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Chargers TE Hunter Henry ‘Ready to Step Up’ in 2018

Chargers tight end Hunter Henry says he is “ready to step up” with perennial Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates not returning in 2018 according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

On Friday the Chargers announced they would move on from Gates, who had been with the organization since 2003. While Henry talked about how “incredible” it was to play with a future Hall of Famer, he said he is ready to take over. Fantasy owners who saw him post a 45/579/4 line on just 62 targets last year are also ready to see Henry get a full workload. And, given how much quaterback Philip Rivers loves throwing to his tight end, Henry will likely be a top-5 TE next season on what should be a prolific offense.

Chargers Earn an ‘B+’ for Their Draft According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

The draft grades from ‘Draft Guru’ Mel Kiper Jr. are out, and one team that got a very good grade is that of the Chargers, who according to Kiper got an ‘B+’ for their collection of players over the two days.

Here’s what he had to say:

It was a quiet offseason for the Chargers, but they have a lot of talent on the roster. This is a team that could win the AFC West in 2018. L.A. got very little out of its 2017 rookie class, mostly due to injuries — watch out for Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp in 2018. Now they have some possible gems in the 2018 class, too. Derwin James was the steal of Round 1 at 17 — plug him in at one of the safety spots on Day 1. He’s a bigger defender who’s not afraid to hit and wrap up — the Chargers allowed a league-worst 4.9 yards per rush last year, and tackled terribly on the second level — and he has the athleticism and range to cover the deep middle of the field.

Uchenna Nwosu (pick 48) is one of the best pure 3-4 edge rushers in this class. He’s going to be good in a situational role with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram already on the roster. That wasn’t a need position, but I like that the Chargers went with the best player on the board. Justin Jones at 84 was a reach for me — I thought he was more of a fifth- or sixth-round pick — but there weren’t many nose tackles left, and the Chargers had to get one. I like safety Kyzir White (119) and receiver Dylan Cantrell (191) on Day 3. White, the younger brother of Bears’ wideout Kevin White, is a physical player.

GM Tom Telesco could have a few steals on his hands here.

Round/Pick Name Pos College
1/17 Derwin James S FLORIDA STATE
2/48 Uchenna Nwosu OLB USC
3/84 Justin Jones DT NC STATE
4/119 Kyzir White S WEST VIRGINIA
5/155 Scott Quessenberry C UCLA
6/191 Dylan Cantrell WR TEXAS TECH
7/251 Justin Jackson RB NORTHWESTERN

Chargers Select Florida State Safety Derwin James in First Round of NFL Draft

The Chargers have a new addition to their defensive backfield, as Thursday night they drafted Florida State safety Derwin James with the 17th pick of the draft.

No Recent Contact Between the Chargers and TE Antonio Gates

With each passing week, the chances of tight end Antonio Gates re-signing with the Chargers appear increasingly slim, Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

General Manager Tom Telesco said Monday that the team has not been in recent contact with Gates, an unrestricted free agent who is less than two months away from his 38th birthday.

“I understand it’s a big topic,” Telesco said. “I just don’t have an update on it right now.”

The Chargers met with Gates’ representatives at the NFL scouting combine in early March, but even then, Telesco was non-committal about a potential reunion: “There are so many moving parts in free agency,” he said. “We’ve still got some things to talk over.”

Those talks apparently haven’t progressed, despite Gates’ professed desire to extend his playing career. The 15-year veteran holds the all-time record for NFL tight ends with 114 regular-season touchdown catches, three of which he added last year. After catching four passes for 46 yards on New Year’s Eve, he told reporters: “I still got the juice.”

But at what cost? Gates earned $5 million last season, and hasn’t netted less than $4.5 million in any given year since 2009. Meanwhile, Hunter Henry — one of the NFL’s best young tight ends — is set to earn just over $1 million in base salary in his third season with the Chargers. The franchise also signed veteran Virgil Green, a blocking tight end who has caught for 601 yards in the last three years, in March.

If the Chargers further supplement the depth chart in this week’s NFL draft, retaining Gates might signal more sentimentality than practicality.

Even Philip Rivers — whose 87 touchdown passes to Gates represents the league record for a quarterback-tight end duo — acknowledged the possibility that they might not connect on the field again.

