The San Diego Chargers offense retained their key players in free agency. Many thought wide out Malcom Floyd would elect to leave in free agency. However, to many Chargers fans delight, Floyd elected to put back on the famously known Charger powder blue. Floyd was un-able to land the lucrative deal he wanted in free agency. Floyd agreed to a two year deal with San Diego that pays him around 6 million. Star wide outs Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress are getting paid very similarly, but both only inked one-year tenders. The Bolts will also posses a dedicated Vincent Jackson to complement Floyd. Jackson must’ve come to the conclusion that he has missed too much football between his holdout last year and the lockout. Jackson elected to sign the franchise tag because the Chargers seem to be un-willing to give him long-term security he wants and truly deserves.
The 2010 Chargers offense ranked second in points scored. The unit averaged 27.6 points per game. Only New England averaged more, scoring 32.4 points per game. The Bolts passing attack ranked #1 in the league, averaging 296.6 yards per game. Despite achieving such high accolades with their aerial attack last year, the 2011 Chargers aerial assault should be more lethal. The running attack will mainly feature Ryan Mathews who looks poised to have a breakout sophomore season. The Bolts running game was very mediocre last year ranking 15th in yards per game with 113. Mathews needs to overcome the injury bug that cost him 4 games. The Chargers literally got a huge contribution from running back Mike Tolbert. Tolbert posted three 100-yard rushing games along with scoring 11 touchdowns; tying the likes of Chris Johnson and madden cover boy Peyton Hillis. I expect the duo of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert to keep defenses balanced and be a top 10 rushing unit. Listed below are my predictions for the Chargers key offensive players this year.
Phillip Rivers- Rivers 2010 campaign was great. He threw for a league leading 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns. He succeeded despite Vincent Jackson missing 12 games, Malcom Floyd missing 6 games, and Antonio Gates missing 6 games. I believe Rivers will throw for 4,900 yards this year. The WR core should be healthier this year, which will obviously benefit Rivers. I don’t think Rivers passing yards will rise too much due to expecting a slightly stronger emphasis on the ground game. However, I believe Rivers will toss significantly more touchdowns. My prediction for Rivers is he will throw 40 touchdowns, which would probably be the most in the NFL. I believe the Chargers will pass more in the red zone. The Chargers will feature three receivers 6 feet 4 or taller. The height of the San Diego wide receivers will be a nightmare for defenses to cover in the red zone; helping Rivers toss more touchdowns this year.
Ryan Mathews- Mathews had a disappointing rookie season. The Chargers obviously think very highly of him, they traded up in the draft last year to select him. Mathews struggled to stay on the field last year due to several injuries. Last year he had 678 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. I believe this year Mathews will eclipse the 1,000 yard marker and score 8 touchdowns. Mathews is having a great camp and head coach Norv Turner remains very high on him. Mathews was quoted in an interview the other day as being “100 percent healthy.” I expect Ryan Mathews to progress a lot in his upcoming sophomore season.
Mike Tolbert- Tolbert performed extremely well in the absence of Ryan Mathews last year. The return and rise of Matthews will shrink Tolbert’s responsibilities this year. I believe Tolbert will be used more as a change of pace back and goal line carrier. This will result in Tolbert only rushing for 500 yards this season compared to 735 yards last year. I predict Tolbert to score 8 touchdowns this year compared to 11 a year ago.
Vincent Jackson- Jackson only appeared in 4 games for the Chargers in 2010. Juxtapose that with his 2009 campaign where he played in all 16 games for the Bolts. In 2010 his numbers were depleted due to the limited action he saw because of his hold out. In 2009 Jackson posted great numbers; he had 1,167 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. I believe his 2011 season stats will be similar to his 2009 year. I predict Jackson having 1,200 receiving yards and grab 11 touchdowns. Jackson is out to prove he is a star caliber wide out and should be one of the highest paid receivers in the game. Jackson will be Rivers main target this year, helping him post great numbers and vie for a rewarding contract in free agency next season.
Malcom Floyd- Floyd had 717 receiving yards last year with 498 of them being in the first 5 games. If Floyd can remain healthy this year his numbers will improve. Floyd proved he could be a reliable #1 wide receiver in the NFL. For example, he had 213 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders week 5 being mainly covered by highly touted ex-Raider cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The return of Jackson will cause many teams best cornerbacks to focus on Jackson. This will result in a plethora of room for Floyd to operate. I predict Floyd to have 1,000 receiving yards with 8 touchdowns.
Antonio Gates- Gates is arguably the best receiving tight end in the NFL. Some experts consider him to be the toughest match-up in the NFL. He’s too strong to be covered by cornerbacks and safeties and is too fast to be covered by linebackers. However, his foot is ironically his biggest problem. His ongoing battle with Plantar Fasciitis continues into this season. He has been limited in training camp and placed on the PUP list. However, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune, Gates would be playing if their regular season opener were tomorrow. Gates missed 6 games last season due to his injured foot. Ideally he would play in all 16 games this year but a realistic goal should be 13 or 14. If healthy, I predict Gates to also narrowly surpass 1,000 yards. My bold prediction is that Gates will lead the NFL in touchdown receptions. Gates grabbed 10 touchdowns last season, and I believe he will improve that number to 13.