2016 Chargers position outlook: Running backs
By Travis Wakeman
Though we are still a couple months away from training camp, where the real position battles will begin, I am going to start a new weekly series looking into each positional unit for the San Diego Chargers.
Rosters around the league are sitting right around 90 players right now and by the time the season starts, nearly half of those 90 will be looking for jobs elsewhere.
Here, we will delve into the San Diego Chargers roster position-by-position, laying the groundwork for what’s to come later this summer. We will talk about the players at each position and determine which ones will make the final 53-man roster. Once training camp starts, it may be necessary to revisit some of the positions and look back at the original predictions.
Up first, the running backs.
The Chargers were one of the worst teams in the league last season in terms of running the football. Only the Detroit Lions ran for less yardage on the season and the Chargers were ranked dead last in both yards per carry (3.5) and rushing touchdowns (4). The team was also ranked No. 31 in rushing yards per game at 84.9.
Those are statistics that will need to change drastically this season, and the Chargers will have to do that with virtually the same running backs as last season. However, there will be two big differences this year.
Ken Whisenhunt is back as the team’s offensive coordinator. In his lone season in that role with the team, the Chargers ranked No. 13 in the league in rushing. They also averaged 4.0 yards per carry that season and 123 yards per game.
In addition, the Chargers drafted fullback Derek Watt, so we’ll have to see how he figures into the running game as well. Aside from Watt—who will make the squad—here are the other running backs on the roster.
Dec 20, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead (39) is tackled by Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (52) during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Locks to Make Team
Melvin Gordon: After a highly disappointing rookie season, the Chargers will be hoping he bounces back in a big way in 2016. He’ll still be the team’s featured running back and with the help of Whisenhunt, fans will be hoping he produces the way Ryan Mathews did in 2013. There will likely be a huge celebration when he scores his first career touchdown.
How much of a question will his knee be after microfracture surgery?
Danny Woodhead: Danny Woodhead is an excellent complementary running back and is as good as any running back in the league at catching balls out of the backfield. Down the stretch last season, he was Philip Rivers’ most trusted target with all the injuries the team had to deal with.
Oct 25, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Branden Oliver (43) runs during the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Branden Oliver: While he shouldn’t be considered a lock to make the roster, it would be quite surprising if he didn’t.
Branden Oliver is a solid No. 3 running back who has rushed for 690 yards and caught 49 passes in his first two seasons in the league.
Nov 14, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars running back Kenneth Farrow (35) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Memphis Tigers at TDECU Stadium. The Cougars won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Kenneth Farrow: Watch out for this kid. He will be the player to keep an eye on in training camp this summer after going undrafted out of Houston.
At the college level, Farrow amassed impressive stats. He ran for 2,980 yards and 34 touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He also caught 74 passes during his time at the school.
If he can prove he can be a productive pass-catcher and can learn to protect the quarterback, he could push Oliver for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
Nov 14, 2015; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen fullback Chris Swain (37) runs through Southern Methodist Mustangs linebacker RC Cox (32) tackle during the first quarter at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Won’t Make the Cut
Dreamius Smith: Undrafted out of West Virginia last season, Dreamius Smith had two separate stints on San Diego’s practice squad. He was added to the active roster for the team’s Week 16 game against the Oakland Raiders.
There is simply too much competition in front of him. Barring an injury, he’ll be left off the final roster.
Chris Swain: If not for Watt, Chris Swain would have a decent chance of making the final roster as the team’s fullback.
Undrafted out of Navy, Swain is a willing blocker and a hard-nosed runner. He could be used as a short-yardage back and be similar to what Mike Tolbert used to be for the Chargers.
Look for him to be a candidate for the team’s practice squad, though the Chargers will have to work with his military commitment.
As of right now, I’d say Gordon, Woodhead, Oliver, Watt and Farrow make the final roster. The Chargers will want to keep five running backs, taking extra precaution against Gordon not bouncing back from knee surgery.
Farrow will turn some heads in camp and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.