“You’d love for him to get one more shot to be with us and go make a run at it,” Rivers said last week. “Like we’ve said every year, ‘This is going to be the year.’ But who knows? If it were not to work out, and if he were to decide to hang it up, who knows? He’s had a heck of a run. He has nothing left to prove, that’s for sure.”

The 2018 Chargers Season Schedule is Out – A Quick Glance at the Good and the Bad

The NFL Thursday evening released the entire slate for the 2018 NFL season, including the 16 game schedule for the Chargers, an annual big day in the life of football fans everywhere.

Here’s a quick look at the Chargers schedule, along with two quick thoughts on the good of the schedule, and the not so good.



The Good:
After a home game and two road affairs, the Chargers will play three of the next four at home, giving them a shot to pile up some wins and get their record padded with some early season wins. Those games are against the 49’ers, Raiders, at Cleveland and at home against the Titans – though not really since that’s in London.

The Bad: The team will two of its last three on the road against the Chiefs on Dec 13 and at Denver on Dec 30. They have a home game against the Ravens in between, but division games are always big, and they will likely need to win at least one if not both if they are going to be in the postseason in 2018.

Chargers Ink Veteran QB Geno Smith

The Chargers agreed to a one-year deal with veteran quarterback Geno Smith, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Smith, who visited with the Chargers last week, has 31 career starts in his five seasons in the NFL with the New York Jets and New York Giants.

Smith replaces Kellen Clemens, who spent four seasons with the Chargers.

Rivers is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he completed 62.6% of his passes for 4,515 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was with the Jets when Smith joined that organization as a rookie starter in 2013.

Chargers Gab 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: USC QB Sam Darnold

The hype for USC quarterback Sam Darnold has b3en growing by leaps and bounds the last few weeks, to the point where many feel he’s going to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.

At 6-4, 220 pounds, he’s got the look of a player who with some time learning could be a very good to excellent quarterback in the NFL, but time will tell when he might get that chance.

In his final season at USC, Darnold threw for 4143 yards, with 26 touchdowns to go along with 13 picks. This after throwing 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions the season before.

Here’s a look at Darnold and what various places are saying about him in our latest scouting report.

Walter Football

Strengths:
Naturally accurate passer
Fits passes into tight windows
Excellnt ball placement
Throws a catchable ball
Pocket presence
Has poise
Advanced anticipation; instinctive thrower
Throws with good timing
Can accelerate his throwing motion
Quality arm strength
Pushed team to wins
Good internal clock
Mobility
Throws very well on the run
Throws accurately off platform
Displays some feel in the pocket
Not easy to sack
Can hurt defenses on the ground
Can make all the throws required
Can pick up yards on the ground
Threads passes into tight windows

Weaknesses:
Ball security
Too many interceptions
Too many fumbles
Had some confidence issues in 2017
Doesn’t secure the ball well when getting sacked
Good enough not doesn’t have elite arm strength
Throwing mechanics are a bit unorthodox
Needs to start games faster

Summary: Darnold took college football by storm during the 2016 season, and even though he wasn’t eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, the redshirt freshman had scouts buzzing about his pro potential. After a 1-2 start to the 2016 season for USC, Darnold was made the starting quarterback. For his debut season, he was an extremely efficient passer who led the Trojans to a 10-3 record. Darnold lost his first-ever start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The 2017 season was more of a mixed bag for Darnold. The redshirt sophomore completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had an up-and-down season with too many turnovers – fumbles were a particular issue beyond the interceptions. Darnold also made some beautiful anticipatory throws with excellent accuracy in just about every game.

There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. First and foremost, he is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short to intermediate part of the field. Darnold has excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to picking up yards after the catch. He also regularly will throw receivers open and help them to find space to beat tight coverage. Darnold is a natural rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field. He is a smooth precision passer who can be deadly when he gets into a good groove.

Darnold is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to move around to buy time. While he is not a running quarterback, he is functional to avoid sacks and will move around to help his offensive line and receivers. Darnold made a number of really nice plays during the past two years when things went off script as he got creative to move the ball for his offense. Routinely, Darnold would buy time with his feet and then make an accurate throw downfield with the rush closing in on him.

