This week, Senior NFL Writer Scott Winter starts his team-by-team look at the needs of the Oakland Raiders opponents in the AFC West heading into next week’s NFL Draft.
There’s no question the team to beat in the AFC West in 2018 will be the Los Angeles Chargers. With an aging, but accomplished veteran, quarterback, and a strong core returning from last year, the Chargers are the one team most of the prognosticators will pick to win the division – for now.
When we asked Raiders head coach Jon Gruden on his view of the boys in powder blue, he didn’t mince his words at all. He showed a respect for their talent and experience, clearly tipping his hand that he’s already sized up his division rivals.
“Looking at the Chargers, they were as good as most teams football at the end of the season. They are a problem,” Gruden said. “They are a problem to block. [Melvin] Ingram and [Joey] Bosa are a real problem. Their defense is very underestimated. And when you have Philip Rivers and an improved offensive line, lookout.”
Sure, that may have been a little owner’s meeting sandbagging but Gruden is correct: right now, the Chargers are the most proven club in the rough and wild AFC West.
What’s new for the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers?
The Chargers really did not have any core players leave during the off-season, which is a big plus. Yet, they did not supplement their strong core with any free agents to speak of. Apparently reviled owner Dean Spanos wasn’t willing to dip into his pockets to sign anyone of impact in the offseason. What that means for Oakland fans, for now, is that the Chargers are pretty much the same team that steam rolled the Raiders in week 17 of the 2017 season.
Additionally, there is really no good or bad news for the Raiders in where the Chargers are positioned in the upcoming NFL Draft. They begin the first round 17th overall and then a pick in the bottom half of every round thereafter. They have needs at wide receiver, secondary, and defensive tackle, not in any real order.
The Chargers ranked second-to-last in run defense last year and need help at linebacker. Denzel Perryman had a good year and should be a top-notch starter for years to come, but it’s not enough. The Chargers are reportedly high on Alabama’s Rashaan Evans or Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch – both the type of athletic linebacker LA defensive coordinator Gus Bradley loves.
The other intriguing story for the Chargers will be at quarterback. Rivers is now 36 and clearly reaching the end of his stat-heavy career. They signed Geno Smith as his backup this year, but he’s not a long term solution for the Chargers. While it seems almost impossible for them to even think about taking a quarterback at 17, they have been one of the teams very impressed and interested in Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
Unfortunately for Jon Gruden and his Raiders, the Chargers are pretty solid throughout their roster which means they’re pretty much dancing with whom they came – sans some additions from the amateur side.
If the Chargers can remain healthy, which has been difficult for them to do over the past several years, they will be the team to beat in the division. Remaining healthy is real challenge for Los Angeles. The Chargers have been beat up badly by the IR bug for the last three seasons, which continually taxes them and their lack of depth on the defense and particularly the offensive line.
With more uncertainty in Kansas City and Denver, and the wholesale changes made under Gruden in Oakland, it’s the usually unsettled and frantic Chargers who appear the most stable. Gruden and the Raiders are going to have to solve the problem that is Los Angeles if they want to wear the division crown.
Next up: the Denver Broncos