season. At 100 percent, he can be a legitimate deep threat.
The Chargers hadn't fielded a dependable pass-catching threat since Darren Sproles until Danny Woodhead's breakout campaign. After two bench-ridden years in New England, Danny got to shine, recording career marks in every notable receiving category.
Woodhead is a nice complementary piece to starting running back Ryan Mathews and is a dangerous short-yardage threat.
WHAT TO DO WITH ANTONIO GATES?
Some call it business, others disloyalty, but San Diego is known for letting aging starts walk. They've let fan favorites LaDainian Tomlinson and Rodney Harrison go over the last few years, and Antonio Gates may be next in line.
Gates is due $3.5 million with a $2.3 million prorated bonus in 2015. San Diego would save about $6 million if they cut him before next season. He's still vital part to McCoy's offense, but with Ladarius Green waiting in the wings, Gates could become expendable.
Green broke out for 376 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 22.12 yards per reception last year. The 24-year-old blossomed after backup tight end John Philips sustained a knee injury, and gave Rivers' more protection than Gates has over the last couple of seasons.
Most importantly to San Diego's front office, Green is a cheaper alternative.
Gates can still play at a Pro-Bowl level, but he won't get the opportunity with Green getting extended playing time.
WHAT WILL BRANDON FLOWERS BRING TO THE SECONDARY?
Longtime Kansas City Chiefs corner Brandon Flowers was unceremoniously cut last spring, and his desire to vindicate himself should enliven an otherwise mediocre secondary.
A nagging knee injury limited Flowers to 13 games last season and his lowest turnover total since 2008. If healthy, he vastly improves a defense that ranked 29th in pass defense and 23rd in yards allowed. Inept NFC clubs embarrassed the Chargers through 2013's first nine weeks. Granted, it wasn't all defensive backs' faults; their rush defense was also ranked in the league's bottom five.
First-round draft pick Jason Verrett is San Diego's future at corner. He'll likely lead the second unit, behind Flowers and Shareece Wright, with the possibility of overtaking the right cornerback position if Wright underperforms.
Flowers--a first-time Pro-Bowler last year--didn't mesh with the Chiefs' revamped defense. A change of scenery could do him well, especially with safeties Eric Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist backing him up.
Keenan Allen- WR
Allen was one of the NFL's biggest surprises last season. Injuries to San Diego's receiving core opened the door for the Allen to lead rookies in receiving yards and receptions. With one year under his belt, expect more of the same.
Whether he is a WR1 or WR2 depends on offseason conditions. Allen worked on his speed to become more of an impact player rather than a flank or No. 3 option. Even a slight improvement over last year makes him worthy of a mid-round selection.
Danny Woodhead- RB
Mathews is San Diego's go-to runner but Woodhead serves a greater purpose. He averaged 4.6 yards on the ground but transitioned into the slot receiver role with ease.
He's a well-rounded pickup who contributes in every offensive aspect. The Chargers' dicey wide receiver situation only ups his value.
Season Prediction: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West, miss playoffs)
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