ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns, once again was gracious enough to provide his perspective on the San Diego Chargers roster along with how the team can address specific areas of need heading into training camp at the end of this month.
Williamson believes the Chargers have just two elite players on the roster -- quarterback Philip Rivers and safety Eric Weddle, which could make it hard for San Diego to contend for the AFC West division crown and make a deep playoff run.
“They don’t have a game-changer besides those two at any position -- at guard, tight end or anywhere,” Williamson said. “And I think that’s a bit of negative when you’re comparing them to contenders.”
With the help of Williamson, we take a closer look at San Diego’s top areas of need. We start with offensive line pass protection first.
Chargers O-line depth: Projected starters -- LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, C Chris Watt, RG Johnnie Troutman, RT D.J. Fluker. Reserves -- T Joe Barksdale, T Chris Hairston, G Jeremiah Sirles, T Kenny Wiggins, T Craig Watts, C Trevor Robinson, G Michael Huey, G Ben Beckwith, T Tyreek Burwell, T Forrestal Hickman.
Q: What’s D.J. Fluker’s best position: guard or tackle?
Williamson: “The thing about Fluker is -- and I’ve thought this since he was at Alabama -- is he could be a great guard. If you put him guard I think he could be [Mike] Iupati or better, as opposed to tackle where he’s a liability.”
Williamson likes the size that the Chargers can put together up front, but questions the ability of San Diego’s front five to pass protect for Rivers.
“You can come up with good starters there, with Watt at center and the other four,” Williamson said. “And you would be huge there, but then your weakness is protection. They’re all mashers. None of them are very nimble. They’re huge, which is great. But just in general, I think a weakness is pass protection no matter how you slice it.”
Williamson also has reservations about Watt, San Diego’s 2014 third-round selection, taking over for Nick Hardwick as the team’s full-time center and anchoring the offensive line.
San Diego’s coaching staff praised Watt for his development this offseason, but Williamson sees Watt as more of a liability up front.
“It seems like they have more faith in Watt than I do,” Williamson said. “We didn’t see a ton of him. I wouldn’t say he’s a world beater. I wouldn’t say he’s one of the 15 best centers in the league, off of limited tape.
“I could come up with 15 centers I would take over him without even hesitating. And it’s not like he’s a second-round pick or a first-round pick that has this pedigree and high ceiling -- you know he’s going to get better and develop. He kind of is what he is. And to me that’s not great.
“If he’s one of the best five linemen, I think he’s more of a weakness than a strength.”
While Williamson said the Chargers could struggle in pass protection, he believes they will be a better run-blocking unit up front. According to Williamson, San Diego’s struggles running the football had more to do with offensive line play than the guys running the football.
While he’s not necessarily a believer that Watt is the answer at center, Williamson did say that if the Notre Dame product can stay healthy and stop the revolving door at the position the Chargers had last season, he has a chance to solidify things up front.
“That’s a terrible position to go through bodies,” Williamson said. “Even though I didn’t speak glowingly of Watt, assuming he’s smart and tough, if he can play 16 games at center, that’s still going to give them way more continuity with line calls and intelligence at that position than they had last year. And that means less fits for Rivers.”