Positional Reviews

Two Starting Spots in Limbo?


The Chargers made several key additions this offseason, but two of the big headliners were the free-agent signings of WR Travis Benjamin and CB Casey Hayward. Both players are capable of playing inside or out, but appear most effective in the slot, where their suddenness and acceleration are best utilized.

That’s all well and good, except it means Stevie Johnson and Brandon Flowers remain penciled into their respective starting positions. Both players were candidates to be released this offseason, and the team’s decision to retain them has more to do with cap hits than confidence.

Johnson finished last season with 45 catches for 497 yards, marking the third consecutive season he has failed to reach 600 yards or score more than three touchdowns. He also authored one of the season’s dumbest plays, a delay-of-game penalty for spiking the ball late in a narrow loss to the Bears. The play likely cost San Diego four points in a game it would eventually lose by three.

Flowers, somehow, was even worse. His full-scale implosion began in Week 2, when he was torched for three touchdowns by the Bengals, and never ended until he was placed on injured-reserve (knee) with five games remaining. Flowers earned an overall grade of 33.7 from Pro Football Focus — 108 cornerbacks finished with better marks.

There is a chance Johnson and Flowers will redeem themselves in 2016, just like there is a chance King Dunlap will start all 16 games at left tackle … wait, the Bolts are banking on that, too? Oh, Lord.

Back to the point. Unlike at left tackle, the Chargers actually have some enticing Plan B’s behind Johnson and Flowers, and they do not involve moving Benjamin or Hayward from their respective slot positions.

At receiver, watch out for Tyrell Williams. I know it is early to put this kind of comparison out there, but this dude is Malcom Floyd 2.0. He has great size (6’4”, 205 lbs.), deep speed and sensational athleticism. He is extremely raw (coming from Western Oregon), but with a full season (plus a second offseason) to prepare for a larger role, he appears primed to turn some heads.

If Williams moves up the depth chart, it could also make room on the back end for Torrence Allen, who we’ve been touting as another breakout candidate.

At corner, I fully expect 2015 third-round pick Craig Mager to take over for Flowers sooner than later. Another second-year player making the leap from a small school (Texas State), Mager was efficient with his limited opportunities as a rookie. He played 226 defensive snaps and finished with a PFF coverage grade (71.1) that more than doubled-up Flowers.

Unlike Flowers, Mager is a high-motor player who loves to hit. He closes quickly and challenges receivers for jump balls; it’s only a matter of time until he does those things on an every-down basis.

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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