The Drafster

In my eyes, Sam Darnold is a very odd prospect. Talked about as a number 1 overall draft pick. Talked about as the best Quarterback coming out of college this year. However, I am not seeing any of this. When I watch Darnold, I see one of the most streaky Quarterback play I think I have seen in awhile. At time looks very hesitant to throw, missing an opportunity. Other times he looks too eager and makes a bad decision. He has his good moments, but then a play later he will have a combination of bad plays. Moving in the pocket too early and too often, inconsistent accuracy, and staring down a play for too long are major turn offs to me.

The first thing I notice about Darnold when watching him is that he seems to ignore his dump off routes. He seems so locked in on making a big play, he forgets about the guys that are 5 yards away from him. I can respect wanting to make a big play for the team, but after staring downfield for eternity it’s time to hit your shallow routes. At least LOOK at them to see if they are open. There is no shame in taking an easy three to five yards. Not every throw has to get the crowd on their feet.

The second thing I notice is how much he likes to move around in the pocket. And that is just not his style. I get running to avoid a sack, but too many times I saw him run with a clean pocket. Multiple times he would take off to the outskirts of the pocket, making it easier for defenders to get off their block. He seems to just panic unless he has the cleanest pocket one could possibly have. If he would stand tall in the pocket and deliver, his accuracy issues would go down as well. His deep balls are inconsistent, and the times he does go to dump it off, those are not always pretty either. His best throws come from his 10-15 yarders. Which always happen to be when he stands his ground.

I will say though, 4th quarter Sam Darnold seems to be a better player than in other quarters. He reads the field better, has better ball placement, and doesn’t try to run around as much. It just seems something clicks a bit better for him during the 4th. Like he has calmed down. He just needs to be able to play similar to that all game if he is gonna be the number 1 overall pick this upcoming draft.

I think Darnold has a lot to work on. Personally there are 4 other Quarterbacks I would take before drafting him. He does good things, unfortunately, his good things just are not consistent enough and are overshadowed by his flaws. I believe if he can work on sitting in the pocket longer instead of trying to escape right away (while not holding the ball for too long), a lot of his issues will start fading. I think Darnold will have a real rough start to his career, but if keeps his confidence and keeps fixing his game, it will work out for him in the long run.

Cover 1 Scouting Report

Strengths:

Darnold’s entire game is predicated upon his ability to create. Darnold is an athletic player; he is able to pull the ball down and gain chunks of yardage with his legs. His agility and change of direction catch many defenders off guard.

That is why offensive coordinator Tee Martin built an offense that maximized his legs. USC ran a heavy dose of run pass options (RPOs), a concept that gave Darnold many options pre- and post-snap, and he absolutely flourished. On a majority of their plays, Darnold had the ability to give the ball to star running back Ronald Jones, keep it as a runner, or throw it to one of his many weapons outside. This multi-dimensional structure of a play was obviously super productive. His decision making was very good all season, especially on these RPOs. He can process the coverage, find the conflict defender, and distribute the ball quickly.

But what is often overlooked is the accuracy and velocity needed on these kinds of concepts. At times, after the mesh with the running back or play fake, the passing lane is cluttered with defenders coming downhill to defend what they perceive to be a run. Once they realize that it is a pass, they immediately try to get their hands up in the passing lanes. Darnold makes these throws look easy. Standing at 6’4? and 220 pounds, he is able to place the ball in optimal locations, allowing his weapons to make plays.

At the next level, Darnold is going to make his money in the short area. While his elongated release and sloppy footwork will cause issues at times, something I will cover later, it isn’t an issue from 0-9 yards. That bodes well for Sam, because that is where football is won and lost on Sundays. His mechanics aren’t an issue because he is throwing in rhythm and not having to worry about mechanics.

According to SportsInfo Solutions (SIS), Darnold’s short game is phenomenal. From 0-9 yards, he had the highest completion percentage (75.4%), the 4th-most passing yards (1,534), 12th-most touchdowns (10), the 3rd-highest yards per attempt (7.6), and the 5th-highest rating (107.2).

Weaknesses:

As productive as Darnold was over his 27 games at USC, he has some serious flaws that need to be addressed, the first of which is turnovers. Darnold threw 22 interceptions over two years and added another 20 fumbles. This lack of ball security will get you benched quickly.

