As mandatory mini-camp came and went, position battles start to come into the spotlight. Many Chargers players feel good about their starter status on the depth chart, while others are going to have to scratch and claw to see the field.
No, Tyrod Taylor and Philip Rivers aren’t going to battle it out for the starting quarterback position. For others, even early in off-season workouts, playing time is up for grabs. These are the position battles that I’m most excited to see play out.
Right Cornerback: Michael Davis vs Trevor Williams
This position battle is the most interesting to me on this list because both have been productive as starters at some point. Trevor Williams won this job after Jason Verrett failed to stay on the field and was spectacular in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams was a top ten corner in the NFL in 2018 and was stellar in deep coverage allowing only four times in the twenty times he was tested.
Williams looked like a shadow of himself in 2018, struggling early on in the season before eventually landing on Injured Reserve. His form led many to believe that he might have been dealing with some injuries for the entire season. This opened the door for Michael Davis to take over. This coaching staff was always intrigued by Davis’ physical traits but it wasn’t until last season that it translated to on-field success. One major improvement he made was the ability to track the ball in the air which allowed him to give up no touchdowns in the red zone last season.
Davis had a couple of tough games against Denver and New England to end the season which left the door cracked for a healthy Trevor Williams to try and take back his starting position.
Left Guard: Dan Feeney vs Forrest Lamp
These two players were selected in back-to-back rounds in the 2017 NFL Draft. The goal was to have the right and left guard of the future, and so far, that has not been the case.
Forrest Lamp was forced to miss his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL. Then in 2018, Lamp had additional surgery to the knee forcing him to miss all of training camp and other off-season workouts. This year, the former second-round pick is coming into the off-season fully healthy. If he can stay that way, he should be in contention for either guard position or potentially even right tackle.
Unlike Lamp, Dan Feeney has been ultra-durable, missing no games due to injury. He was the only Charger to play every offensive snap in 2018. The problem with Feeney is that he has been flat-out bad too often. He hasn’t excelled in run or pass-blocking, struggling most in the latter allowing the most pressures by any guard last season according to Pro Football Focus.
In a perfect world, Feeney would improve and Lamp would stay healthy and thrive somewhere else on the line. In reality, there may be room for only one.
Wide Receiver Three: Travis Benjamin vs Everyone Else
Last season this position was filled by Tyrell Williams before he left to Oakland for a much more lucrative contract than the Chargers could offer. Now the team has been left with questionable depth behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Travis Benjamin is the obvious choice to slot in for the role but is coming off his worst season as a Bolt. Benjamin made one of the biggest plays last season converting a fourth down late in Kansas City but finished with only 12 catches and one touchdown. Before last season, Benjamin had two pretty productive seasons using his excellent speed to stretch the field and making defenses account for him.
The other options, Dylan Cantrell, Artavis Scott, and Geremy Davis, have combined for only two career NFL receptions. Davis is the owner of both catches, but both were with his time on the New York Giants and his only success with the Chargers has come on special teams.
Dylan Cantrell was a sixth-round pick for the team last season but never made it onto the field his rookie season. He is a big-bodied receiver who excels at blocking and has pretty sure hands but lacks elite quickness to separate consistently.
Artavis Scott has been with the team since 2017 as an undrafted free agent, mostly on the practice squad. He looked as if he might make the opening day roster last season because of an impressive pre-season but sustained an ankle injury and spent the rest of the season on Injured Reserve. If given the chance, Scott would ideally work mostly out of the slot with good quickness and the ability to create yards after the catch.
The team has the most money allocated to Travis Benjamin, and just extended him, but I’m not sold that he will be top three in snaps this year at receiver.
Defensive Tackle: Justin Jones vs Jerry Tillery
This is another one of the position battles that come from the Chargers losing a key 2018 player in Darius Philon. The Chargers addressed this need early in the draft when they selected Jerry Tillery with the 28th overall pick. Tillery is the more talented of the two players and should be able to garner playing time at the position regardless of whether he starts. The big question with him is when he will be able to get on the field after having shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in March. If he is able to get healthy by training camp, his explosive play and pass-rush ability will be hard to keep on the sideline.
Justin Jones was somewhat of a surprise pick last year in the third-round that appeared in 15 games for the Chargers in 2018. As expected, Jones had his share of ups-and-downs as a rookie. He was inserted into the defensive line rotation early in the season but didn’t make enough impact plays to warrant sure-thing starter status at his position.
Jones is the incumbent starter, but it’s hard to think that Tillery won’t overtake him at some point.
Free Safety: Jaylen Watkins and vs Nasir Adderley
The Chargers war room was visibly jubilant when Nasir Adderley was still available at pick 60 and for good reason. No one thought he would still be available. Even though most fans have him slotted as the automatic starter and the anti-Addae, they need to slow down. Although Derwin James made it look easy, the learning curve for safeties in the NFL is ridiculously steep. As of now, Nasir has been slowed by an undisclosed injury and will need to play a bit of catch-up. Talent-wise, everything I’ve seen and heard out of camp backs up the hype. Adderley is a gamer, and I think health is about the only thing that could hold him back.
Jaylen Watkins is somewhat of an unknown commodity and is another player who’s promising off-season and pre-season were cut short due to injury last year. The Bolts thought highly enough of Watkins to bring him back for a second season even with their limited exposure to him. The coaching staff seems to like him a lot and I believe he has a slight step up on Adderley, at least to start, having been in the system for a year.
Third-year man Rayshawn Jenkins should also be included in the conversation, but I believe he’s best suited to serve as a back-up strong safety and key special-teamer.
The main point of all of this is that the opening depth chart that we see could change dramatically over the course of the off-season. This team has a wealth of young talent, and the intensity of these position battles should only help the team rise to the top. The process is underway, and every move from now on will be under the microscope. This time is paramount and the players’ ability to stay healthy will be just as important as their performance.