Philip Rivers will have one of the best receiving corps he has ever had in 2016. With all of these weapons at his disposal, the Bolts are going to be putting up big numbers.
The days of Rivers throwing deep to Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates are long gone. Rivers has relied on a more methodical approach with receivers like Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson catching short passes instead of pushing the ball down the field.
Although the methodical approach has been pretty effective the past few seasons, the Chargers lacked a true deep threat. They decided to sign former Cleveland Brown Travis Benjamin to a four-year deal to provide a boost to the offense.
Benjamin wasn’t the only big move the Chargers made to help out Rivers. San Diego was unable to re-sign Ladarius Green in free agency and it left them without a reliable backup tight end. Gates is still productive, but with injury concerns it made sense to find a reliable second option just in case Gates were to go down. They selected Hunter Henry out of Arkansas in the second round of the draft. Henry will be Gates’ long-term replacement when Gates decides to hang it up.
With their new additions, the San Diego receiving depth chart is as follows:
Taking a look at the wide receiver depth chart, the Bolts have a deep group.
Prior to a devastating kidney injury that ended his 2016 season, Allen was brilliant for San Diego, catching 67 passes for 725 yards and finding the end zone four times in eight games. Even with missing half of 2015, he was given a four-year contract extension.
Last season, Allen absolutely dominated the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. In the two games, Allen caught 29 passes on 32 targets for 323 yards. That is the type of threat he can be when healthy.
NFL.com’s Matt Harmon loved Allen’s performance.
It's unreal how wildly dominant Keenan Allen was in the games against the Lions and Packers this past season.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) June 29, 2016
Allen is going to be the No. 1 target for Rivers, and as long as he can remain on the field, he is going to have a monster year.
The newest member of the receiver group is Benjamin. Benjamin was the No. 1 receiver for Cleveland in 2015. On an offense that struggled to score points, Benjamin was just shy of a 1,000-yard season.
Benjamin will be looked upon to stretch the defense with his blazing speed, which will free up Allen over the middle. According to Pro Football Focus, Benjamin racked up 363 yards on eight receptions and scored four touchdowns on passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield.
A true deep threat, Benjamin can provide the Bolts with big plays and will allow for the other receivers to flourish.
Johnson is a nine-year veteran who has seen it all. Having multiple 1,000-yard seasons in Buffalo a few years ago, Johnson’s numbers have dropped, but he remains a solid option for the Chargers.
Having a year under his belt in San Diego will help him and Rivers gain trust. When defenses are worried about the other talented receivers on the field, Johnson will be running free. Our Travis Wakeman broke down why Johnson is going to be an important piece for San Diego’s offense in 2016.
The fourth receiver on the team, Dontrelle Inman, is a great depth piece. He played very well when Allen went down, and in the final weeks in the season Inman proved he deserved a spot on the roster. Having him as the fourth receiver is kind of a luxury. He knows the system and now has a rapport with Rivers.
The bottom of this position’s depth chart is full of talent. Javontee Herndon and Tyrell Williams have completely different skillsets but both bring something special to the table. Herndon brings quickness and is a kick-return threat for the Chargers, while Williams’ big frame gives him the ability to stretch the field and out jump defensive backs.
The San Diego wide receiver group is solid and full of talent. With Rivers throwing the football to these guys, they can be a special group if healthy.
Along with the talented group of wideouts, the tight end group is right up their with them. Led by future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, the Chargers’ tight ends are focused on being receivers rather than blockers.
There is no denying that Gates is an all-time great and somehow, someway he is still productive. At 35, Gates was still able to put up good numbers. If he can manage to stay healthy for one more year, he and Rivers can continue to connect on touchdown passes.
Sitting behind Gates is rookie Hunter Henry. The best tight end in the draft, Henry does not drop passes. PFF graded him as the best receiving tight end in the nation last year. Henry is very lucky to be learning from one of the greatest of all time.
Henry will see a good amount of playing time, but allowing him to get accustomed to the NFL bodes well for his development. Henry’s game should translate to the NFL with ease especially with Gates’ help. Expect San Diego to use a lot of two-tight ends sets to get Gates and Henry on the field together.
Behind Henry and Gates is Jeff Cumberland. A former New York Jet, Cumberland is going to be great for depth. He’s a veteran who understands his role and, if Gates or Henry gets hurt, a player who can step in and be solid.
If you were to ask, “Who was the Chargers’ best receiver in 2015?” The answer may shock you. It wasn’t Gates, Allen or Johnson. It was running back Danny Woodhead. He had 80 catches for 755 yards and snagged eight touchdowns. Woodhead is a machine coming out of the backfield. Rarely does he drop a pass, and Rivers always looks to Woodhead when he’s about to get sacked.
With all of Melvin Gordon’s struggles, Woodhead was asked to take the load at running back. San Diego’s running game at times was molded into Woodhead’s receiving ability. The Chargers would run screens and passes out of the backfield to open the field up to the receivers.
If you were to talk about the Chargers receiving corps without Woodhead, it would be a crime. Woodhead is one of the best targets for the Bolts, and that trend should continue in 2016.
Overall, Rivers is going to have plenty of targets to throw to. If San Diego can avoid the injury bug, the team should find a lot of success passing the football.