While the offense surrendered an average of 2.14 sacks a game and a grand total of 30 sacks in 2017, he admitted that he was pushing it too much.

Many of his turnovers are linked to his mechanics. Darnold has some of the worst mechanics I have ever seen from a quarterback. Let’s start with his delivery. Typically, a quarterback with an elongated delivery like Darnold’s will struggle at the next level. From the time he begins his delivery to the time of release is often the difference between a tight window completion and an interception. Defensive backs are just too good on Sundays. If he is slightly late anticipating a throw and needs to drive a pass, the split second longer that it takes to release the ball due to his delivery could lead to an interception, much like it did versus Washington State. The safety bails post-snap, baiting Darnold to throw the speed out as he gets the 1-on-1 coverage. The defensive back reads the route, breaks, and picks him off.

What Matt Miller says about Darnold – Ranking him as the #1 QB on the board

1. Sam Darnold, USC

A two-year starter at USC, Sam Darnold is widely praised for his toughness, football IQ and leadership. A coach with the Trojans told me Darnold only cares about football and not the benefits of being a star quarterback. He did turn the ball over 22 times in 2017, which should at a minimum send scouts back to the tape to find the context of each turnover. But Darnold’s tangible and intangible traits are tops in the class.

Scout’s Quote: “Crystal clean off the field. Smart, poised, tough, accurate. He might be the only one that could work in Cleveland because he won’t let the pressure go to his head.”

Coach’s Quote: “The release and turnovers bother me, but he has the makeup to be good. He’s better than [Mitch] Trubisky was last year but he’s not on the level of [Carson] Wentz or Jared [Goff].”

Scout’s Comparison: Tony Romo, retired

Darnold impressed at his Pro Day, throwing in the rain back on March 21st

Chargers Gab 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Ohio State CB Denzel Ward

Cornerbacks are always in high demand come draft night, and this year the 2018 draft will be no exception. One player that likely won’t last long is that of Ohio State Buckeyes CB Denzel Ward, a player who is quickly climbing the charts.

Ward is coming off a tremendous combine, and is known by many as the top CB in this year’s draft class. Here’s our official look at Ward and what he’ll bring to the table to the lucky team that grabs him this year in round one.

Here’s a Scouting Report from NFL.com

Overview

OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs told reporters last spring that Ward was a “gifted player” and truly a “third starter” at cornerback, joining 2017 first-round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Ward proved his coach correct, earning first-team All-American and all-conference accolades in 2017 with 37 tackles, two for loss, two interceptions, and 15 pass breakups (ranked in the top 10 in the nation). He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten notice from league media as a non-starter in 2016, playing 30 snaps a game on defense. Ward tied Lattimore for the team lead with nine pass breakups on the year (23 tackles), never giving up on a play and being quite physical despite his average size for the position. Ward got onto the field as a true freshman, making seven tackles, primarily on special teams. Ward was a first-team All-Ohio pick and Division II Co-Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior (nine interceptions, 18 pass breakups). He also qualified for the state track meet as a long jumper and part of the 4×400 relay.

Analysis

Strengths Supreme athletic ability. Expected to be impressive Combine tester. Can park in a deep squat under wide receiver’s chin at the line. Patient from press showing no panic or hurry in initial movements. Can pedal and mirror for a long time without opening hips. Tremendously gifted footwork. Mirrors and matches with good balance throughout the route. Matches changing route speed stride for stride. Plays from low side of route to take away comebacks. Uses big burst for recovery and closeouts. Carries true long speed down the field. Reads clues from off-man. Reads slants and drives in front of the route in search of an interception. Allowed just over 32 percent completions over last two years. Ballhawk with sudden hands to attack the throw. Bats throws down and will swirl arms around the catch point to prevent target from finishing the catch.

Weaknesses

Frame is somewhat slight and he feels small in coverage at times. Lacks play strength to jam and disrupt. Appears to avoid route contact so he doesn’t upset coverage balance. Physical receivers can body him around at the top of the route. Needs to turn and find football sooner with back to the ball. Always around the throw, but lack of size and length shows up with “just misses” in pass defense. Several pass breakups came on throws with poor placement. Coverage benefitted from deep, talented rush unit up front. Has issues disengaging from big blocking receivers. Big backs drag him for a ride in run support.

