The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we stay in the AFC West and take a look at the San Deigo Chargers — a team that could contend for a playoff spot should it remain healthy.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
San Diego Chargers 2016 Preview
2015 record: 4-12 (last place in the AFC West)
Head coach: Mike McCoy (fourth season)
Key arrivals: WR Travis Benjamin, CB Casey Hayward, DT Brandon Mebane, S Dwight Lowery
Key departures: S Eric Weddle, TE Ladarius Green, CB Patrick Robinson
1. Any help on the ground?
Philip Rivers led the NFL in completions and attempts last season. If the team had finished with double-digit wins and earned a playoff spot, that wouldn’t have been an issue. Unfortunately, circumstances made it a necessity for Rivers to toss the ball all around the lot.
San Diego’s leading rusher last season was rookie first-round pick Melvin Gordon. He totaled just 641 yards on the ground while averaging 3.5 yards and coughing it up six times. Overall, the Chargers ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing at under 85 yards per game.
Rivers might be one of the most underrated signal callers in the NFL, but he’s going to need Gordon and Co. to step up big time on the ground.
2. Can the Chargers remain somewhat injury-free?
San Diego’s starting offensive line missed a combined 40-plus games a season ago. Star receiver Keenan Allen was lost for eight games. Future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates missed five games. No team in the NFL could have overcome the injury issues we saw in San Diego last season.
This is going to have to change in order for the Chargers to get out of the AFC West’s basement and contend for a division title.
More than anything else, Rivers needs his star receiver to remain healthy. In eight games last season, Allen put up 67 receptions for 725 yards and four scores. He also caught an absurd 75 percent of the balls thrown his way.
Should Allen remain healthy, the Chargers will be in a good spot on offense. If not, there’s surely going to be some issues, especially with Stevie Johnson already lost for the year.
3. Is Mike McCoy on the hot seat?
There were rumblings that McCoy might be fired following last year’s disastrous team-wide performance. It was somewhat of a bum wrap.
McCoy had led San Diego to winning records in each of his first two seasons as the team’s head coach. It took an injury-plagued campaign for the Chargers to fall behind their competitors in the AFC West.
Though, we’re going to definitely be keeping an eye on this whole thing in 2016. Should the Chargers remain relatively healthy and still fail to compete in a difficult division, McCoy’s seat will eventually become fiery hot.
Melvin Gordon, running back
The assumption here is that Gordon isn’t going to prove to be a downright bust. Here’s a dude that absolutely dominated stiff competition in the Big 10 in college. He has what it takes to be a dynamic back in the NFL.
Was last season a mirage or the start of a pattern? This is going to be the biggest question heading into Gordon’s sophomore campaign.
Gordon hasn’t necessarily shown a ton during the summer, but he’s been able to get on the field and remain healthy. That’s the biggest key right now after he underwent off-season knee surgery.
Should Gordon show himself to be recovered and provide Rivers some balance on offense, it would be huge for the Chargers. Expect that to happen in 2016.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
There’s still a nice mesh of talent on this roster. Is it the most-talented roster in the AFC West? No. Is it the least-talented roster in the division? Well, that remains to be seen.
What we do know is that Rivers will do enough on his own to keep the Chargers competitive. Even during the team’s four-win 2015 campaign, nine losses came by one score.
Should other members of the squad remain healthy, the Chargers will surely be improved from a season ago.
Now add in the upside the likes of Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon and Travis Benjamin provide, and we could be looking at a vastly superior squad from last season.
REASON TO DOUBT
What if Gordon proves to be a bust? What if Allen can’t remain healthy? These are two major concerns for the Chargers on offense. It’s just not a sustainable situation to have Rivers toss the ball as much as he did last season.
Defensively, there are also concerns. Who is going to replace the departed Eric Weddle as the face of the defense? Can Brandon Flowers actually play at a high level anymore? Where’s the team’s pass rush going to come from?
There simply seems to be way too many questions for the Chargers heading into the 2016 season. And with the likes of the Oakland Raiders improving from last year, it’s possible this is the least-talented team in a competitive division.
Prediction: 7-9, last place in AFC West