Chargers' 53-man roster prediction heading into 2024 training camp

As the Chargers sit about three weeks out from training camp, here's a potential 53-man roster prediction with some of the tough decisions they'll have to make.
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The start of LA Chargers training camp is right around the corner and the team will be tasked with cutting the roster from 90 players all the way down to 53.

Jim Harbaugh's first roster cuts with the Bolts will include many tough decisions that will be influenced by training camp itself. Before training camp even begins, let's dive into how the Chargers' 53-man roster could shake out.

Chargers 53-man roster projection before training camp:

Quarterbacks (2): Justin Herbert, Easton Stick

The debate here will be keeping two quarterbacks vs. keeping three. But with the NFL's recent rules update surrounding the emergency third quarterback, it doesn't seem that there's much utility to keeping three. Former GM Tom Telesco even acknowledged this roster reality last year when Max Duggan was left off of the initial 53-man roster.

Even more so than in the 2023 roster construction, the Chargers need depth throughout the roster other positions. It's hard to really be sold on a three-quarterback structure with this version of the team after their roster reset.

Perhaps there's a world where Max Duggan has some breakout preseason games and the Chargers start to feel iffy about practice squad placement. But other teams poaching fringe roster quarterbacks tend to be pretty rare.

Running backs (3): Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Kimani Vidal

This is one of those inflection points in roster construction that could go either way. Currently, my belief would be that Isaiah Spiller is firmly on the bubble. After Joe Hortiz and Jim Harbaugh acquired three running backs that fit their offensive philosophy this offseason, Spiller and Elijah Dotson would have to earn a spot on the 53.

Another factor to watch for here is special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken. Spiller has been a healthy scratch in recent seasons when Ficken has been more comfortable with other players contributing on special teams. This was evidenced by Larry Rountree being active for four games in 2022. The same pattern played out in 2023 with the aforementioned Dotson. If Spiller can't consistently be a special teams presence, it's hard to see a guaranteed role for him.

Health is obviously something to watch as well. HC Jim Harbaugh confirmed that Gus Edwards dealt with a seemingly minor injury during minicamp. J.K. Dobbins has played nine games in the past two seasons as he's struggled to stay on the field. An early injury in training camp or preseason could have the Chargers pivot to four running backs, potentially a more concrete spot for Spiller.

Wide Receivers (7): Joshua Palmer, Ladd McConkey, Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis, DJ Chark, Cornelius Johnson, Brenden Rice

Seven receivers tends to be an uncommon convention on a 53-man roster in the NFL. But there are several instances of it happening historically. This year, there's legitimate reason for the Chargers to consider the structure.

Let's start with the obvious: no more Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. More depth is needed. The Chargers went out of their way to take three wideouts in the draft while signing DJ Chark. Competition is the name of the game, as Harbaugh and others have put it.

In addition to having more playable options on the offense itself, the Chargers also probably want more versatility on special teams. Cornelius Johnson was a stud in that regard with Harbaugh at Michigan. Brenden Rice is a physical blocker himself. With the new kick return rules, Derius Davis' presence becomes more relevant than ever.

The Chargers might end up going with six, but right now there is a well-defined role for each receiver listed here.

Tight End/Fullback (4): Will Dissly, Hayden Hurst, Donald Parham Jr., Ben Mason

Hayden Hurst and Will Dissly make up the team's top tight-end duo. Hurst will attempt to get his career back on track after dealing with concussion issues in Carolina last year. Will Dissly was brought in on a three-year deal to beef up the teams' blocking scheme.

Outside of the top two, the rest of the picture is less clear. Donald Parham Jr. and Stone Smartt will get the opportunity to compete for roster spots. Zach Heins and Luke Benson are two options that probably represent the best opportunity for a 2024 Chargers' UDFA to make the roster on the offensive side of the ball.

Andy Bischoff spoke highly of newly acquired free agent Ben Mason back in April. The team doesn't want to limit his responsibilities to strictly a fullback role. Considering the nature of a Greg Roman offense, I'd favor a presence like Mason's over Heins or Benson at the moment. But the margins are obviously thin with a lot to be determined during camp.

