Wide Open


Per a recent exchange with a Boltbeat reader, I began thinking about the wide receiver position in the NFL. There are a number of teams that are incredibly talented at this position.

Despite my recent overlook, Denver does boast a talented corps with Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal (if he proves to be more than a one hit wonder), and Brandon Stokley. Recently, Jabar Gaffney (formerly with New England) joined the mix.

Speaking of the Chargers’ rivals from the Northeast, New England also brings a talented group. Quarterback Tom Brady will be back in top form as he is able to throw to Randy Moss, Wes Welker and the seasoned yet still-speedy Joey Galloway. Newly acquired Greg Lewis (recently with Philadelphia) will also prove an option.

The Arizona Cardinals are dangerous with the double threat of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (and Steve Breaston running alongside for the ride.) However, Boldin does remain in holdout and although talented, Steve Breaston cannot fill that void. Breathe easy Cards fans. It remains likely that Boldin will suit up in red this season.

The Bills became much better at this position when they acquired Terrell Owens. Owens will be sure to help Lee Evans secure a few more open looks this season.

The Packers remain talented with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and a few dependable up-and-comers.

Argument can be made for the Colts with Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez. The Bengals may or may not have improved with the addition of Laveranues Coles. Of course anything will be an improvement from Cincinnati’s performance last season.

So where do the Chargers fit into this list? Well, they’re up there. I’d say top six. (Pause to allow you to develop an argument.) However, if they play to their ability, the corps has the ability to be top three. If.

Chris Chambers remains the Chargers’ number one wide receiver. Injuries last season kept Chambers’s numbers modest. He played in 14 games and tallied 33 receptions for 462 yards, a 14.0 yard-per-catch average and five touchdowns. His longest reception of the season was a 48-yard touchdown. Save touchdowns (Chambers had four in 2007), all of these totals were lower than those of the 2007 season where Chambers only played in 10 games with the Bolts. Still, he managed to amass 129 yards on eight receptions in the postseason. Chambers remains a threat with a resume that boasts nearly 7,000 yards receiving and 52 touchdowns. This was a large part of his contribution last season – taking pressure off some of the Chargers’ younger receivers, including Vincent Jackson.

Jackson is coming off of his best year and looks to improve in 2009. This is a contract year for “VJ” so expect his numbers to rise.

“I’m having a great offseason,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I continue to develop my chemistry with Rivers.”

Can’t argue with that. The chemistry was there last season. In the past, Rivers’s prime target has been tight end Antonio Gates, who has the size of a tight end, but athleticism and hands of a wide receiver. Although Gates remains a valuable option, Rivers spread the ball around last season. Jackson managed to finish with 1,098 yards on 59 receptions for 18.6 yards a catch and seven touchdowns, all career-highs. He also contributed with 69 yards on four rushes. Despite suffering the loss, Jackson reminded fans of his value in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against Pittsburgh last postseason. Four plays into the game, Jackson hauled in a 41-yard touchdown.

He will have a good year, but the level of Jackson’s success will rest on the ability of his counterparts to play to their potential. This doesn’t seem to be a worry for Jackson.

“We have good depth and expect to contribute to another successful year on offense,” Jackson said.

Malcom Floyd also had a career year in 2008 with 465 yards on 27 receptions for an average of 17.2 yards-per-catch. He finished with four touchdowns including a much-needed score in an impressive comeback win at Kansas City. Floyd would prove a strong third (fourth if you consider Gates) option for Rivers. However, Floyd, despite being commended for his gentile and polite demeanor, has yet to sign the second-round tender offered to him in February (worth $1.54 million for the 2009 season). He needs the time to “build that chemistry.” Moreover, the five-year veteran is injury prone.

Last year he suffered a hamstring injury which limited his playing time and a collapsed lung which kept him out of the last few regular season games and a Wild Card victory over Indianapolis. It is possible that ‘Young Malcom” will be dressing in another color come Fall.

Craig “Buster” Davis has not done much to avoid the incessant exploitation of his nickname. You figure it out. In two seasons, Davis has totaled 24 receptions for 247 yards and one touchdown. This isn’t awful for a number four receiver. But it is quite disappointing for a first-round pick. Davis’s one start and 18 games in two seasons is a concern. My thought is that the young Tiger (he was drafted out of LSU) will soon be on another team or back in the bayou.

Although, that’s perfectly fine. The Chargers wide receiver corps is a little unorthodox in composition and a few of these determined players are growing into fan favorites.

Third year player Legedu Naanee is skilled enough to play at a number of positions and he just might soon enough. Naanee has put on some weight this offseason and remains attentive and dedicated. Naanee showed some ability last season with a number of critical first downs. He caught attention when he came up with a big touchdown against Pittsburgh.

Clearly, Darren Sproles earned every bit of that franchise tag this past off-season. Technically, “Big D” (he hates it when I call him that) plays as a running back. However, he is a huge receiving threat as a scat-back. Last season, Sproles brought fans to their feet with 29 receptions for 342 yards and five touchdowns. Sproles’s longest reception was 66 yards for a touchdown. He also accounted for 136 yards on 10 receptions and a receiving touchdown in the postseason, including a five reception, 91 yard effort against Pittsburgh. Sproles also tallied a receiving touchdown in the effort.

Perennial Pro-Bowl attention-getter (for current lack of a better term) Kassim Osgood is back with the team this season. Osgood’s specialty remains special teams. However, in a pinch, Osgood, who is both big and fast, could line up for a long ball.

The Chargers have also brought in some young talent this season. Chargers’ seventh round draft pick Demetrius Byrd was in an unfortunate car accident prior to the draft and was therefore overlooked by many teams. However, Byrd is recovering well and his work-ethic could land him a spot with the Bolts. Chargers personnel are hopeful that Byrd will prove a more sound decision than his LSU counterpart, Davis. Byrd could impress as he appears one of those “football players” that General Manager AJ Smith loves so much.

As with every summer, the Bolts locker room is also hosting a number of undrafted free agent wide receivers. Unfortunately, with such a talented pool to compete against, most of these young hands will be gone come the final roster. However, anything can happen. Hopefully the end result will be well received. Wordplay!