December 16, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) is congratulated by wide receiver Malcom Floyd (80) after a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panther at Qualcomm Stadium. The touchdown tied the Chargers team all time record for touchdown receptions. The Panthers won 31-7. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Over the last few weeks I’ve decided to take a positive spin on the upcoming Chargers squad and examine how each group will be better in 2013. We’ve finally come to the end of the series, and what better way to end than with the talented and deep wide receivers group. I’ve added tight ends in here too because an article on why the tight ends will be better would be ridiculously short. Here we go:
Who they were:
Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander were our number one and number two guys last year. When they were on the field they played well, but Floyd missed a couple of games (which he seems to do) and we didn’t get DX until almost halfway through the season. Floyd, unsurprisingly, led the team in receptions (56) and yards (814)—not mind-blowing numbers by any stretch of the imagination—but Alexander, even after only ten games, finished with the most touchdowns (7, tied with Gates), most yards after catch and most yards per catch on the team.
Our receiver situation was dire in the first half of the season. Floyd was the only one that seemed to be contributing—after Royal and Meachem failed to live up to expectations (see Cleveland Browns drop). To add to that, Vincent Brown broke his ankle in the Cowboy’s preseason game and was out for the season. If it hadn’t been for the addition of DX, then this group would have been one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. Fortunately, the risk of signing the oft-injured Alexander paid off and DX quickly became Rivers’ go to guy.
At tight end, Gates managed to stay on the field for all but one game, but his yardage (538) and touchdowns (7) were the second lowest of his career after his rookie year. Keep in mind that struggles with pass protection, and having to keep him in to block more often than he’s used too, definitely added to the low numbers. At backup we had Randy McMichael, a solid veteran who stepped in when he needed to. He didn’t put up any numbers really but stepped in and blocked when he had to and made the catch when he was called upon.
Why they will be better:
Okay, let’s break this down.
WR 1: I think that Alexander’s play in the latter half of last season earned him this spot, for now. He and Phillip are on the same page and hopefully they can keep the chemistry they found last year. If DX can stay healthy then he has all the talent to be a number 1 receiver in this league. He’s been out a couple days of training camp so far, but hopefully that’s just precautionary. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full healthy season. The sky’s the limit with DX.
WR 2: I’m going to give Brown the edge on this spot right now, just because of youth but I will include Floyd in this section because I think that they will split time here until one outshines the other. Brown gets his first full season as a starter and he’s everyone’s sleeper fantasy pick. I think he’s going to light it up across from DX and having him on the field has to be an improvement. He’s going to be a big reason why this group is better in 2013.
Floyd will be his ever-reliable self (with regard to play not injuries). He won’t light it up with big runs after the catch like Brown and DX will, but he’ll be that big target that Phillip loves in the corner of the end zone. Having Floyd, DX and Brown as three rotational outside starters gives us a lot of talent on the field as well as amazing depth.
SLOT: After seeing Eddie Royal shine in camp on Sunday, I’m going to pencil him in here. It’s been a long time since the chargers had that fast slot guy that a lot of other teams use so much. We’re used to having that tall receiver type, guys that go up and get the ball, and teams are used to defending that. Eddie Royal will shine in our new quick-fire offense. McCoy and Whisenhunt will utilize his speed and, if he can stay healthy, I think that he will emerge as a weapon for us. If he doesn’t work out, then Keenan Allen will have his shot.
TE: I have no doubt that Antonio Gates will get back on track this season. At training camp he looked healthy, fluid and fast. The new offense will help him a lot too with those quick, dump off passes over the middle. Our line has improved so Rivers will have more time to find him and he won’t have to stay in and block as much. We have a lot of people vying to catch the ball this year, so his numbers my not blow people away, but I think we’ll see more touchdowns thanks to an, hopefully, improved red-zone offense. We all know who Phillip’s favorite target is in the red-zone and I can’t wait to see them lighting it up again like the days of old.
DEPTH: My prediction for wide receiver is that we keep six on the roster and one on the practice squad. I think that the six will be DX, Floyd, Brown, Royal, Allen and Meachem (because of money), with Willie making the practice squad. Considering that Meachem was supposed to be our starting wide out last year—either number 1 or 2—and now he is our 6th, I’d say that we’ve improved. Hopefully he can get into a rhythm and perform better this year, if and when he gets on the field. Allen’s route running and hands are impressing people so far. As soon as he gets a handle on the system I think that we’re going to realize that we got a steal in the 3rd round. If someone goes down (I pray that we can get through one season without it happening) then I feel more than comfortable with the backups that we have.
At tight end, we have John Phillips at number two, who is a solid blocker and will be a great compliment to Gates. He’s a big body at 6’5”, 251ibs and is only 26, which gives this group an injection of youth (McMichael is 34).
At the third spot we have the project Ladarius Green. He looked smooth at camp and made a few tough catches when I watched him. He’s tall at 6’6” but he needs to put on a little bit of bulk to become a more effective blocker. If he can do that and retain his speed, while learning behind one of the greatest to ever play the game, then I’m excited about his future.
So that brings us to the end of the series. Hopefully I’ve made a good case for why the team will be better. I could have just as easily tried to prove why every unit will be worse but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. If you don’t go into each season with a positive outlook, then what’s the point of being a fan? All things considered, I’m happy at the direction the team is going in and I think there are some great times ahead. Let me know what you think.
PS – For those of you waiting for the special teams article: Kicker is the same and he did a good job last year; long snapper is the same and did a good job last year; and Mike Scifres is the man. We will probably lose Goodman but either Royal or Allen will step in and do a good job returning punts and kicks. Losing Coach Bisaccia was a blow but we’ll have to wait till we see an actual game to determine how much. The End.