Offensive line (9): Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Bradley Bozeman, Trey Pipkins, Joe Alt, Jamaree Salyer, Foster Sarell, Jordan McFadden, Brenden Jaimes

The starting offensive line seems locked in already. Trey Pipkins has formally earned the starting right guard job in a training camp capacity. The writing has been on the wall ever since HC Jim Harbaugh said he wanted the five best offensive linemen on the field after the team drafted Joe Alt. Bradley Bozeman also swapped into the starting lineup in place of the recently retired Corey Linsley.

Jamaree Salyer at swing tackle makes the most sense if he's not going to be a part of the starting unit. Besides him, I've filled out the rest of the offensive line room with Foster Sarrell, Jordan McFadden, and Brenden Jaimes.

The Chargers will have some competition for all of the non-starting depth spots. In addition to four undrafted free agents, the team also signed former first-round pick Alex Leatherwood. Leatherwood was a member of the Bears' practice squad last season.

EDGE (4): Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Tuli Tuipulotu, Bud Dupree

There's nothing to really debate here, especially after the Bud Dupree signing. As long as Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack make it through training camp healthy, these are the four. I'd tap Ty Shelby and Tre'Mon Morris-Brash as early favorites for the practice squad.

Interior defensive line (6): Poona Ford, Morgan Fox, Otito Ogbonnia, Scott Matlock, Justin Eboigbe, Chris Hinton

How the final depth chart shakes out here will be interesting to watch. Poona Ford probably slots in as the Chargers' top nose tackle, despite mostly being a healthy scratch for Buffalo last year. Outside of that, it's a real hodgepodge for the rest of the five players listed here with playing time.

Morgan Fox will get considerable time due to his pass-rushing ability, but doesn't traditionally fit the Jesse Minter model as far as defensive size is concerned.

IDL is arguably the thinnest position group the Chargers have right now.

Linebacker (5): Denzel Perryman, Daiyan Henley, Junior Colson, Nick Niemann, Troy Dye

With Ryan Ficken back in the fold, this feels like a simple enough group to predict. Denzel Perryman, Daiyan Henley, and third-round draft pick Junior Colson will make up the primary starting rotation linebackers. Nick Niemann and Troy Dye will mostly carry out their jobs on Ficken's special teams, barring injuries to the top three guys.

Cornerback (6): Kristian Fulton, Asante Samuel Jr., Ja'Sir Taylor, Deane Leonard, Cam Hart, Tarheeb Still

Right now, the starting cornerback group for the Chargers looks like it'll be Kristian Fulton and Asante Samuel Jr. operating outside with Ja'Sir Taylor playing in the slot. There will still be plenty of competition throughout camp to determine that though. Deane Leonard played well enough in spots last year when asked to contribute.

It's also not far-fetched to potentially see Cam Hart or Tarheeb Still winning significant playing time outright. Still has reportedly shown early flashes during minicamp and OTAs as he likely competes with Taylor for the slot role. Cam Hart was one of the most battle-tested and experienced cornerbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft. It wouldn't shock me if either rookie were a day-one starter.

Safety (4): Derwin James, Alohi Gilman, Tony Jefferson, AJ Finley

The Chargers paid Alohi Gilman this offseason to be able to retain their top duo at safety. The rest of the picture outside of those two is uncertain, to say the least.

LA signed former Ravens' safety Tony Jefferson out of retirement recently after a minicamp tryout. He worked in Baltimore's scouting department with now Chargers' GM Joe Hortiz last season. Derwin James vouched for his signing in one of the final media availabilities of June minicamp.

The path to Jefferson making the roster feels pretty clear. He may certainly be past his prime as the metrics from his most recent NFL seasons show, but he knows the system inside and out. He brings a veteran presence that the team doesn't otherwise have towards the bottom of the depth chart at safety.

If Jefferson is leaning towards roster lock, that leaves just one spot available for AJ Finley or JT Woods. Akeem Dent could also be a name to watch here as an under-the-radar free agent. For the time being, I went with Finley due to experience and overall lack of question marks.

Special teams (3): Cameron Dicker, JK Scott, Josh Harris

Copy and paste from last year's group. There's no reason to fix what isn't broken. The odds of all three of the core special teamers staying together definitely increased with the return of Ficken on the new coaching staff.