Positional Reviews

San Diego Chargers Positional Review: Quarterbacks


Having Philip Rivers makes the Chargers set at quarterback going into 2016 — and beyond. However, there’s not much behind him on the bench and Rivers, 34, isn’t getting any younger. It’s time for Tom Telesco to look to the future.

Positional Strength: B+

QBs currently signed through 2016: Two

Philip Rivers

Rivers played at a high level in 2015 despite having to drop back behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and throwing to a receiving corps decimated by injury. Rivers ended the season with 29 touchdowns versus just 13 interceptions, and his 4,792 passing yards were second-most in the league. Rivers’ 93.8 QB rating (the same rating as last year) was tied for his second-highest in the past five seasons.

However, similar to last season, Rivers was on fire to start off the season but faded down the stretch. Through the first eight weeks, Rivers was on pace to break the single-season passing yards record, averaging nearly 350 yards per game and completing 70.4 percent of his passes. Heading into Week 9, Rivers had five consecutive games with over 300 yards.

The second half of the season was a different story. Rivers’ average yardage dropped nearly 100 yards a game (255) and he only completed over 70 percent of his passes once — against Miami. While this drop in performance can almost certainly be attributed to the loss of wide receiver Keenan Allen (who was on pace for a record-breaking year of his own before lacerating his kidney), Rivers also started facing much better defenses in the second half. In four out of the last eight games, Rivers faced top-10 defenses. In those games, Rivers averaged just 217 yards passing and thew just two touchdown passes altogether.

It is somewhat disconcerting that Rivers’ play has dropped down the stretch two years in a row. Of course, if the Chargers could actually protect Rivers, this likely wouldn’t be the case. If the Bolts can bolster an offensive line that gave up 40 sacks and improve the league’s second-worst running game, I am sure Rivers will bounce back to peak form in 2016.

Brad Sorensen

Rivers is still capable of playing at an elite level, but the Chargers’ quarterback grade drops a bit because of who the Bolts have sitting behind him.

Since being drafted in the seventh-round in 2013, Sorensen has spent time on both the active roster and practice squad but has never gotten into a meaningful game. Based on his play in the preseason, it is clear Sorensen is at best a third-string option.

In 12 preseason appearances, Sorensen has only managed to heave five touchdowns and 10 interceptions while playing primarily against players unlikely to make their teams. He has also consistently shown accuracy issues, especially under pressure. Last preseason. Sorensen completed just 55.1 percent on his passes and averaged a pathetic 4.9 yards per attempt.

Still, despite his poor preseason performances, Sorensen has flashed some potential. At 6’5″, he has ideal size and boasts a much stronger arm than Rivers or Kellen Clemens. Also, at only 27, the former Southern Utah star is still fairly young.

Sorensen, having signed a reserve/futures contract, will have one last chance to prove that he is more than a camp arm. However, at this point, the odds are against him.

Unrestricted Free Agents: One

Kellen Clemens

With Rivers starting 169 consecutive games, the Chargers’ backup quarterback position has never really been of any consequence. Still, with Sorensen ill-prepared to take the reins and Clemens an unrestricted free agent in 2016, the Chargers’ front office will have some decisions to make regarding depth at the position.

The Chargers could re-sign Clemens, who knows the offense and authored an impressive drive in garbage time against Minnesota this season, going 5-of-6 for 83 yards and a touchdown.

However, it may be in the team’s best interests to move on from Clemens and find a backup with a bit more upside. At 32, Clemens’ best years are behind him.

Clemens, at his best, has never been a good quarterback, having thrown 20 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns for a 69.5 quarterback rating over his 10-year career. Even in preseason last year, Clemens wasn’t all that impressive, throwing only one touchdown pass as the offense struggled to get into any kind of rhythm.

Re-signing Clemens may ultimately come down to money. If Clemens wants another two-year, $3 million deal — the deal he signed with the Bolts in 2014 — then it’s probably time to part ways.

Clemens’ best attribute is his experience in the offense, but even if the new backup quarterback is inexperienced, it probably wouldn’t matter much. With the Bolts going 4-12 with Rivers under center, I can only imagine what the Chargers would have looked like with a backup at the helm.

Free Agent Targets

With Rivers’ contract eating 17.59 percent of the salary cap, the Chargers are unlikely to spend much in free agency on the quarterback position. Taking that into consideration, the following free agent quarterbacks have a history with members of the Chargers’ organization and would each come relatively cheaply.

