WELCOME BACK: Major talent at safety. The Chargers were weakened at this position two years ago when Eric Weddle left in free agency, but they selected Florida State's DERWIN JAMES 17th overall to come to the rescue. Addressing safety affects more than one position, because a general softness up the middle affected the entire L.A. defense, including what should be a major strength, their pass rush.
JOEY BOSA and MELVIN INGRAM are one of the league's most electric pass rushing tandems, but their attack suffered late last year when they had to play more conservatively to help a run defense that ranked 32nd in yards per attempt. Chargers GM Tom Telesco addressed that deficiency by drafting not only James but also linebacker UCHENNA NWOSU in the second round and tackle JUSTIN JONES in the third. All three are potential starters who could redefine the middle of the L.A.defense.
The Chargers finished 2017 first in total passing for three reasons: 1) PHILIP RIVERS, 36, is a bona fide field general who shows no sign of decline; 2) KEENAN ALLEN became a true No. 1 receiver, displaying unmatched route-running mechanics, particularly on in-breakers; and 3) offensive coordinator KEN WHISENHUNT's scheme, which is sophisticated in disguising its intentions. With a receiving corps that includes Allen, a healthy MIKE WILLIAMS (the seventh pick in the 2017 draft) and downfield weapons TYRELL WILLIAMS and TRAVIS BENJAMIN, L.A. should again have one of the league's most effective passing games.
To become a Super Bowl contender the Chargers must improve a rushing attack that ranked 24th last season. MELVIN GORDON needs a scheme that defines his point of attack. Second-year coach ANTHONY LYNN over the years has employed "gap scheme" runs that feature pull-blockers and man-to-man blockers. Gordon has shown he can thrive in such plays, which will help forge L.A.'s identity on the ground. New addition MIKE POUNCEY, signed from Miami, can help with the athleticism he supplies at center.
2017 RECORD 9W 7L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 10W 6L
21st TITANS [In London]
13th @CHIEFS [Thursday]
23rd RAVENS [Flex/Saturday]
WHEN HIS career comes to an end, the Hall of Fame debate regarding PHILIP RIVERS will be fascinating. He has the gaudy stats but not the playoff success—at least not yet. Among people in football, though, his skills are held in the highest regard.