NFL Nation reporter Eric D. Williams assesses which rookies on the Chargers could earn a starting berth this season.
Why Melvin Gordon could start: With the departure of Ryan Mathews in free agency, the Chargers needed an every-down running back. San Diego found one in the first round of this year’s draft with the selection of Wisconsin’s Gordon. So far, Gordon has been as good as advertised in offseason workouts. He’s proved a quick study, both on the field and in the classroom. And he’s been better than expected in the passing game. Most important, Gordon won’t be asked to carry the offense. With Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown, Gordon will be part of a running back by committee approach that should provide a significant improvement for San Diego’s running game in 2015. But Gordon will serve as the bell-cow running back. “He studies and he’s smart,” Chargers running back coach Ollie Wilson said. “When you give him something, you know that you’re on to the next thing. Usually with rookies it takes a little while to get it done. Now, he’s still working through some of the protection stuff. But for the most part, when we give him something, he’s pretty much got it. So that’s going to help him stay on the field.”
Why Denzel Perryman could start: As Chargers head coach Mike McCoy likes to say, the Chargers drafted inside linebacker Perryman in the second round for a reason -- he adds physicality and playmaking ability to the middle of a San Diego defense that struggled to stop the run last season. Donald Butler and Manti Te'o are still projected to start at inside linebacker in San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano’s 3-4 defensive scheme. However, the duo missed a combined eight games in 2014. Perryman provides talented insurance should one of those two suffer an injury again in 2015. He also will see time on special teams. “We needed to get that depth, and to get guys that will make it competitive out there,” Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano said about the addition of Perryman. “It not only makes us better on defense, he makes our special teams better. And it pushes the veterans to always play at a higher level. Any position that we’ve had over the years, anytime there’s a lot of depth or guys pushing each other, that’s when you get the most out of each unit.”