Following consecutive 9-7 seasons in 2013 and 2014, the Chargers won just four games last year, which earned them the No. 3 pick in the draft. They were among the lowest-graded teams on both sides of the ball, largely due to their play in the trenches. No team graded worse in pass protection than San Diego, while their run-defense grade was also the worst of any team.
Let’s see what moves they made in free agency and the draft to address some of those weaknesses.
Offseason grade: B
New Arrivals: WR Travis Benjamin, S Dwight Lowery, CB Casey Hayward, DT Brandon Mebane, C Matt Slauson, TE Jeff Cumberland, QB Zach Mettenberger
Re-signings: TE Antonio Gates, T Joe Barksdale, DI Damion Square, QB Kellen Clemens, S Jahleel Addae, T Chris Hairston
Departures: S Eric Weddle, TE Ladarius Green, LB Donald Butler, DT Kendall Reyes, WR Malcom Floyd, CB Patrick Robinson, RB Donald Brown, LB Joe Mays, TE John Phillips, CB Cassius Vaughn, P Mike Scifres, S Brandian Ross, FB David Johnson, T Jeff Linkenbach, LB Kavell Conner, DT Ricardo Mathews, C J.D. Walton
San Diego made several notable moves during free agency, including two on the offensive line. First they retained their best performer there in tackle Joe Barksdale, the only player on the unit with a positive grade last season. Second was adding Matt Slauson from Chicago. Slauson brings a strong career grade over seven seasons, and played well in 2015 while splitting time between center and guard. He’s a massive upgrade over Trevor Robinson, PFF’s lowest-graded center in 2015.
On defense, the Chargers let go of a pair of continuing under-performers in the front-seven, Kendall Reyes and LB Donald Butler. Brandon Mebane should be an improvement on early downs, although he’s been just average over the last two seasons, a significant drop from his peak in 2013 (fifth-best overall grade among interior defenders that year).
In the secondary, the team downgraded at safety going from Eric Weddle, who was PFF’s second-ranked safety in coverage last season, to Dwight Lowery. Conversely, they upgraded at corner, getting CB Casey Hayward at just over $5 million per season. That’s a steal after Hayward graded better in coverage than other free agents (Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson) who saw much more money go their way this offseason.
2016 NFL draft
- Round 1 (pick No. 3) Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
- Round 2 (pick No. 35) Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
- Round 3 (pick No. 66) Max Tuerk, C, USC
- Round 4 (pick No. 102) Joshua Perry, ILB, Ohio State
- Round 5 (pick No. 175) Jatavis Brown, ILB, Akron
- Round 6 (pick No. 179) Drew Kaser, P, Texas A&M
- Round 6 (pick No. 198) (from Minnesota) Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin
- Round 7 (pick No. 224) Donavon Clark, G, Michigan State
There’s little to complain about with the Chargers’ draft. They started by grabbing the top player on PFF’s draft board at No. 3. Joey Bosa was the highest-graded edge defender over the last two college seasons, and brings excellent production in both facets on defense.
Hunter Henry, the top tight end in this class, didn’t drop a pass in 2015, and fits nicely alongside Antonio Gates, filling the role left by Ladarius Green. Tuerk in the third round further bolsters the offensive line after compiling positive grades in both facets before going down to injury last season.
The team added a pair of linebackers on day three; Perry missed just nine tackles in over 200 attempts over the last two seasons at Ohio State, while Jatavis Brown had pass-rush and coverage grades that both ranked in the top four of this draft’s linebacker class. The second of their sixth-round selections, Derek Watt, posted the second-highest grade among FBS fullbacks.
The Chargers look improved heading into training camp with some solid moves made in free agency and the draft, but the playoffs still look far away given how poorly they played on both sides last season, and with Philip Rivers coming off the worst year of his career, grade-wise. Getting Ken Whisenhunt back at offensive coordinator should help—Rivers’ best passing grade of the last five years came under Wisenhunt in 2013—as will an improved offensive line after the unit surrendered pressure on 39.7 percent of dropbacks last season, the fifth-highest rate in the league.