This article is part of our Team Previews series.
San Diego Chargers
A rebound from a 4-12 campaign keys on consistency along the offensive line, particularly at the tackle positions. Should King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale stay healthy up front, QB Philip Rivers and the rest of the team's offensive cast should provide enough firepower to complement a young, developing defense.
THREE KEY STORY LINES
GORDON ON THE SPOT
Melvin Gordon, who finished last season on IR due to a left knee injury, has something to prove after failing to record a single TD over 184 rushing attempts as a rookie. Expectations were sky-high after the Chargers made the prolific college back the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but after averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in 14 games, Gordon described his first season as a pro as "terrible." To be fair, a portion of blame rests on the team's lack of stability along the offensive line, a unit that saw just one player start every game last season. The team took steps to assist the ground game this offseason, signing G Matt Slauson, while drafting C Max Tuerk and Gordon's former battering ram at Wisconsin, FB Derek Watt. Of course, any Gordon bounce-back hinges on a full recovery from January microfracture surgery on his knee. It's something he's downplayed thus far, but such procedures are not to be trivialized. Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Dreamius Smith round out the team's backfield as the coming campaign approaches, but the top spot belongs to Gordon, health permitting.
RECEIVING CORPS REBORN
Key injuries, on top of TE Antonio Gates' four-game suspension to start the season, taxed the depth of the Chargers' pass-catching corps as the 2015 campaign rolled along. The foremost ailment befell top wideout Keenan Allen, who suffered a season-ending lacerated kidney on a TD catch in Week 8. Moreover, Stevie Johnson scattered six absences across the season, which forced the Chargers to depend on the likes of Dontrelle Inman and Javontee Herndon more than expected. Despite the evident personnel challenges, QB Philip Rivers still managed to record career-highs in passing yards (4,792), attempts (661) and completions (437). As free agency kicked off, the organization cushioned the departure of long-time WR Malcom Floyd by signing deep threat Travis Benjamin to a four-year contract. Meanwhile, with Ladarius Green bolting to Pittsburgh, the front office was forward-thinking with the selection of TE Hunter Henry in the 2016 NFL Draft. While San Diego's tight end of the future appears to be in house, Allen, Benjamin and Gates will ultimately be the apples of Rivers' eye this coming season.
BOSA KNOWS BEST
It was assumed the Chargers would target a defensive impact player with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, but it was something of a surprise that they went with Joey Bosa, who worked as a 4-3 defensive end in college. However he's used in San Diego's 3-4 alignment, Bosa will fortify the team's D-line, though at 6-5 and 269 pounds, he's currently lighter than the prototypical end in the scheme. The Chargers haven't boasted a dominant or consistent pass rush since the glory days of Shawne Merriman, but the addition of Bosa is certainly a step in the right direction. Perceived schematic fit issues aside, multiple members of the coaching staff have gushed about Bosa's versatility, and the use of different sub-packages should allow the Ohio State product to be a menace on all three downs. With stalwart right end Corey Liuget looking to get leaner and quicker heading into the 2016 season and former Seattle DT Branden Mebane signed to help bolster the team's run defense, Bosa is projected to work on the left side of a much-improved Chargers' defensive front.
KEY JOB BATTLE
While Keenan Allen has firm control of the No. 1 receiving role in the Chargers high-octane passing attack, Malcom Floyd's retirement has left a sizable gap on the other side of the field. Free agent addition Travis Benjamin could step in and become the primary No. 2 receiver, as could oft-injured Stevie Johnson, but neither receiver possesses the prototypical size to play on the outside. It seems likely that one of those two will fill the vacated role, while the other mans the slot, but should either player falter the Chargers could look to the likes of Dontrelle Inman or Javontee Herndon to shore up the outside.
Through the first eight games of the 2015 season, the San Diego offense averaged a league-high 423 total yards per game, in large part due to Allen's efforts. Once the wideout went down with a season-ending kidney injury, however, the attack sputtered. Now that he's healthy again, Allen could be a boon to fantasy owners who grab him at a discount.
RISING: Travis Benjamin
Benjamin, who parlayed his career year into a lucrative deal, adds a layer of speed to complement No. 1 WR Keenan Allen and frees things up underneath for the likes of Stevie Johnson and Dontrelle Inman.
FALLING: Antonio Gates
Heading into his 14th NFL season, Gates still possesses great on-field chemistry with Philip Rivers, but at age 36, the clock may be ticking on the prime of his career. With that in mind, his successor has been tabbed.
SLEEPER: Danny Woodhead
After putting together 1,091 total yards last season, Woodhead likely isn't undervalued in PPR leagues. Should Melvin Gordon's knee woes persist, Woodhead and/or Branden Oliver could pick up added carries.
THE INJURY FRONT
Keenan Allen, WR – Allen, who agreed to a four-year contract extension this offseason, was heading toward a breakout year in 2015 before a lacerated kidney cut his season short. He's expected to be 100 percent healthy heading into training camp.
Melvin Gordon, RB – After undergoing microfracture knee surgery knee surgery in January, Gordon has slowly began to participate in football related activities. The team is optimistic the 2015 first-round pick will be healthy prior to the start of training camp.
Stevie Johnson, WR – Likely a slot receiver for the Chargers in 2016, Johnson missed the final four games of last season with a nagging groin injury, but should be healthy enough to contribute to start the season.
Denzel Perryman, LB – Perryman finished his rookie season with 73 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble in 14 games, and is quickly developing into a leader on the defensive front.
Dwight Lowery, S – Now onto his fourth team in as many years, Lowery is expected to fill the void left in the secondary by the departure of long-time defensive captain, Eric Weddle. The 30-year-old safety set a career high in interceptions (4) with the Colts in 2015, and could be poised for a repeat performance with the Chargers.
Joey Bosa, DE – The No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, Bosa's contract stalemate should hopefully end prior to the start of training camp, making the Ohio State product immediately one of the best passing rush threats on the team. Opposite of standout DE Corey Liueget, Bosa should make an immediate impact on opposing offenses.
Travis Benjamin - WR (from Browns)
Speed merchant provides added explosiveness to offense.
Joey Bosa - DE (Rd. 1, No. 3 – Ohio State)
First defensive player selected in draft adds pass-rushing upside.
CASEY HAYWARD - CB (from Packers)
Projected starting nickel back but can help on the outside as well.
Ladarius Green – TE (to Steelers)
Afforded opportunity to start in Pittsburgh, out of Gates' shadow.
DONALD BROWN – RB (to Patriots)
Cutting the veteran back saves team $3.5 million against salary cap.
Eric Weddle – S (to Ravens)
Contract dispute ushered long-time defensive leader out the door.