Five Things to Watch For in Chargers Training Camp
How Will Wide Receiver Targets Shake Out?
In 2016, quarterback Philip Rivers threw for more than 4,200 yards and 33 touchdowns, which has become the standard for him. Looking forward to 2017, the Chargers wide receiving corps should be one of the strongest he’s had. The talented and still young Keenan Allen is now healthy again. After three years of fluke injuries, Allen will look to overcome a rough start to his career. Despite his injuries, he has managed 116 catches for 1,217 yards and eight touchdowns over his last 16 games.
Third-year wideout Tyrell Williams will be looking to cement his role as the No. 2 wideout opposite Allen. Williams finished the 2016 season with a team high 1,059 yards and 69 catches on 119 targets. As a big bodied receiver, Williams should keep a fair target share in 2017, especially if rookie Mike Williams misses time to injury. And the duo of Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman should also compete for targets. Benjamin has never been a volume guy but is a constant big play threat. Inman, on the other hand, works mostly out of the slot and played 90 percent of the snaps in 2016, leading all wide receivers.
The relatively unknown in this equation is NFL rookie and former Clemson star Mike Williams. As the No. 7 pick in the first round, the Chargers clearly expect the rookie to contribute right away. However, conflicting reports about Williams herniated disk are concerning, though Williams himself is confident that he will be playing in 2017. It is possible that Williams is able to flash early and take the No. 2 spot across from Allen. However, it seems more likely that Williams settles in as the WR3/4 in this offense, if he is playing at all. With a lot of competition for targets, it’s tough to see Williams having significant fantasy value early in the year.
Will Hunter Henry Surpass Gates?
The Charger tight end duo finished 10th and 11th in standard leagues, despite a fairly equal time share. After missing two games due to a hamstring injury, the 36-year-old Antonio Gates was able to gain 548 yards and catch seven touchdowns. However, Gates failed to reach 45 yards in any of his last nine games. Fellow tight end Hunter Henry hauled in eight touchdowns and 478 yards receiving in his rookie campaign. Based on his success as a rookie, we would expect him to be even more heavily involved in his second year.
Unfortunately, the two tight ends together only hurt each others fantasy value. Gates has become a late round flier who is touchdown dependent. And although Henry should be due for more involvement, there are still too many weapons at Rivers disposal to make him a consistent TE1. Both are worth drafting, however, expectations should be tempered for a duo that is bound to have a split for both time and targets.
Who Will Emerge As Melvin Gordon’s Handcuff?
In 2016, running back Melvin Gordon rushed 254 times for 997 yards. Take away a PCL sprain in Week 12 and Gordon would have neared 300 carries and topped 1,000 yards for the first time in his two NFL seasons. Behind Gordon, there is a host of players fighting for the No. 2 spot. Pass-catching back Danny Woodhead is gone, making Kenneth Farrow the incumbent backup. Farrow saw 60 carries and managed 192 yards. He will be battling with former backup Branden Oliver, who missed all of 2016 after a preseason Achilles tear.
Oliver last played in 2015, when he only saw 31 carries due to another season-ending injury. He will have high hopes of contributing and regaining the impact he made as a rookie when he ran 160 times for 582 yards and two scores. Finishing up the depth chart are running back Kenjon Barner and Andre Williams. Williams started one game for the Chargers in 2016 and ran for 87 yards and on carries. Barner has gotten just 69 touches in his two-year career. With Gordon being featured as one of the true bell-cow backs in the NFL, his handcuff truly is just that and will only hold value due to injury.
How Will Coaching Changes Effect The Offense?
The Chargers will be under the command of a new head coach entering the 2017 season. The Chargers hired former running backs coach and one-year offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Anthony Lynn, as their Head Coach for 2017. What will be interesting in the 2017 season is how the offensive play-calling shakes out. Under Lynn, the Bills led the league in rushing each of the past two seasons. However, they were near the bottom of the NFL in nearly all passing categories. On the other hand, the Chargers were among the better throwing teams in the league but struggled overall on the ground.
|2016 League Ranks||Total Passing||Pass TD||Total Rushing||Rush TD|
Over his past 10 seasons, Phillip Rivers has thrown for more than 4,200 yards in nine of them and had at least 26 touchdowns in every one. Lynn has helped produce nine different 1,000-yard rushers in his 14 seasons and prefers to run an offense through the ground game. Considering the difference in previous schemes and new ones, I would expect there to be more balance between the run and pass game in 2017.
Will Offseason Additions Pay Off?
Head Coach Anthony Lynn took no time implementing his new system this offseason by replacing three starting offensive linemen. The Chargers finished as the No. 31 ranked offensive line in 2016 according to profootballfocus.com. To alleviate this, they signed former No. 6 overall draft pick Russell Okung to a four-year deal. They also drafted two offensive linemen in the second and third rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, guards Dan Feeney out of Indiana and Forrest Lamp from Western Kentucky. Both ranked among the best in the nation in their senior seasons and draft expert Todd McShay had Lamp as his top lineman in the entire draft. Both players will look to contribute early on and perhaps start for the Chargers in 2017.
For more updated news, notes, and analysis, on the Chargers training camp, check out Chargers.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others. You can also check out the rest of the TFA training camp series, covering all 32 teams.