2016 Chargers positional outlook: Wide receivers
By Travis Wakeman
Continuing with our series of position-by-position look-ins, we focus on the wide receivers today. Though it’s been a few weeks since we’ve added to this series, it’s time to pick things back up as we are drawing near to the opening of training camp.
If you’d like to get caught up on my older positional outlooks, here are inside linebackers, running backs, safeties and tight ends.
With 11 wide receivers currently on the roster, the Chargers are sure to see a fierce battle at the position during camp this summer. This is also one of the positions I think you could see a surprise or two.
Last season, injuries plagued the wide receiver corps and Philip Rivers had virtually no help from the position as the season wore on. Instead, he was turning to his tight ends and Danny Woodhead as his most trusted passing targets. This season, the door is wide open for a relatively unknown wide receiver or an undrafted free-agent to make the final 53-man roster and make an impact early on.
Locks to Make Final Roster
Keenan Allen: Keenan Allen will continue to build on a career that could culminate in him becoming the most prolific wide receiver in team history. Yes, that’s a big statement, but he has the talent to make it happen.
Hopefully Allen can stay healthy this year. Last year, he was on his way to posting one of the best seasons in NFL history in terms of receptions. This year, Rivers will target him often in the passing game and the duo will look to pick up right where they left off.
Travis Benjamin: One of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, Travis Benjamin will be expected to be a big contributor from day one in San Diego.
Benjamin had by far the biggest season of his career in 2015, catching 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns. During the first three years of his career with the Cleveland Browns, he really only made an impact on special teams, something he can still do in San Diego.
Now as a legitimate option in the passing game and a dynamic return man, Benjamin should make a big splash in San Diego.
Stevie Johnson: Yes, Allen and Benjamin are the only players I see as “locks” to make the team. That said, I’d be fairly shocked if Stevie Johnson didn’t make it.
He played well when he was in there last season, stepping up as a legitimate option for Rivers as the team dealt with injuries to Allen and Malcom Floyd.
Still just 29 years old and with eight professional seasons under his belt, Johnson had 45 receptions for the Chargers last year. There’s no reason not to let him expand upon that.
Dontrelle Inman: I feel I’ve been fairly vocal in speaking out against Dontrelle Inman here at Bolt Beat. I think he’s been an underachiever who hasn’t fully taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given.
Here’s a guy who has played in 21 career games and has just 47 catches. That’s not great production, and I feel he needs to separate himself from the wide receivers behind him on the depth chart. Nothing should be guaranteed when it comes to Inman’s position on the team.
Tyrell Williams: Quite the opposite of Inman, Tyrell Williams is a young player that fans should be excited about. Though he only has two career receptions, one was an 80-yard touchdown catch against one of the best defenses the league has seen.
At 6’4″ and 205 pounds, Williams has the size to make an impact in the league. He will be a player to keep an eye on throughout camp as it will be interesting to see if he can use the way he finished 2015 to build confidence and become a star this year.
Javontee Herndon: Javontee Herndon played in eight games last season and caught 24 passes for 195 yards. Most of that was because the team was so depleted by injuries, but he was there to help when his number was called.
Herndon may not be a dynamic NFL player, as he averaged just 8.1 yards per catch last season, but let’s see what kind of advantage having played in those eight regular season games has given him.
Dom Williams: A perfect selection for the wild card in this section, as Dom Williams put up big numbers while in college.
Though he came from a pass-heavy offense at Washington State, it’s hard to ignore 192 catches for 2,889 yards and 30 touchdowns in four seasons.
At 6’2″ and 200 pounds, the Chargers need to give this guy a long look because I believe he’ll outshine guys like Herndon and Inman this summer. At the very least, a spot on the practice squad, which would allow him to develop in the team’s system, should be in his future.
WON’T MAKE FINAL ROSTER
Isaiah Burse: This is a player I like, I just don’t believe he’ll get enough reps this summer in such a crowded field.
Burse began his career as an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State with the Denver Broncos. There, he was used primarily as a punt return man and not so much as a wide receiver. He registered a 7.2-yard average on 29 punt returns with the Broncos.
Still, he caught 210 passes at Fresno State, including 100 as a senior. Does Burse have what it takes to play wide receiver in the NFL? We may never know.
Jamaal Jones: Undrafted out of the University of Montana, Jamaal Jones sits near the top of the major receiving categories in school history. His 184 receptions are good for third ever and his 3,021 career receiving yards is a school record.
Jones will get lost in the shuffle this summer, however, after coming from a small school. His best bet as a rookie will be to secure a spot on the team’s practice squad.
Torrence Allen: Though this will officially be Torrence Allen’s third season in San Diego, how many Chargers fans even know who he is?
Undrafted out of West Texas A&M in 2014, Allen spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad before spending nearly the entire 2015 season on the “Reserve-Injured” list with a foot injury.
There will be some room for a darkhourse candidate in this group to step up, but it might be too much to ask of a guy who hasn’t done anything in two years.
Deandre Reaves: An undrafted wide receiver from Marshall, Deandre Reaves is actually one of three undrafted wide receivers the Chargers brought in this spring.
Reaves is a speedy, shifty wide receiver who was used primarily as a return man in college, though he did catch 56 passes as a senior. He’s quite similar to Benjamin in many ways and could really give the team a boost in the return game, as he returned three kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown in college.
But Benjamin can do that too, so it’s tough to justify a spot for Reaves when he wouldn’t be used as much in the passing game. I do, however, think you give him a spot on the practice squad.
53-MAN ROSTER PREDICTIONS
Here are the wide receivers I believe make the roster this season.