Oct 19, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Branden Oliver (43) is defended by Kansas City Chiefs free safety Husain Abdullah (39) during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
According to Robert Mays on Grantland.com, the Chargers have a pair of exceptional rookies that, at this point in the season, deserve to be looked at as candidates for the fictional, yet fun, All-Rookie team. Can you guess who they are?
Surprise! One happens to be UDFA Branden Oliver. Here’s what Mays had to say on the selection:
Branden Oliver, RB, Chargers
We’re a game or two away from the running backs in the 2015 draft leaving flaming bags of shit on Branden Oliver’s stoop. Oliver is just the latest argument for waiting on running backs until late in — or after — the draft. Undrafted out of the University of Buffalo, Oliver leads all rookie runners with 316 yards, almost all of which he’s racked up in the Chargers’ past three games.
Finding someone like Oliver is a welcome surprise, but he’s also the sort of spark the Chargers were desperately searching for in the run game. San Diego was the worst rushing team in football coming into its game against the Jets (who happen to have maybe the league’s best run defense). Oliver went for 114 yards on 19 carries against Mo Wilkerson and Friends, and three weeks later, the Chargers are all the way up to 27th in rushing DVOA. It’s still not great — but it’s better!
Wearing no. 43 and standing 5-foot-7, Oliver got the Darren Sproles comparisons instantly, but that connection doesn’t go very far. Oliver weighs almost 210 pounds, and San Diego has shown it’s willing to let him grind it out on the ground (he had 26 carries against Oakland). What he and Sproles do share is that each makes you sit up in your chair. Every Oliver carry has “holy shit” potential.
Those are some pretty high praises for an undrafted rookie. I do agree that the Sproles comparisons are based on height and number and little else. He appears to hit the inside gaps much harder than Sproles ever did, and there’s plenty of time for him to get his pass blocking up to snuff.
The Chargers need to lean heavily on Oliver today to control the clock and keep Manning off the field. I hope to see Oliver get closer to 30 carries today against the Broncos, nearly double his total against the Chiefs when the Chargers held the ball for only 21:00. 30 carries is a tall order for a 5’7″ back, but Oliver is a grinder and seems to get better as the load gets heavier. With a good game against the Broncos, Oliver could enter the real Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
And the second All-Rookie candidate? Starting corner Jason Verrett.
Jason Verrett, CB, Chargers
It’s not a stretch to say the Chargers had the league’s worst pass defense a year ago. Even a jump to merely being average has been impressive, and Jason Verrett has been a significant part of that. It didn’t take long, either. San Diego’s season opener against the Cardinals was still probably his best game, but the most telling one about what he means to the Chargers probably came last week. With Verrett sidelined with a shoulder injury (and Brandon Flowers out with a concussion), the Chiefs passing game had an easy day against the Chargers. Verrett returned to practice yesterday, which is big news for San Diego. It’ll need all the help it can get tonight against Peyton Manning.
Verrett has laid any negativity about his height to bed. His active play and ball skills almost neutralize the height advantage of his man. Verrett and Flowers have been the reason for the turnaround in the secondary, and last week we saw just how bad a regression the defense makes without them on the field. Verrett is questionable today against the Broncos, but if he plays through his lingering shoulder injury, will have a huge impact in the game for the defense.
What this article shows me is just how complete TT is in his off-season planning. Adding rookies all the way from the first round to undrafted that can step in and contribute right away is a huge reason why the Chargers have a chance to go 6-2 after the game tonight.
Another guy who I think could be in the conversation for impact rookies in OLB Jerry Attoachu. He has struggled to get on the field even more than Verrett, but has had a major impact every time he gets out there. I’m waiting for him to be the outside pass-rusher the Chargers have needed since Lights Out. Let’s finish the first half of the season strong against the Donkeys tonight.