Positional Reviews

San Diego Chargers Positional Review: Wide Receiver


Despite injuries to the offensive line and a poor running game, San Diego still led the league in total offense over the first half of the 2015 season, largely due to the inspired play of Philip Rivers and wide receiver Keenan Allen. Once Allen suffered a kidney laceration, however, the train fell off the tracks.

Allen’s injury showed a glaring need to upgrade the depth at the wide receiver position, a need that is magnified by Malcom Floyd’s retirement and Stevie Johnson’s poor play. The Chargers have a few young receivers with potential, but need to find some stability at the position.

Positional Strength: B

Receivers Signed through 2016: Seven

Keenan Allen: A-

Allen wasn’t just having a good year in 2015 … he was having a historic year. Allen hauled in 67 catches over the first eight games, tied for third-most in NFL history through the first half of a season. Had his season not been cut short, Allen would have blown away the Chargers’ single-season receiving record of 100 receptions, set by LaDainian Tomlinson in 2003.

Despite only playing half the season, Allen was still second amongst Chargers in receptions (67) and receiving yards (725), and was tied for third in touchdowns (four). Allen was seemingly wide open on every play and had three games with more than 10 receptions. The only other Chargers receiver to break 10 receptions in a single game was RB Danny Woodhead, who did it once in Week 7 against Oakland.

Unfortunately, health has to start becoming a concern. Allen was hurt in college at Cal and now has ended the past two seasons on the injured-reserve. This injury history puts more pressure on the front office to find adequate depth this offseason.

Dontrelle Inman: C+

Inman, a CFL product, burst on the scene in relief of Allen at the end of the 2014 season when he caught 12 passes for 158 yards in the final two games.

This year, getting seven starts in relief of Allen, Inman continued to show growth as a receiver, raking in 35 receptions for 486 yards and three touchdowns.

Still, Inman lacks the consistency of a starting wide receiver. In three of his starts, Inman failed to break 30 yards receiving. Also, Inman only hauled in 54 percent of his 65 targets.

The 26-year-old receiver started performing better down the stretch. Inman averaged nearly five receptions and 62 yards over the final three games of the season while playing 72 offensive snaps. Not Keenan Allen numbers, but not bad either.

What was most impressive about Inman’s season was his ability to turn catches into big plays. Inman averaged 13.9 yards per reception and had 168 yards after the catch. Additionally, 60 percent of his catches went for first downs.

Stevie Johnson: C

Brought in to replace Eddie Royal, Stevie Johnson was a huge disappointment and ended the season as a mere afterthought.

Johnson missed six games due to injury and only managed to grab 45 catches for 497 catches and three touchdowns — not great numbers for a three-time 1,000-yard receiver.

Surprisingly, Johnson was still the second best wide receiver on the team, according to PFF, with a 72.5 receiving grade, higher than both Floyd (55.6) and Inman (47.8). While this is hard to believe, Johnson did play better after Allen was hurt, averaging seven receptions and 71.3 yards a game between Weeks 9 and 12 before missing much of the rest of the season with a groin injury. Still, that does not make up for the boneheaded delay-of-game penalty that cost the Chargers a potential touchdown against the Bears in Week 9.

One thing you have to give Johnson credit for is his consistency … to underperform. Over the past three seasons with the Bills, 49ers and Chargers, Johnson has averaged 44 receptions for 510 yards and three touchdowns. Whether it be because of age, lack of playing time or injury, this stat line appears to be the new norm for the eight-year veteran.

The Chargers will have a decision to make soon regarding Johnson’s future with the team. Johnson is the only veteran pass catcher, at either wideout or tight end, signed through the next two seasons. But, does that make him worth the $3.9 million (per Spotrac) he’s owed in 2016? The Bolts would save $1.9 million if they cut Johnson, which should answer that question.

Tyrell Williams: C

Williams, an undrafted free agent rookie out of Western Oregon, gained some attention after an impressive 80-yard catch and run against the Broncos in the last game of the season — one of his two NFL receptions.

