San Diego Chargers: WR Position Battle

mccoy rivers

Alright, so Keenan Allen is the rising star entering his second season. In a short amount of time he and quarterback Philip Rivers have developed quite the chemistry. In training camp Allen is leading the wideouts in drills. The guy looks like he’s been around the league for a long time. His routes are polished and his speed throughout drills and scrimmage are on another level in comparison with his teammates. Plus, he’s caught nearly every ball and he makes it look easy, even on the sidelines. This guy is set to have a Pro Bowl caliber campaign.

Behind him are Malcolm Floyd and Seyi Ajirotutu. Floyd looks better than before his neck injury last season. His routes are crisp and he just keeps making play after play. Allen may be the YAC receiver of the group, but Floyd has been using his body and hauling in Rivers’ passes. Ajirotutu on the other hand, I like him more than most despite a couple drops. Most of his contributions have come on special teams, but the guy averaged over 20 yards per catch a year ago. Coach Mike McCoy needs to do more than just sprinkle him in. He’s not a burner, more of a possession receiver, but his deceptive speed gets him behind cornerbacks and he’s got a feel for the seams in a zone.

After those three, most would say that Eddie Royal is a lock to return. I reluctantly agree, especially since he’s played for McCoy in Denver and San Diego, so there’s familiarity and trust there. My problem with Royal has nothing to do with his skill set. He helps the team out in the return game, aside from being a slot receiver. He also has the ability to take a hand-off or a pitch to catch the defense off guard. All those are reasons he will make this team.

San Diego product, Vincent Brown, just hasn’t been the same since injuring his ankle a couple seasons ago. From what I’ve seen in games and at the recent camp practices, he doesn’t really get open. There’s a lot of incompletions that come his way, he lacks the separation skills he once had. When he does catch a pass, he isn’t really a threat to gain more yards up the field. Being the veteran that played on last year’s playoff team, I don’t see the staff changing too much on an offense that ranked in the top 5.

Tevin Reese

 

Tevin Reese getting by the defensive back and hauling in a pass.

Tevin Reese is a rookie, a similar mold to the veteran Royal. Of course you need a sure-handed returner and that’s the advantage Royal has proven to have. It’s only training camp but that’s the sample size we have out of Reese. He’s a fast receiver that always seems open. No, he’s not the prototypical big target that Rivers favors to throw to, but he brings that Royal element and is faster at this point in their careers. If the Chargers keep six receivers then there’s room for both, but it may be a challenge to see Reese make the cut if only five guys make it. Running back Danny Woodhead is an excellent receiver, both out of the backfield or out of the slot. His versatility makes one of the speed receivers expendable, and that’s most likely Reese. They should only allow Allen to return punts in key situations, perhaps in the 4th quarter or with playoff hopes on the line, you want that guy healthy as possibly for the long haul. That’s another aspect that Woodhead’s versatility kicks in as one of the most valuable players on the entire roster.

The others in the mix are Dontrelle Inman and Micah Hatfield, the rest are currently long shots and simply camp bodies. They just haven’t stood out yet, in my opinion. The 6’3 Inman comes from the CFL, where he posted 50 receptions, 739 yards, 14.8 average, and 6 touchdowns last season. Allen looks well-rounded, Floyd is the possession guy, Ajirotutu is a deep threat, Royal and Reese are the speedsters, I would place Inman’s style closest to Floyd. He’s a big guy that knows how to use his body across the middle. Hatfield, standing 6’1, likes to get the ball in space on short to intermediate routes. That style resembles Allen the most, using his route running to gains separation. These two, along with Reese, will give the coaches a dilemma on the final cuts as long as they keep up the good work. Having too many potentially good players is a good problem, better than the alternative.

If it’s up to me, I go out on the limb and move on from the injury-prone Royal: Allen, Floyd, Ajirotutu, Reese, Inman, and Hatfield as the 6th target. The signing of Pittsburgh Steelers FB David Johnson is a critical, yet below-the-radar acquisition. Johnson can work out of the backfield and off the tackle as a tight end, so he could be the third man on the depth chart behind Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. This would ultimately save a roster spot to keep an extra receiver, since that is the deepest position on the roster despite the inexperience.

Realistically, I believe McCoy and offensive coordinator Frank Reich roll with the veteran Royal and only a handful of targets: Allen, Floyd, Royal, Ajirotutu, and Vincent Brown.Also factor in the fact that the team will utilize more two-tight end sets to protect Rivers, pave the ay for Mathews, and get mismatches on linebackers. I do believe Reese has the edge over the undrafted candidates. He brings that speed element that could contribute on special teams and fill in for Royal if he gets banged up again. I think two of these guys that don’t make it get brought in by other teams with receiver needs.