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Chargers news: ESPN ranks Los Angeles offensive weapons 16th

Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Chargers are undergoing a notable change at quarterback entering 2020, and that’s reflected in ESPN’s latest offensive-weapons rankings.

2020 is a transitional year for the Los Angeles Chargers for a number of reasons, but not more poignant than the switch from longtime quarterback Philip Rivers to another signal-caller, rookie Justin Herbert.

Herbert may or may not win the job outright this season, depending largely on what happens with the competition between the former Oregon Duck and the veteran, Tyrod Taylor, between now and Week 1.

But it doesn’t change the fact Herbert is expected to become the face of the franchise sooner than later.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is banking on a number of offensive pieces to give either Taylor or Herbert the needed punch and prowess to get head coach Anthony Lynn’s squad out of the basement of the AFC West. In such a difficult division with the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs atop the football world, it’s important to have key offensive weapons.

And those Chargers weapons didn’t go unnoticed by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, who put together an aggregate compilation of each team’s top offensive contributors into a power ranking, of sorts, heading into 2020.

Turns out, L.A. did pretty good for a team coming off a last-place finish last year and potentially fielding a rookie quarterback, as Barnwell ranked the Chargers offensive weapons 16th.

Barnwell’s assessment was as follows:

Melvin Gordon’s disastrous holdout and subsequent campaign opened up the door for Austin Ekeler, who averaged 122.5 yards from scrimmage over the first month of the season and earned an extension afterward. Ekeler was below-average as a runner as his workload increased and will need help from either Joshua Kelley or Justin Jackson between the tackles, but he was third in the NFL in yards per route run and fourth in targets per route run. He’s a valuable weapon.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen basically posted an identical line in 2018 and 2019, but Mike Williams suffered the indignity of touchdown regression past the mean. After scoring 10 times on just 43 receptions in 2018, he scored twice on 49 catches last season. Williams led the league by averaging 20.4 yards per grab, but while he jumped from 664 yards to 1,001 yards in his third season, he needed 24 more targets to get there. I’m not factoring quarterback play into this analysis, but it’s likely his numbers will drop in 2020 with the Chargers drafting Justin Herbert to replace Philip Rivers.

There are plenty of truths to be had here. Gordon’s absence from the field turned into a blessing in disguise, of sorts, as it opened up the door for Ekeler to be a breakout stud and potential linchpin heading into 2020.

Considering first-year quarterbacks thrive off a good run game and tailbacks who act as receiving options out of the backfield, it makes a ton of sense. And if a running back isn’t a rookie quarterback’s best friend, a tight end sure is.

Barnwell also hinted the Chargers’ own, Hunter Henry, could be a major factor in boosting L.A.’s offense regardless who winds up playing under center this season. If Henry winds up providing that kind of thump this season, it’s only good news for Lynn and Co.

One could expect, however, both Allen and Williams see a notable drop in their production this season. While both receivers reached the 1,000-yard plateau in 2019, and Williams finally had his breakout campaign after being little more than a so-so receiver beforehand, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see both players’ numbers decrease significantly without Rivers and his prolific arm at the helm.

Still, L.A. has a good share of weapons atop the depth chart at the skill positions. Depth behind them, however, is a bit more questionable. Especially at wide receiver, where there remains a key positional battle in training camp to determine who winds up being the No. 3 option.

Perhaps the two drafted rookies, Joe Reed and/or K.J. Hill, wind up making names for themselves as decent reserve options this season.

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Either way, despite the Chargers’ frustrating finish to 2019, one can at least bank on the idea Lynn’s squad won’t be hurting too much for offensive firepower this season.

As long as everyone stays healthy and the production stays mostly consistent.