Between the eight players the team selected and the undrafted free agents that were signed, the San Diego Chargers currently have 28 new rookies on the team. How many of them will bring a positive long-term return remains to be seen, but how many of them will the team turn to in the immediate future?
Here, we will look at the players who will start from opening day against the Kansas City Chiefs for San Diego and, barring injury, will stay in that role throughout the season.
Apr 29, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers first round draft pick Joey Bosa speaks to media during a press conference at Chargers Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Joey Bosa, DE
Of course he’s going to start. The team didn’t draft Joey Bosa with the No. 3 overall pick to sit on the bench.
Bosa will start at defensive end and be expected to produce immediately. The Chargers had only 32 sacks last season, so they are hoping that Bosa can help increase that number dramatically as a rookie.
It’s a good bet that he will, after racking up an impressive 26 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in three seasons at Ohio State. Bosa is the kind of player the Chargers have been missing since the days of Shawne Merriman in his prime, and fans should be excited about that, because Bosa has the ability to be much, much better than Merriman.
Bosa isn’t the only rookie linebacker with a chance to be a starter this season. Though fourth-round pick Joshua Perry is unlikely to unseat Manti Te’o for his starting spot at inside linebacker before the season starts, it is a possibility later in the year if Te’o struggles or misses time due to injury.
Dec 30, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers fullback Derek Watt (34) is tackled by USC Trojans linebacker Olajuwon Tucker (34) during the first quarter in the 2015 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Derek Watt, FB
Ken Whisenhunt will place a new emphasis on having a fullback involved in the running attack this season. That much was evidenced by the fact that the team selected a fullback in the sixth round of the draft when it could have gotten one as an undrafted free agent.
Derek Watt was an interesting draft pick for a variety of reasons, but most of all, he’ll allow Whisenhunt to expand his playbook. You’ll see more I-formation in San Diego than we’ve seen in recent years, as Watt is strong as a lead blocker. On top of that, he stands up well in pass protection and can leak out of the backfield and become an option in the passing game due to his good hands.
Back when the Chargers used to run the ball all over any team they faced, Lorenzo Neal was opening holes for LaDainian Tomlinson. While Watt may not be on the same level as Neal, he can open holes for Melvin Gordon and help ignite the rushing attack.
#Chargers 6th-rounder, FB Derek Watt, may be most interesting pick for SD. Curious to see if presence helps/comforts Gordon on & off field.
— Annie Heilbrunn (@annieheilbrunn) May 1, 2016
While at the University of Wisconsin, the fullback who Gordon ran behind as he amassed the kind of rushing stats you only see in video games…. was Watt. The Chargers are a perfect fit for J.J. Watt’s little brother.
Sep 5, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies punter Drew Kaser (38) punts the ball during the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Drew Kaser, P
Not only did the Chargers select a fullback in the draft, they also chose a punter by taking Drew Kaser out of Texas A&M. The team must really like the kicking game of the Aggies, as placekicker Josh Lambo came out of the same school last year.
Kaser finished his college career with a 46.2-yard average on 168 punts, including a 47.5-yard average in 2015, which led the SEC Conference. At 6’2″, Kaser is a big punter with a strong leg. He is also a good directional kicker.
However, he’s not going to have the punting job handed to him. Kasey Redfern is also on the roster. Having played his college ball at Wofford in South Carolina, Redfern spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming to San Diego. He’s never played in an NFL game.
Having these two guys on the roster helped make the decision to release veteran punter Mike Scifres, who had been with the team since 2003 after the team selected him in the fifth round of the draft that year.
Whoever wins the punting job will have big shoes to fill, and the competition between Kaser and Redfern should be one of the more interesting position battles to keep tabs on during camp.
We’ll project Kaser as the winner, and as the team’s punter for the foreseeable future.