Philip Rivers: He has regained his form under head coach Mike McCoy. Although he lost OC Ken Whisenhunt, that hasn’t affected the offense so much as Frank Reich has also been around the game for awhile. The fiery Rivers has managed the offense in 2014 just like he did in 2013, leading the charge to a playoff run and first round victory on the road. He thoroughly carries out the strategy by moving the chains and milking the clock, which has been a blessing for the defense’s improvement. In 4 weeks he has thrown 9 touchdowns and only 1 interception, completing 70% of his passes with an outstanding rating of 114.5. Good enough for a 3-1 record, including a highlight victory against the reigning champions, the Seattle Seahawks. Playing great football at age 32, this is still his team for the foreseeable future.
Donald Brown: A familiar face that GM Tom Telesco brought over from the Indianapolis Colts, it was only a mater of time before Brown got involved. He became a stable back that the Colts moved on from after trading a first rounder for Trent Richardson. So, Brown provided the necessary insurance for a tough, but injury-prone Ryan Mathews. It just so happened that he was the only experienced back on the roster after Danny Woodhead went down too, for the season.
Branden Oliver: The undrafted rookie found himself on the field after the first two backs on the depth chart got sidelined. Oliver played 6 snaps and got 3 carries in week 3, then he got 13 total touches for 59 yards in week 4. He played more snaps when the Chargers got up on the Jaguars, this coming after Brown struggled to find much success and the team started feeding him a little bit to see what he has to offer.
Shaun Draughn: The veteran was released by the Chicago Bears after he got beat out by rookie Ka’Deem Carey to backup Matt Forte. Draughn signed with the Bolts after Mathews and Woodhead got injured. In his 4th season, Draughn most notably played in all 16 games for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012. That was when Jamaal Charles got injured, and during that 2nd season he went for: 59 carries, 233 yards, 3.9 yards per carry, and 2 touchdowns. He is likely to be the odd man out when Mathews returns to form, sometime between weeks 6-9.
Ryan Mathews: This man was on a mission last year, where he finally played in every game, 18 counting the playoffs. He’s had to persevere through nagging injuries, and dodged a bullet by only spraining his knee to miss a handful of games. He will be back during the middle of the season, as this is his contract year and he has everything left to prove. When healthy, Mathews will look to build off of last year’s success: 285 carries, 1,255 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, and 6 touchdowns. In 2013 he ran for triple-digit yardage half a dozen times. This team misses him because his rushing TD in week 1, is still the only scored SD has on the ground.
Keenan Allen: He rose to the top of the receiving core with rookie campaign that got stronger as the season unfolded. Allen leads the team in targets, receptions, and yards. He has done his damage between the 20s, leading the team with 14 first downs. He has yet to cross the endzone, but that has resulted in multiple scores for his trio of teammates: Malcolm Floyd, Eddie Royal, and Antonio Gates. He has demanded the attention of opposing secondaries, so it wasn’t until week 4 that the rising star exploded by catching a dime for 135 yards. The #1 receiver in San Diego will surely assert himself the next month or so, heading into the Chargers’ week 10 bye.
Malcolm Floyd: The big-bodied deep threat patiently plays his role, after recovering from a tough-to-watch neck injury in 2013. Floyd looks just like he did before going down. So far he has grabbed a couple touchdown passes with an average of 20 yards per catch. Rivers will continue to give this guy a couple jump ball opportunities each week. The 6’5 wide out is a good run blocker and could be used more if the team wanted to throw more, but their ball-control style gives them a better chance to win and it’s working.
Eddie Royal: The slot demon is healthy and at it again. The recipient of two scores in week 3 and week 4, Royal provides a different dimension most teams don’t have. A different dimension the Chargers lacked with him sidelined last season. He has a nose for the seam, and apparently the endzone, with a team-leading 4 touchdowns. Even with a healthier Ladarius Green, Royal should still be involved as a favorite of both Coach McCoy, and QB Rivers. He brings that type of excitement where he can make a splash off a reverse
Seyi Ajirotutu: I can’t tell you what it is and maybe it’s just a numbers game, but I’ve been calling for this guy to get more playing time. Last season he picked up 20 yards per catch, much like Floyd’s production. He’s been a special teams contributor and a fill-in receiver, but I wouldn’t panic if one of the starters were to go down. This is a run-first team that passes to move the chains and keep possession. Ajirotutu is more than capable of stepping in like he did in 2013, and I actually think he deserves to be in the rotation but is currently a backup without a catch.
Dontrelle Inman: This is a CFL prospect that flashed some excitement in camp. This is basically his red-shirt season to learn the offense and earn his stripes, perhaps on special teams. Last season in the CFL he caught 50 balls for 739 yards and 6 scores. I noticed his comfort going across the middle and in limited action, looked to play in a similar style that Allen plays.
Antonio Gates: A hot start for the veteran most thought was starting to go downhill. Or, perhaps he’s fresh to start the season and the toll might eventually be too much, as it was last season. The gates opened in weeks 1 and 2, where he went off for 13 catches and 177 yards. He was the x-factor in putting points on the scoreboard against the Seahawks, torching them for the hat trick, 3 touchdowns. Since then, he caught 4 passes for 38 yards in weeks 3 and 4 combined. Whether it was him being ineffective, or the team easing his workload in a pair of convincing wins, remains to be seen. I think the Bolts will pick and choose their matchups to feature him wisely, to keep his legs as fresh as possible.
Ladarius Green: He’s got potential and continues to be the understudy, but I get the feeling that he is getting eased into the offense like a year ago. Green will continue to spell Gates and play in dual tight end formations, but he should see more snaps in the slot eventually as well. There is no hurry for the Chargers or Gates to pass him the torch quite yet, but that will naturally happen next season, if not in the second half of 2014. That is if his hamstring injury doesn’t linger, as it usually does, and it even causes other injuries such as the back or other muscles in the leg.