As a Chargers fan I’ve bought my ticket for the hype train for the coming season! It’s a train that’s gathering pace, too. Lots of analysts are backing the Bolts to win the AFC West and they’re also a popular choice for a deep postseason run, with one or two predicting a Superbowl appearance.
For any of this to happen, the Chargers are going to need a lot of things to click and although they finished last season strongly, winning six of the last seven, they do need to do more. Players and position groups need to step up and perform a little better, some much better.
With this in mind, here’s a top 5 candidates who could be on for a breakout season in 2018.
OL Forrest Lamp
Lamp is a player who I’m super excited to see on the field, once the regular season finally gets here. If we quickly rewind to draft season in 2017, I had the former Hilltopper as a first round talent, so I was ecstatic when the Chargers managed to snag him in round 2. With this in mind, you can imagine how bad I felt when the Chargers injury curse hit and ruled Lamp out for the year.
Back to 2018 and Lamp is healthy and will be looking to lock down one of the two starting guard spots. I think he will and believe he’s going to perform at a high level pretty early on. In what is essentially his rookie year, I think Lamp is going to immediately break out.
Mike Pouncey’s signing gives the Bolts a veteran presence in the middle of the line and this should be fantastic, both on and off the field for both Lamp and fellow guard, Dan Feeney.
All of this, plus the fact that Lamp is a great athletic fit for what Anthony Lynn wants in his guards only adds to my confidence that Lamp is going to be awesome from the get-go.
The Bolts seem to be taking it pretty slow with Lamp however. To begin training camp he was going through drills alone and currently, Michael Schofield is the starting guard alongside Feeney, so although I’m backing him for a breakout, it could be a slow burner.
WR Mike Williams
Another player who is looking to bounce back from injury trouble is last year’s 7th overall pick, Mike Williams. Unlike Lamp, Williams did see the field but wasn’t completely healthy at any stage due to a combination of back, foot and knee issues that started before OTA’s last year and dragged on until after the season began. This meant there was little time to build all important chemistry with Philip Rivers and get integrated into the offense.
However, I think once he puts his injuries behind him and sees the field regularly, Williams is going to play a key role in the Chargers’ offense. With Hunter Henry now out for the year, the Bolts are going to need a go-to Red Zone target and I think Williams can be that guy. Henry’s absence could mean we see more 3 and 4 wide receiver sets called by Ken Whisenhunt too and this should mean more playing time for Williams. Couple that with the fact that Keenan Allen is going to be drawing most of the attention from opposing Defensive Backs and we may see Williams be free to catch a lot of footballs once the season gets underway.
Since the beginning of training camp, Williams has looked great according to multiple reports and even Anthony Lynn sounds impressed with the second year wideout
SAF Derwin James
I don’t care that he’s only just coming into the league, Derwin James is going to be a star. I’m hanging my hat on James and I’m backing him for an immediate break out as a rookie.
James has landed in the perfect spot; he fits the system that Gus Bradley runs, Gus will know exactly how to utilize James’s versatility and also, the Chargers’ defense is already pretty good, so James doesn’t have to be the guy.
When we look at Derwin off the field, there isn’t going to be anything standing in the way of his play there either. He doesn’t have much of an injury history, he’s been well regarded by his coaches and those close to him throughout his college career and he’s got a great attitude and work ethic, showing he is all in on football.
We’re going to see James affect the game in a lot of ways from September and beyond. He’ll be making tackles, he’ll be breaking up passes, creating turnovers and even sacking the QB and with this in mind, I would even go so far to say that we could be looking at a Defensive Rookie of the Year in Los Angeles.
DL Darius Philon
It’s been a few years since the Chargers acquired Darius Philon, but ever since he’s been on the team, he’s got better each and every year.
Drafted out of Arkansas in the 6th round of the 2015 draft, Philon has worked his way up from the bottom of the depth chart as a defensive end to a position where he’s probably going to be starting in week 1 at defensive tackle for the Bolts. This a due to Corey Liuget being suspended until week 5, so on the face of it, it may seem like Philon is going to be starting out of necessity over anything, however that isn’t the full story.
The Chargers were scaling back Liuget’s snaps last season anyway, since the team’s run defense was pretty poor when he was on the field, whereas Philon picked up those snaps and the run defense improved. Philon does a lot of the dirty work that goes unnoticed in the trenches which doesn’t always benefit him on the state sheet but does help others like Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram get to the quarterback.
It really is testament to Giff Smith (Chargers D-Line coach) that Philon has developed from someone the team took a chance on in the 6th round, to someone who could be the full time starter through the coming season. If Philon carries on his current projection, he has the chance to replace Liuget beyond week 5 and become the team’s starting 3-tech DT, which is exactly what I’m backing him to do.
WR Artavis Scott
This is a little bit of a deeper dive into the roster. Artavis Scott was an undrafted free agent out of Clemson and was actually the other starter at wide receiver, alongside Mike Williams. Scott spent last year on the Bolts practice squad, so whilst he didn’t make the roster at any point during the season for Los Angeles, it does speak to the talent he has, as the coaching staff felt they wanted to keep him around and develop him.
Smaller is stature in comparison to Williams, Scott stands at 5”10’ and is 193 lbs, so will be limited to playing on the slot in the pros. Scott shows clever route running ability, good ball skills and sure hands, these lead him to become Clemson’s all time leader in receptions. However, the ace up Scott’s sleeve could be his special team ability, which is always important to players at the bottom of the depth chart. Scott returned kicks at Clemson and given that the Chargers’ special teams in in need of a boost, this could be Scott’s ticket onto the final 53.
This season could be one to remember for the former Tiger if he does make it. Since the beginning of OTA’s, Scott has been impressing the Chargers’ coaching staff. Coach Lynn recently saying, “he’s looking good” and “he knows the system, he’s playing fast and confident”.
Whether Scott bests out Geremy Davis or makes the final roster remains to be seen but the Chargers have a knack of developing undrafted free agents, so could Artavis Scott be next?
– Lee Wakefield is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @Wakefield90