It is safe to say that most fans of the LA Chargers are extremely excited for the team in 2021. Brandon Staley has taken over with a brand-new staff and from top to bottom, the Chargers seem to have the talent to make a deep playoff run.
The Bolts do have all the makings of being a legitimate Super Bowl dark horse. Helping their claim of being a dark horse team is the fact that NFL pundits are doubting the Chargers, at least as far as the talent of the roster is concerned.
ESPN's Mike Clay ranked every single team by every single position group ahead of the 2021 NFL season (ESPN+ subscription required). Charger fans are not going to be happy with where the team ranked.
The LA Chargers were ranked as the 19th-most talented team in the NFL.
Nineteenth might not seem all that bad but considering there are 14 playoff teams in total, it puts the LA Chargers on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.
It is fair to rank the Chargers 19th. That puts them right below league-average and after the last two seasons that the team had it is fair for someone outside of the Chargers world to not expect the best-case scenario for the team.
That being said, some of the specific position group rankings felt far too low, which contributes to the team ranking 19th. Were they to rank higher, the Bolts would have had a better overall ranking as well.
The quarterback unit ranked 12th. While we are talking about position groups, it is mostly dependent on the starting quarterback, in this case being Justin Herbert. I understand ranking Herbert that low and I do not fault Clay, but I would have moved him them up two spots ahead of both Cleveland and Los Angeles.
I know there are Matt Stafford believers out there but I still rank Justin Herbert ahead of them.
Running back ranks 13th, which is fair. Austin Ekeler is a top-10 back but the depth of the position is more important and is not as good as other teams. Wide receiver seems low at 19 with Keenan Allen leading the way, but I get if someone is doubtful of Josh Palmer and Tyron Johnson making a big impact in 2021.
Personally, I would still rank them ahead of the Giants, Washington Football Team, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Rams. But hey, to each their own.
Tight end at 23 is fine but can definitely shoot up much higher after the season and the offensive line ranking 16 is actually a great thing. While I would tweak some of the offensive grades, I can't fault the ballpark that the Chargers ranked at these positions.
I think they will ultimately prove those rankings wrong, but based on past performance and different expectations, those rankings are fine. It is the defense that presents a problem.
Interior defensive line is 23rd, which is fair, and edge rusher is the highest-ranked position for the Bolts, ranking 11th. Fine with those. However, off-the-ball linebackers being 25th, cornerbacks being 22nd and safeties being 19th is absurd.
Kenneth Murray is one of the best young linebackers in the game and is getting overlooked as well. Not only that, but Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill have balled out and give the Chargers a legitimate three-headed monster to play two inside linebacker positions. They are much better than the 25th-ranked linebacker group.
I can understand cornerbacks ranking 22nd, but they should be ranked higher. Michael Davis has all the traits of being an elite corner and showed those flashes last season. Asante Samuel Jr. has been a stud in camp and Chris Harris is an overqualified third corner. I wouldn't put them above 16, but definitely well above 22.
Ranking safety at 19th is the worst of the bunch. I get there is a lot of question marks around Nasir Adderley and that the depth is not great. That being said, the Chargers have a top-five safety in Derwin James that is actually healthy. When one-half of the starting duo is that elite you cannot rank the position that low.
The LA Chargers defense is going to prove a lot of people wrong this season, not only showing the talent on the roster but the kind of coaching impact that Brandon Staley has on the defense.