Charlie Whitehurst

Old “Clipboard Jesus” has already had two stints as Rivers’ backup. Why not make it a third? Whitehurst last followed Ken Whisenhunt to Tennessee to get a chance to start, and with the Whiz returning to the Chargers, it makes sense for the Bolts to bring back Whitehurst.

Drafted a round later the Clemens in the 2016 draft, Whitehurst is actually a year older than Clemens, but without quite the wear. Whitehurst would likely come a bit cheaper, too.

Whitehurst actually put up some solid numbers in 2014, throwing for seven touchdowns and just two interceptions for a solid 87.4 quarterback rating. This season, Whitehurst filled in for Matt Hasselbeck to lead the Indianapolis Colts to an 18-12 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 16.

Still, Whitehurst is coming off a hamstring injury, and Telesco, who is the one who allowed Whitehurst to leave in free agency in 2014, has yet to display a proclivity for bringing back past talent.

Drew Stanton

Working as the Colts’ director of player personnel in 2012, Telesco was part of the front office that traded for Stanton. Telesco now has the chance to bring Stanton to the Chargers.

Under the tutelage of Bruce Arians, Stanton, has developed into a solid backup behind Carson Palmer in Arizona. In 2014, Stanton proved that he was more than prepared to take over Arizona’s offense, throwing for 1,711 yards and seven touchdowns while going 5-3 in his eight starts.

Even at age 31, Stanton would be a better athlete than any of the Chargers’ current quarterbacks, and since he has repeatedly been lauded for his knowledge of the Cardinals’ playbook, would likely pick up Mike McCoy’s offense relatively quickly.

Still, it’s doubtful Stanton will walk away from Arians and the Cards, unless some major money is involved. While Stanton would be an improvement, he’s not worth trying to pry away from desert.

Scott Tolzien

Once open a time (2011), Tolzien was a young undrafted free agent that flashed some preseason potential with the Bolts. He was subsequently cut by Norv Turner and A.J. Smith and has since become a decent backup working with quarterback whisperers Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco) and Mike McCarthy (Green Bay).

In 2013, Tolzien, replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers, showed solid accuracy by completing 61.1 percent of his passes for 717 yards. However, Tolzien was intercepted five times in that same stretch and has yet to win a game in the NFL.

However, over the past two preseasons, Tolzien has put up decent numbers, throwing five touchdown passes and only interception. Also, at only 28, Tolzien still has some room to grow.

With Green Bay set with Aaron Rodgers and with rookie Brett Hundley waiting in the wings, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Packers decided to let Tolzien explore free agency.

Draft Targets

Given that the Chargers were rumored to be interested in Marcus Mariota and did in fact scout Hundley last offseason, they will again likely do their due diligence on the top quarterbacks prospects of this year’s class. Even so, unless the Bolts’ brass absolutely falls head over heals in love with either Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch, the Chargers are unlikely to use the No. 3 overall pick on a quarterback, especially considering there are so many other glaring needs on the team.

That said, it’s about time for Telesco to find a developmental quarterback to groom behind Rivers. There are some options that should be available in the lower rounds.

Cody Kessler, USC

A senior out of Bakersfield, Calif., Kessler has put up huge numbers in USC’s pro-style offense. Over the past three seasons, Kessler has amassed over 10,000 yards passing while throwing a ridiculous 88 touchdowns to just 19 picks.

At his time at USC, Kessler has shown very good anticipation and accuracy with his throws, putting the ball where only his receivers can get it. He also has decent mobility and can avoid rushers inside the pocket, and keeps his eyes downfield while on the move.

Listed at just 6’1″ and 215 lbs., Kessler lacks ideal size. Additionally, he does not have a great arm. These physical limitations will likely drive down Kessler’s draft stock, making him a third-day prospect.

Still, Kessler was incredibly productive in college, a quality that Telesco likes, and his ties to Los Angeles can’t hurt.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Another senior quarterback form a California college who has had success in a pro-style offense, Hogan has put up very similar stats as Kessler, passing for 9,385 yards and 75 touchdowns over the last four years. However, this is where the similarities end.

Unlike Kessler, Hogan has an absolute cannon for an arm, showing plenty of velocity in his throws. Also, standing at 6’4″, size won’t be a hindrance for Hogan.

On the other hand, Hogan does not have great accuracy, as evidenced by his 28 interceptions. Additionally, Hogan has a funky throwing motion that seems to slow down his release, and he’s not very mobile.

With his size, arm strength, and unconventional delivery, CBS Sports actually likens Hogan to Rivers, for what that’s worth.

What should the Chargers do to bolster the quarterback position? Talk about it in our message boards!

A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter @TrentNotDilfer

About Trenton Villanueva

A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec.

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