We will be breaking down each of the Chargers’ positional groups; what they did in 2016 and what 2017 looks like.
Despite the 5-11 record, I believe the Chargers are rather close to competing.
We begin this series by looking at the linebackers. The 2016 season for the Chargers’ linebacking corps was a tale of good news/bad news.
Bad news: Manti Te’o was lost for the season in the Chargers’ third game.
Good news: Chargers weren’t counting on Te’o for 2017 but didn’t want to bench the veteran. Teo’s injury allows the Chargers to play 5th round steal, rookie Jatavis Brown.
Good news: Kyle Emanuel showed off his versatility, starting most of the season at OLB and even making a start at ILB.
Bad news: He did so because of injuries to ILBs Te’o, Brown, and Denzel Perryman, and injuries and questions surrounding OLB Jerry Attaochu. And while Emanuel’s versatility is excellent and he deserves a spot on the roster, that spot should probably be as a backup/special teams player.
Good news: Chargers had a solid draft in 2016 and drafted two linebackers, Joshua Perry from Ohio State and the aforementioned Brown from Akron.
Bad news: The Chargers needed that depth and the higher drafted Perry was relegated to mostly a special teams role and hardly notched any defensive snaps.
Good news: Melvin Ingram had another solid season and picked up 8.0 sacks (2.5 off his career high in 2015) and was healthy for the entire season.
Bad news: Ingram is a free agent this offseason. Chargers have a good shot at re-signing the OLB but they should probably draft another pass-rushing OLB to go opposite #54.
There was a lot of bad news surrounding the Chargers’ linebacking corps in 2016. But a lot of that bad news came with silver linings because it allowed the Chargers to look at other players who will help for next season. This isn’t an anti-Mike McCoy article, but if the Chargers had better health last year, they may have squeaked out 8 wins and done just enough for McCoy to keep his job without actually improving the team.
The Chargers essentially had 6 starters this season. The penciled-in starting four were: Ingram, Perryman, Te’o, and Attaochu. Te’o was lost for the season early and Brown became a starter in his place, and Attaochu’s season never really got going and Emanuel started in his stead all season. Let’s take a look at each of those 6 starters.
Manti Te’o – We’ll start here. Te’o wasn’t a terrible player for his Chargers career but he certainly didn’t live up to his hype. He was projected to be a first round draft pick but slid after the catfishing stories surfaced and the Chargers traded up to pick him in the second round. It looked like a steal at the time but he’s missed a lot of games due to injury and has only been adequate at best when healthy. This season looked like it was going to be his best (he showed promise in preseason and in the first two games), but he was lost for the season in the third game. Te’o is an unrestricted free agent and will not be back in 2017.
Jeremiah Attaochu – Attaochu is much harder to analyze. He played in 8 games but only had 11 tackles and 2.0 sacks. And much of the action he did see was on special teams. This is surprising for someone who has game-changing speed as Jerry does. It was reported that Attaochu was dealing with nagging injuries but specifics were hard to come by. He only costs $1.34million and only carries a $344k cap hit if they cut him. I believe Attaochu will be playing for his job this training camp, especially with a new coach who may want to make an example.
Denzel Perryman – After a fantastic rookie season, particularly against the run, Perryman regressed slightly in 2016. Teams frequently rotated offensive formations to force Perryman to cover backs and tight ends, something with which he struggles. However, he matched (nearly) last season’s tackle total (73 in 2015 vs. 72 in 2016) despite playing only 12 games (he played 14 last season). Perryman is still highly effective against the run and likely to remain an ILB starter if the Chargers keep their 3-4 defense. But he will also likely not be a 3-down LB and not be on the field in 4-2-5 “nickel” formations.
Jatavis Brown – Brown was an unheralded 5th round draft pick out of Akron last season. And because of preseason injuries, NFL fans hardly had a clue what he was capable of until he took over Te’o’s job vs. Indianapolis. As a draft prospect he wasn’t even invited to Indianapolis for the Combine. Despite playing only 12 games, Brown led the team with 79 tackles. He also racked up 3.5 sacks (he is an excellent blitzing LB), two forced fumbles (one recovered), and six passes defended. He also looks much bigger than his listed 5’11” 221 numbers suggest. Brown will certainly retain a starting role in 2017.
Kyle Emanuel – Emanuel showed glimpses in his rookie season that he might be a late-round gem. He had 15 sacks in each of his freshman-junior seasons and 16 as a senior. Despite that monstrous production and acumen, he has only 1.5 sacks in his 2-year professional career (1.0 in 2015 and 0.5 this past season). Emanuel is not a bad player, but he’s probably limited to a being a special teams/role player/backup moving forward. I fully expect the Chargers to use a high draft pick (first three rounds) on a pass-rushing OLB.
Melvin Ingram – Ingram wasn’t quite as productive as he was in 2015 (8.0 sacks vs. 10.5) but he was able to stay healthy and play 16 games for the second consecutive season. He lost weight this past offseason and was noticeably slimmer on the field. As an unrestricted free agent, Ingram is a bit of an enigma. The team played considerably better when he was on the field, but he has yet to compile elite pass-rusher statistics. He will certainly garner a contract with an average salary north of $10 million/year, but almost certainly shy of what Olivier Vernon got from the New York Giants ($17 million/year). The Chargers are expected to try to retain him and they typically are willing to shell out big money to retain valued veterans (please do not bring up Eric Weddle, the team did not trust him relative to his cost and age). But the team does not have a ton of cap space. This will be a story to watch this off-season.
Reserves – Korey Toomer, Joshua Perry, Tourek Williams, Nick Dzubnar, and a few others all received playing time. Tom Telesco deserves credit for finding some of these guys. He could have done a lot worse after losing as many linebackers, particularly ILBs, as the Chargers did in 2016.
Depending on what happens with the coaching staff (Will the team keep the 3-4?), and particularly with Melvin Ingram, the Chargers look to have a solid linebacking corps for 2017, health permitting, of course.
Thanks for reading.