We’re 10 days away from training camp, so now it’s time for our 10th bold prediction for the San Diego Chargers.
Bold Prediction No. 10: DL Corey Liuget and OL D.J. Fluker will make the Pro Bowl
Also, these men have two other things in common: they were both former first-round picks, and they both lost a significant amount of weight this offseason. Liuget, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been one of the few bright spots on defense since coming into the league. Fluker, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has seen his ups and downs thus far.
Even Liuget, who was rewarded with a five-year, $51.25 million contract extension (currently the seventh-highest paid 3-4 defensive end) last offseason, hasn’t played as well as many would like to see. According to Pro Football Focus, Liuget saw a dip in production in 2015, grading out as the 77th-best interior defensive lineman, which included finishing 18th among 3-4 defensive ends in run-stop percentage and 40th in pass-rushing productivity. Getting hurt played a huge role, of course. After playing 16 games for three consecutive seasons, Liuget missed five games in 2015 due to a foot injury.
Liuget has shown how good he can be (his stats/grades for his 2012 and 2014 seasons back it up), and he’s done it while commanding double teams; but I believe he has the ability to be one of the best 3-4 ends in the game. What does he need? He needs some help on the other side of the line. What did the Chargers do? They drafted Joey Bosa with their first pick in the 2016 draft. They also added nose tackle Brandon Mebane, a player they’ve been missing for a long time.
The year Liuget finished with seven sacks and nine pass deflections (2012), which was second to J.J. Watt’s 16, Kendall Reyes played well opposite Liuget, and Aubrayo Franklin/Cam Thomas did enough to hold down the nose tackle position.
Liuget, who is still only 26 years old, is motivated after a down year. He slimmed down and plans to play at 290 pounds this season. That, and the fact that the Chargers finally threw him a care package by adding Bosa and Mebane, will allow him to rack up more sacks and dominate in the run game. He’s an underrated player who will get his first Pro Bowl nod.
Speaking of slimming down, have you seen Fluker? He looks like a completely different person. Even though the work ethic is there, Fluker has been inconsistent on the field. Like Liuget, Fluker missed several games last year due to injury. The offensive line in general was in shambles by the end of the year.
It also doesn’t help that he switched positions, going from right tackle–a position he’s played his entire life–to right guard last season. But after getting one season down at playing guard, I expect Fluker to be more comfortable and confident in Year 2 at that position.
And also like Liuget, the Chargers finally added help to Fluker’s line by upgrading the center position, which is one of the big reasons why I see Fluker flourishing in 2015. Veteran Matt Slauson (or even third-rounder Max Tuerk) will be the key for the offensive line to succeed (and, of course, staying healthy).
With offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt back, we should see a brand new running game, too. If Fluker and company thrive, the running game will as well, and that will only help Fluker’s chances.
The odds for Fluker may not be as high compared to Liuget, but the former first-rounder could pave his way to the Pro Bowl if he can dominate as a run blocker and hold up in the passing game on a consistent basis. Holding off these dangerous AFC West front sevens would prove that Fluker is a worthy candidate.