It’s official. NFL Hall of Famer, two-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback, and General Manager for the Denver Broncos John Elway believes the Los Angeles Chargers are the team to beat in the AFC West.
In Omaha, Nebraska, as reported by Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King, he told members of the media:
“It’s the wild, wild West. I thought the Chargers did a really nice job with the draft. They’ve got the settled quarterback, even though the Raiders do, too. Looking at it, [the Chargers] may be the ones to beat. As I stand here, looking at it, the Chargers might be the team to beat.”
The Kansas City Chiefs are the two-time AFC West champs. They may have something to say about that. Does Elway really believe his words or is he playing mental games? Or maybe he’s trying to boost sales in his Southern California car dealerships by luring in giddy Chargers fans. He has three such franchises.
So far, the Chargers have had a fruitful offseason. But should they already pop open the champagne bottles? Or order hats and t-shirts proclaiming their unearned title as AFC West champions? Sure. If they want to jinx it. This is the NFL. You earn it on the field, not on paper.
In the most current ESPN’s Power Rankings, the Chargers sit at No. 12. Even though they gave up the third-fewest points in the league, they continue to shore up the defense. As the saying goes, “Defense wins championships…because it does!”
Whether Elway is right or wrong, it looks like the Bolts are doing their best to make him right.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. gave the Chargers a B+ grade for this year’s NFL draft, for what that’s worth. The draft is too often hit or miss. How many teams passed up on four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady before the New England Patriots plucked him with the 199th pick in the sixth round?
The Chargers selected a huge number of defensive players. Their top pick was safety Derwin James out of Florida State at the 17th spot. At 6’ 3” and 215 pounds, he should be an instant impact. Over the past 25 years, first round safeties have eventually made the All-Pro team 25.7% of the time.
The only position with a higher All-Pro payoff is linebacker with 26.4%. Oh! Wait! The Chargers selected USC LB Uchenna Nwosu with their second-round pick. Perhaps Nwosu could also contribute to an already strong defense.
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These additions could push the defense to a No. 1 ranking in points allowed. If the other team can’t score, that equals more victories.
But they’re not neglecting the offense. In free agency, they picked up three-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. And since 37-year-old tight end Antonio Gates is reaching the twilight of his career, they were able to pick up seven-year veteran tight end and San Bernardino-native, Virgil Green. It appears he could be the future Hall-of-Famer’s replacement.
These are great additions to the core of the Chargers offense, which includes six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers (4,515 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 96.0 rating), running back Melvin Gordon (284 carries, 1,105 yards, 3.9 yard average, 8 touchdowns), and wide receiver Keenan Allen (102 receptions, 1,393 yards, 13.7 yard average, 6 touchdowns).