Very few surprises as Chargers release first unofficial depth chart
By Matt Pagels
The Los Angeles Chargers released their first unofficial depth chart for the 2017 season. Were there any big surprises?
The unofficial depth chart is out. Keep in mind the Chargers have yet to play their first preseason game, which is this Sunday at home against the Seattle Seahawks, and head coach Anthony Lynn stated that the chart doesn’t mean much at this point in time.
On that note, let’s dissect what we’ve seen:
- Third-year pro Tyrell Williams is listed as the team’s No. 2 wideout opposite Keenan Allen. Williams, who led the Chargers with 1,059 receiving yards a season ago, is a player that shouldn’t be slept on, according to NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal. Williams can catch the deep ball as well as turn short catches into huge gains because of his speed. Chargers.com’s Ricky Henne says Williams has been making at least one eye-popping catch in each practice. He really has made a name for himself.
- Even though Travis Benjamin is having arguably the best camp, the 2016 free-agent acquisition is behind Williams on the depth chart. That doesn’t mean Benjamin is being demoted. Now that the 27-year-old is fully healthy, look for him to carry his success in camp over to the preseason/regular season.
- Jeff Cumberland is reportedly looking great and developing a strong chemistry with Philip Rivers, making big plays in the passing game, so it’s surprising to see him listed behind Sean McGrath as the team’s fourth tight end.
- Matt Slauson, who played center for the Chargers in 2016, is penciled in as the team’s left guard, with Spencer Pulley holding down the starting center job. Kenny Wiggins is currently the starting right guard. 2017 third-rounder Dan Feeney is the only player listed twice, as he’s the backup center and right guard. Feeney has been seeing first-team reps at both positions, though, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not he beats out Wiggins or Pulley. Meanwhile, Max Tuerk, the Chargers’ 2016 third-round pick, is listed as the backup to Slauson. He’s had a quiet camp, but I’m curious to see if he steps it up in the preseason. 2016 seventh-rounder Donavon Clark, who had a strong camp last season before tearing his ACL in the preseason, is the third-team guard. Overall, this group is very versatile.
- I asked ESPN’s Eric D. Williams which running back (aside from Melvin Gordon) was standing out in camp. He mentioned Branden Oliver, so it’s not a surprise to see him as the current backup to Gordon. Many fans (including myself) were high on 2017 undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler, but he’s the sixth RB on the chart behind Gordon, Oliver, Andre Williams, Kenjon Barner and Kenneth Farrow. Unless he dominates in every preseason game, it’s going to be hard for him to make the team.
- Kellen Clemens continues to be Rivers’ backup. Cardale Jones, who was acquired via trade, reportedly has a strong arm but lacks accuracy and needs to work on his mechanics. Let’s see what the 2016 fourth-round pick does in the preseason.
- On paper, the Chargers’ defensive line looks really good, especially if defensive tackle Corey Liuget plays like his former self (and he should rebound in Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme). Having Tenny Palepoi, Damion Square, Darius Philon, Jerry Attaochu, Caraun Reid and Isaac Rochell, who’s apparently standing out, as backups is really impressive. Even DE Chris McCain is making some plays. Attaochu is having a solid camp, per Williams. The 2014-second rounder has a ton of potential and if breaks out, this group becomes even more dangerous.
- The same could be said for the Chargers linebacker corps. The biggest surprise is right here, with 2017 undrafted free agent James Onwualu being listed as the team’s backup OTTO linebacker over Joshua Perry. Onwualu’s been turning heads at camp. Before training camp started, I made a case for Onwualu to make the 53-man roster (don’t let me down).
- As for the secondary, Trevor Williams is the No. 2 corner opposite Casey Hayward. Jason Verrett, who’s back at practice as a full participant, was given the injured label on the depth chart, so he didn’t qualify. Desmond King, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2017, is listed as a safety (third-stringer), which is a bit surprising since many thought he’d compete for the nickel corner job, which he likely still is. Corners Trovon Reed and Michael Davis, both of whom were undrafted free agents, have stood out, which likely had something to do with it. The secondary reportedly killed it in Tuesday’s practice.
- Tre Boston, who signed a one-year deal with the Bolts in the offseason, has been splitting first-team reps with Dwight Lowery at free safety. Lowery, last year’s starter, owns that job as of now, but I don’t see him holding on to that spot come Week 1. Two players listed towards the bottom of the chart that I’m excited to see in the preseason: safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Dexter McCoil. These are “Gus Bradley guys.”
- Josh Lambo is listed as the starting kicker, but undrafted free agent Younghoe Koo is hot on Lambo’s tail.
- Benjamin is listed as the punt returner and Barner is listed as the kick returner. There’s promise here. Let’s hope they perform well, because God knows the Chargers need help at this position.
- Here’s a fun fact: There are six undrafted free agents listed as starters on offense and defense (TE Antonio Gates, WR Tyrell Williams, CB Trevor Williams, SS Jahleel Addae, C Spencer Pulley and RG Kenny Wiggins).