Draft Projection Round 1

NFL Comparison Chris Harris Jr.

Chat Sports takes a look at Ward:

The cocky cornerback was a monster in the Big 10 this year, racking up 15 pass deflections and a pick while completely locking down one half of the field. He’s electric, smart, and will be bonafide #1 CB in the NFL. Despite his lack of size, he’s a very physical corner and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He should be one of the first 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but the only question for Ward at this point is what team he’s going to dominate on.

Strengths:

-Absurdly quick
-Excellent ball skills
-Has the swagger you want in a CB
-Big hitter
-Good blitzer when needed
-Very smart player

Weaknesses:

-Undersized
-Will struggle against physical receivers
-Not the most willing tackler
-Too timid in the run game
-Get blocked out of plays too easy
-Bigger WRs eat him up

Player Comparison: Chris Harris Jr.

NFL Draft Grade: 1st Round (#2 CB)

Projected Round: 1st

The Drafster on Ward:

Ohio State
Cornerback #12
Junior, 5’10” 191 pounds

Strengths:

Long and lean with the athleticism handle duties in the slot and along the perimeter
Production a product of his aggressive, competitive nature when the ball’s in the air
Easy mover with fluid movement skills, equal feet and loose hips that serve as catalysts for his ability to consistently mirror releases with ease
Elite burst and closing burst are evident when transitioning from his pedal to his downhill pursuit
Brings a battle to the catch-point with impressive savvy to directly play through pass-catcher’s hands
Plants himself in receivers’ pockets and remains in-phase down the field to consistently keep him in position to make a play
Understands how his responsibilities work in space and how to utilize leverage to generate turnovers when trailing
Springy leaper who times his attempts on throws with optimal timing

Weaknesses:

Frame is on the thinner side with room for further development
Timing remains a noticeable issue when getting his head around and locating the ball
Can transfer power through contact when he has space, but physicality as a run defender runs thin
Lack of overall girth has served as a hindrance when pressing and jamming bigger receivers
Requires further refinement when connecting his hands and feet to defend releases without panicking and grabbing in man
Has become reliant on explosion out of breaks to compensate for excessive steps

Pro comp: Jason Verrett

Draft projection: 1st Round

In a class of top-end talented corners, Ward is a name to stash away. He continues the recent run of impressive Buckeye corners that have been early selections and offer a potentially lengthy NFL career. Although he isn’t a physical specimen and is underwhelming size intensifies battles with receivers with the build advantage, Ward is supremely athletic and technically savvy to a degree that unquestionably warrants a first round selection. He can operate on both sides of the field and in the slot, increasing his value when considering his skill set that can succeed from a number of different coverage schemes. Ward has what it takes to find success in the league for a number of years.

Here’s the College Bio Page on Ward.

Some Quotes on Ward from NJ.com:

TODD MCSHAY, ESPN

“Ward wasn’t high enough on my radar early in the year, but I went back and watched some tape from this season — and boy was I impressed. Spending last season behind Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley (all 2017 first-round picks), he didn’t get much playing time, but he has elite fluidity, quickness and recovery speed. He has closed the gap with Fitzpatrick and had 15 passes broken up (Fitzpatrick had eight).”

DANE BRUGLER, NFL DRAFT SCOUT

“Quick-twitch athlete with explosive movements in any direction. Owns track speed with immediate acceleration to close gaps – the ‘fastest guy’ at Ohio State during the Urban Meyer era, according to OSU strength and conditioning coach Mikey Marotti. Sudden, but composed with swivel hips and velvet feet to stay in phase with elusive receivers.

“Lacks ideal height and length for the outside, creating mismatch issues vs. bigger targets. Works hard in the weight room, but lacks ideal bulk and limb strength. Bad habit of grabbing cloth at the line of scrimmage or near the top of routes. Ward’s lack of inches shows at times in coverage and as a run defender, but he is a premier athlete with the budding instincts and required toughness to be trusted vs. NFL receivers on an island, either on the outside or in the slot. He is one of the top-three cornerbacks in this draft class.”