At 6’4″ and 205 lbs. and running a sub 4.4 40-yard dash, Williams was clearly the Chargers’ most physically gifted wide receiver when camp started last season. While he really struggled to catch the ball early on, he improved significantly by the end of the preseason.

Williams will hopefully develop into a deep threat option to replace Floyd. However, it is telling that when the receiving core was most banged up, the Bolts opted to re-sign retread Vincent Brown rather than give Williams more playing time.

In addition to his potential, Williams’ size and athleticism make him a solid special teamer, so even if his receiving skills aren’t quite ready for prime time, his value on special teams should make him a lock for the 2016 roster.

Javontee Herndon: C-

Herndon was impressive in his second training camp with the Bolts, getting open and catching practically everything thrown his way. He also showed a lot of promise as a returner in camp and the preseason. While he didn’t make the 53-man squad initially, Herndon was elevated from the practice squad in Week 9 to replace the disastrous Jacoby Jones as the primary return man.

Unfortunately, Herndon proved to be not much of an improvement as a punt returner, averaging just 7.4 yards a return and putting the ball on the ground twice.

However, while Herndon may not have been the answer as a returner, he was a pleasant surprise as a receiver, catching 24 passes for 195 yards in eight games after getting some additional playing time with injuries to Johnson and Inman.

Herndon wasn’t amazing by any stretch, averaging just 8.1 yards per reception and having only one catch for more than 20 yards, but considering he’s just a practice squad player working against starting corners, that’s to be expected.

Isaiah Burse: D

The former Bronco had a solid career at Fresno State, catching 210 passes for 2,503 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, in his first two years in the NFL he has primarily served as a return specialist.

In 2014, taking the place of the injured Jordan Norwood, Burse spent 12 games as the Broncos’ punt returner, having moderate success with a 7.3-yard return average. However, Burse also fumbled three times.

Having a historically bad return game in 2015, the Chargers are in desperate need of an explosive returner. Burse has good speed and natural agility on returns, but with his perchance for fumbling, you can see why the Broncos cut him loose.

Torrence Allen: F+

An undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M in 2014, Allen has spent time over the last two years on San Diego’s practice squad.

He was incredibly productive as a senior in college, grabbing 123 catches for 1,668 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, he has not been especially impressive with the Chargers in preseason, catching just four passes for 34 yards in seven appearances.

At 6’0″ and 183 lbs., Allen has a similar skill set to Herndon but has not been as good. Allen will be back with the Bolts after signing a reserve/future contract, but is unlikely he will amount to anything more than a camp body.

Unrestricted Free Agents: One

Malcom Floyd: C+

The Chargers’ lone unrestricted free agent wide receiver is Floyd, who has been steadfast in his desire to retire.

The exemplification of class, Floyd will retire as the Chargers’ eighth-most productive receiver with 5,550 yards and tenth-most touchdowns (10).

While Floyd’s production slipped somewhat this season — 30 receptions for 561 yards and three touchdowns — he would still be a productive receiver and positive locker room presence if he could be persuaded into staying another season.

Sadly, as this is unlikely, Floyd will absolutely be missed, but at least he gets to ride off into the sunset a San Diego Charger.

Free Agent Targets

Depending on what the Chargers decide to do with Johnson, Telesco is potentially going to have to replace two starting wide receivers. Inman may be able to fill one of those spots, but it is much to early to tell if either Williams or Herndon can fill the other.

With $30.5 million in cap space (per Spotrac) to work with, the Bolts have plenty of money to sign practically any free agent receiver they want.

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

Coming off an impressive 2014 campaign with 1,133 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, Jeffery underachieved somewhat in his first year as the Bears’ primary receiver, ending the 2015 season with just 807 yards and four touchdowns. Still, when taking into account the added coverage Jeffery saw because of injuries — Martellus Bennett, Eddie Royal and first-round pick Kevin White all missed time — as well as the six games Jeffery missed due to injury, it’s hard to imagine how he could have been much more productive.

