The Chargers nosedived from a painfully disappointing team in 2010 to what we saw in 2012: a downright bad team. This happened for three reasons:
1) They seemed to lose offensive weapon after offensive weapon every season from LaDainian Tomlinson, to Darren Sproles, to Vincent Jackson.
2) They also lost talented offensive protection every season from Marcus McNeil, to Louis Vasquez, to Kris Dielman.
3) GM A.J. Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner did a horrendous job of restoring the lost offensive talent.
What this left San Diego with was a helpless Philip Rivers and therefore, a helpless offense that had trouble taking care of the ball and scoring points. Rivers ranked in the top ten in interceptions last season with 15 and the Chargers ranked 20th in points per game, which is especially low considering who their quarterback is. Every team below the Chargers employed far worse starting quarterbacks.
Well, now that Smith and Turner are out and Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy are in, you would have to assume that a new game plan of restocking the offense with capable players would be the plan of action for this offseason. And that is exactly what Telesco and McCoy did.
The Chargers had one of the best drafts in the NFL by attacking every one of their needs. After watching the five best offensive line prospects go in the top ten of the first round, San Diego took the sixth best with their 11th overall pick. D.J. Fluker may fill in at right tackle, but he could also fill in at guard. All that matters is that he is talented and will be able to protect Rivers. A protected Rivers is a much more efficient Rivers, and a much more efficient Rivers creates a better Chargers offense.
They also added big Max Starks through free agency, which will give the Bolts another viable blocking option. Upgrading two offensive line positions is just the beginning, but it is obvious that Telesco and McCoy understand that Rivers needs a clean pocket to be at his best.
As for the receivers, San Diego did not add much, but their receiving corps has been so marred by injuries that if they can all stay healthy in 2013, opponents should be worried. Danario Alexander enjoyed a breakout season last year, and with his perfect receiver frame of 6'5" and 217 pounds, he should continue to blossom into a legitimate weapon. And add in a healthy Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, and Robert Meachem, and you have a pretty solid group.
But in the third round of the draft, the Chargers took the best guy in the entire round. Keenen Allen is one of the most polished receivers in a decent class of receivers. Other than Tavon Austin, there was no safer guy to take than Allen. He can run any route and is extremely tough. He is not the most explosive receiver, but he has hands of a Greek God, which is usually sufficient for receivers in this day in age. And considering he will be playing along side many guys who can burn defenders up and down the field, Allen will be a fantastic complementary option. I fully expect Alexander and Allen to become the two starters on the team and an intimidating tandem in the future.
Another important addition is Danny Woodhead for when Ryan Mathews gets hurt. Woodhead will be a nice alternative to Mathews, as he feeds off of contact while Mathews just chokes on it. Woodhead will also be able to fill the void created when Darren Sproles skipped town for New Orleans. He will be a great security blanket for Rivers and will help change the culture in San Diego.
Speaking of security blankets, Antonio Gates will be back next season, and we all know that a one-legged Gates is better than most tight ends in the league. So it looks like the Chargers' offensive makeover has come out nicely, but what about the defense?
The defense had a decent season last year and are looking to improve. Adding Jarrett Johnson, second round pick Manti Te'o, and Dwight Freeney to returning linebacker Donald Butler gives the Bolts a solid linebacking corps in their 3-4 defense. San Diego also added cornerback Derek Cox, who had a shortened season last year as a Jaguar due to injury, but based on his first two seasons, should be a productive addition.
All in all, the Chargers had a beneficial offseason, but with the Denver Broncos in the same division, it is hard to see them contending for the division title. However, the battle for second place between them and the Kansas City Chiefs should be a fun one to watch. Both teams have improved mightily from last season and will compete for a Wild Card spot.
We have seen how miserable San Diego has failed in the front runner role in the past so now let's see how they do in the underdog role this season. Something tells me they won't disappoint.
By: Matt Levine