Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
What follows is a very arguable ranking of the current Chargers as to their importance to the team. Certainly factors such as Pro Bowl potential weighs in, but a player doesn’t have to be better than the league’s other players at his position to be an important cog in the machine that is the Bolts. It is even possible to have a player not going to the Pro Bowl ranked higher than one that is, based on where it would leave our team if he suddenly needed to be replaced.
- Philip Rivers- If we were to have to replace Rivers, we would be in big time trouble. Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you don’t list him here.
- Eric Weddle- Another fairly obvious choice. Weddle did not have his best year last year; nor did the defense, but he is an unquestioned leader on this team and another face of the franchise. Sometimes a player’s value is determined more by intangibles than actual stats. Weddle is a great player but also a great presence.
- DJ Fluker- This is where it starts to get interesting. Fluker is here for a couple of reasons; 1) he is a serious beast, a road grader in the run game; 2) His enthusiasm for the game is infectious. Watching him finish a play 20 yards down field is one of the best things about watching the Bolts live.
- King Dunlap- A potential disagreement being placed this high for many, Dunlap came to the Chargers with a bit of a bad reputation as a mediocre left tackle. Under the tutelage of Joe D’Alesandris, King has played like a man possessed at one of the most crucial positions on the offense. Injury issues (concussions) might bring him down for some, but when he’s in there he has played extremely well.
- Keenan Allen- For me, the first 4 players were no brainers, so this is where it gets tough. Obviously a godsend for our offense last year, Allen had to step up because of injuries to our wide receiver corps. The dynamic he brings to our offense is part of the reason it was so successful. A good argument against Allen is that Rivers has made a lot of his receivers over the years. But it is always fairly true that a WR needs a QB more than a QB needs a WR. Allen is good and finds the seams in a defense. Rivers couldn’t make Robert Meachem a great WR, so I’m going on record as saying that this kid Allen is the real deal.
- Donald Butler- The easiest way to show how valuable Butler is to our defense is to point out how crappy it was when he was out or wasn’t at 100%. Our defense actually played well against the Broncos (arguably in all 3 games). Butler brings a no flash stability to our team and it is noticeable when he is not in there.
- Melvin Ingram, Dwight Freeney, Jarret Johnson, Jerry Attaochu et al- I know it’s a bit of a cop out to list all of these guys here (also included would be Thomas Keiser, Tourek Williams, Cordarro Law, Larry English and anyone else who makes the team at OLB), but these guys are going to make or break our defense. We need this rotation fresh, active, and irritating. It’s a bit hard to single them out, but I tried to list them in the order of current value). If Freeney can be seen anywhere near the ballpark of his former self, we could be an irascible bunch. If not, we will need Attaochu or Law to step up.
- Kendall Reyes- An unsung hero (along with Liuget) as his job tends to be more noticeable when he’s not doing it. In a 3-4 defense, it is the D line’s job to occupy O linemen and let the likes of Butler and T’eo clean up. Although the Bolts play out of a wide variety of formations and many are not the traditional 3-4, Reyes’ and Liuget’s jobs tend not to change much.
- Corey Liuget- (see Kendell Reyes) Both of these guys have improved each year of their relatively short careers. Although they don’t show up much on the stat sheet, opposing players speak very highly of the pair.
- Brandon Flowers- It is hard to measure the value Flowers will bring to this team at this point, but make no mistake, if we don’t get better in the defensive backfield we aren’t going anywhere but home come playoff time. Flower’s value could potentially make a huge difference for our rookie Jason Verrett.
- Nick Hardwick- In the twilight of his career, Hardwick is a serviceable center. This ranking may perhaps be more a case of the value of the position than Hardwick himself. He gets a lot out of a smallish frame and certainly doesn’t lack toughness or saavy, but I didn’t think we fell off when Rich Ormberger filled in last year. Ormberger is underrated in my humble opinion.
- Ryan Mathews- Ball and clock control is a huge part of the Chargers’ formula for success and Mathews deserves credit for a very fine effort last season. Even though we added Donald Brown and still have Danny Woodhead, if Mathews can produce like he did last year it will go a long way to winning football. While I wanted to rank him lower, it seems fair to give credit where credit is due. A well-known China-doll, Mathews toughed it out and a repeat performance would be a very valuable asset to our team. If not, Brown will be counted on (and has shown, I might add) to take over and carry the rock.
- Danny Woodhead- The change-of-pace back had a terrific season last year. One could argue, quite easily, that Woodhead was the main reason for Mathews good season. Woodhead is the Eric Weddle of the offense. HE IS A FOOTBALL PLAYER. (I put that in all caps to differentiate between the scrappy players and the guys with prototypical size and speed). Woodhead and Weddle get the most out of just average size and ability and make up for that lack with uncanny football instincts.