Indeed, PFF seems to believe this is the case, grading Jeffery as the third-best wide receiver last season with an impressive 94.2 overall grade, despite only playing on 516 offensive snaps. Also, Jeffery averaged 14.9 yards per reception and had four 100-plus yard games.

The Chargers saw Jeffery’s talents first hand in Week 7, when he scorched a Jason Verrett-less secondary for 10 receptions and 151 yards.

If the Chargers pick up the 25-year-old Jeffery, they would give Rivers his best receiver since Vincent Jackson. While it’s practical for the Bears to lock up their top receiver, they do have White coming back from injury and other decisions to make regarding Bennett and running back Matt Forte. So, it’s possible Jeffery could be available.

Anquan Boldin, San Fransisco 49ers

The 13th player to ever reach 1,000 receptions in the NFL, Boldin was still a productive player last season with 69 receptions for 789 yards and four touchdowns. While these numbers are down from the previous two years (1,062 yards in 2014 and 1,179 yards in 2013), Boldin has continued to demonstrate an ability to bounce back from slumps. Also, Boldin would certainly benefit from Rivers throwing him the ball, as opposed to Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick.

Boldin, 35, has only missed 22 games in his 13-year career, which should definitely peak the Chargers’ interests.

Boldin, who also has experience playing in Ken Whisenhunt’s offense from their days in Arizona, would not be a long-term option for the Bolts, but would provide them with some consistency as well as a veteran presence for Allen to learn from.

Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals

The 25-year-old Jones would be an instant upgrade who doesn’t figure to break the bank.

A fifth-round pick out of Cal in 2012, Jones ended the 2015 season with 65 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns.

At 6’2″ and running a 4.4 40-yard dash, Jones has been a consistent deep threat for the Bengals, showing incredible speed and an ability to split defenders down the seam. Jones had receptions of 20 yards or more in nine games this season.

Spotrac believes Jones will cost a yearly average of $5.5 million, a small price to pay for a young receiver with big-play potential. Considering the Bolts spent $4.7 million on Floyd and $2.1 million on Johnson last season, they should have no problem affording Jones.

Additionally, Jones brings the added benefit of having already played with Allen in the past, the two combining for 2,189 yards and nine touchdowns at Cal in 2011, a preview of what could be possible with the Chargers.

Draft Targets

I doubt the Bolts will spend a first- or second-day pick on a wide receiver, but the Chargers have taken one in two of the last three drafts, so chances are they will do so again this year. Luckily for them, there are some incredibly productive receivers who should be available in middle rounds.

Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa

Last season, Garrett led all NCAA receivers with 96 receptions for 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns.

Garrett topped 100 yards receiving in seven games in 2015, exceeding 200 yards twice. His most productive game came in a 66-42 loss to Memphis where Garrett put up an amazing 268 yards and three touchdowns.

At 6’3″ and 221 lbs., Garrett certainly has the size the Chargers like in their receivers. At Tulsa, Garrett used his size effectively to beat the press at the line of scrimmage and shield the ball from defenders.

Watching footage of his game against Oklahoma, Garrett actually reminds me of a slightly faster Antonio Gates. Considered to be late third-round pick by CBSSports, the Chargers could have a chance at him early in the fourth.

Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts

Another 6’3″ receiving prospect, Sharpe shares superficial similarities to Garrett, but presents a different style and skill-set.

While Garrett relied more on his size, Sharpe relied on his superior speed and route running to get open. He used his long arms and big hands to snag the ball out of the air, something he did an NCAA-leading 111 times with UMass last season. Sharpe, a Biletnikoff semifinalist, ended the season with 1,319 yards and five touchdowns.

The only concern withe Sharpe is frame. Weighing a slight 200 lbs., Sharpe may have difficulty getting open against more physical corners. Still, if Sharpe is available to the Chargers in the lower rounds, the Telesco should absolutely take a chance on this talented receiver.

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 Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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