- Manti T’eo- We haven’t seen the best of T’eo, but what we did see got better as the season went on. I’m willing to give him a pass because of a rookie learning curve, a delayed start that put him behind, and injury concerns that slowed him down. Don’t be surprised to see T’eo flying all over the field this year.
- Ladarius Green- I see Green making this ranking of 15 look ridiculously low. I wondered why he wasn’t used more last year, but it seems that most everyone (Charger brass included) agrees. It is not out of the question to see him shine with Vincent Jackson-like numbers. Remember that Jackson, while good, was very inconsistent statistically. Always a threat, Green’s presence could also help guys like Allen.
- Antonio Gates- He’s not over-the-hill, but we can definitely see it from here. Gates still gives us a possession receiver and a legitimate red zone target with the chemistry he’s established with Rivers. Don’t write him off yet, but don’t expect career numbers either. The problem we have with Gates is that we keep comparing him to the old Gates instead of the average tight ends in the league.
- Sean Lissemore- (Kwame Geathers, Ryan Carrethers, Chas Alecxih) This is another rotation, possibly deserving a higher ranking, that is crucial to the success of our defense. These guys are the unsung heroes of the defense. If they can hold the line and occasionally get penetration they alone can make this defense go from bad to fair, fair to good, or good to great. More than possibly even our OLBs, this unit can do more to make everyone else better on that side of the ball.
- Shareece Wright- Although Wright was part of a woeful defensive backfield, he was the lone bright spot much of the time out on the corner. It is not unthinkable to propose that with the upgrades we’ve had that Wright will get the job done. When you aren’t pressuring the QB, CBs often look like butter salesmen (for the toast!). The Chargers should be better at getting to the QB and it follows that Wright will be better on the outside.
- Marcus Gilchrist (or Jahleel Addae, who I really like)- Gilchrist was just not very noticeable. That’s bad when it comes to making stops. He will be an important player and does have some skill, but whether it’s at safety, in the slot, or on the corner, Gilchrist is a jack-of-all-trades that is important to a defense. Addae is a thumper that was too often out of position, but as he learns the Xs and Os, has the attitude to bring real character to the back end of our defense.
- Chad Rinehart- Not unimportant (every position is important) the guard position is often one that you only notice when they screw up. Let’s face facts, our OL was VASTLY improved over the year before and all the guys deserve credit. On the OL you’re only as good as your weakest link and together they played solidly all year. Rinehart has injury issues, but was more than adequate when in there.
- Jeromey Clary- (Or whoever starts at RG) Clary was not horrible last year (see Chad Rinehart). He is a horrible RT, but more like an average RG. He did not stand out, which means he’s not great, but also means he didn’t get abused either. Clary held his own inside and, frankly, has the experience to fill in elsewhere as needed. That is not an unimportant characteristic as linemen are constantly getting rolled up on and injuries are, unfortunately, common.
- David Johnson- As a TE or H-back or FB or however they employ him, Johnson will be important. Apparently he is a bulldozer and might end up reminding some of a very popular Charger by the name of Lorenzo Neal. If he does then I guarantee he will be ranked higher than 22 come season’s end.
- Mike Scifres- When you consider how important field position is in football, I have no problem with the argument that Scifres should be much higher in the ranking. Scifres is good and does all of the things a good punter does. And let’s not forget the long-snapper Mike Windt. He’s been super consistent.
- Nick Novak- Novak is an underrated kicker. I wish we had a guy that could automatically start opponents on the 20 yard line with kickoffs, but other than that Novak has been very reliable.
- Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Vincent Brown, Tevin Reese, Dontrelle Inman, Seyi Ajirotutu- Not that these guys aren’t a valuable part of the team, it’s just that you don’t see a big difference in the offense as they shuttle in and out. Rivers throws that way to keep the defense honest, but Allen, Green, Woodhead and Gates are the first options. Royal showed athleticism scoring 8 TDs last year and Reese could be just the guy we need to stretch the defenses. I’m worried about Floyd’s health and wonder if he should have retired. He’s another China doll even though I love his attitude on the field. What has Brown done for you lately? Being a SDSU alum, I’m pulling for Brown, but every time I think of his play the last two years I want to take a nap. I would not be surprised to see Inman make the team as he seems to have potential. Ajirotutu shows flashes (the TD vs the Chiefs among the most notable) and I HAVE just learned to spell him name without having to look it up every time, so that’s a plus. Overall though, the WR group comes in at the bottom of my ranking.
So, while I’m sure there’s plenty of room for argument, a not-so-quick glance down our roster certainly gives us reason to be optimistic about 2014.