The Los Angeles Chargers finished 5-11 in 2019, just one year removed from a trip to the playoffs, mostly thanks to injuries and inconsistency on the offensive line. In the offseason, more pieces were added to an already solid defense (ranked fifth versus the pass, 14th in total points allowed in 2019), as well as some offensive line upgrades. The 2020 season is showing a lot of promise, but for it all to come together the Chargers will need solid performances from veterans and help from the new faces. Here, we’ll see which players may have the best shot to win the individual awards after their first season in a new stadium. Away we go!
Make sure to check out all of our other team award predictions here.
MVP: Austin Ekeler
In 2019, Ekeler finished with 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in a season that saw him share the backfield with Melvin Gordon. Ekeler still ended 2019 ranked eighth among NFL running backs in total yards. The knock on Ekeler from fans is his size, at 5’10 and 200 lbs, he’s not an opposing figure. However, as I noted in a previous article, he is still taller than numerous starters in the league and heavier than others while being faster and shiftier than many. This offense will run with him as the engine and without a likely MVP-caliber quarterback, he who gets the most touches will reap the benefits. The Chargers brass will realize just how wise they were to lock him in at the price they did.
Offensive Player: Keenan Allen
It does not matter which quarterback is under center, the coaching staff knows that when you get Allen the ball, good things happen. In 2019, he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the fourth time in his career and was named to the Pro Bowl for the third straight season. Allen hauled in 70% of his targets despite Philip Rivers being constantly harassed behind a makeshift line. The 28-year-old has one of the meanest hesitation steps in the league at the line of scrimmage. Using it on slants is going to continue to be a big part of his game this year. Allen caught 104 balls last season on 149 targets even with the rest of the offense getting plenty of looks. I expect him to duplicate that feat this season.
Defensive Player: Joey Bosa
The formula is simple: You add another outstanding defensive back (Chris Harris Jr.) and a plug in the middle (Linval Joseph) to an already solid defense and what happens? The defensive ends start licking their chops. While he is likely to see more than his fair share of double-teams, he has the moves and tenacity to get through and wreak havoc in the backfield. After a 2018 season that saw him miss more than half the season due to injury, he returned to form last year with 11.5 sacks as well as 18 tackles-for-loss and a 31 quarterback hits (a career-high in both). Bosa is poised for an even better season in 2020.
Offensive Rookie: K.J. Hill
Hill is the more pro-ready receiver between him and fellow draftee Joe Reed. He makes the move to Los Angeles from Ohio State, where he set the all-time receptions record with 201 in barely over three and a half years. Despite only one year as a full-time starter in college, Hill also sits at sixth all-time in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. A complete steal at the end of April’s draft, Hill rarely drops the ball and runs extremely crisp routes, which NFL coaches love from a rookie. Even if he does not start week one, should make his way into the slot position before long. Hill will never be a deep threat but has the potential to become the ever-valuable crutch on third down.
Defensive Rookie: Kenneth Murray
Widely regarded as one of the top three linebackers available in this year’s draft, the Chargers were extremely happy to jump up to 23rd overall to fill a gaping hole in the middle of the defense. Murray will be ready to start week one, but the coaches will need to put in a lot of work with him on pass coverage, although he improved in the department as a junior in 2019. He is a dynamic rusher and though his sack totals don’t display that (9.5 in three years), his tackles-for-loss do (36.5). Any rookie starter will need some grooming along the way, but even a slightly above-average season from Murray will go a long way for this defense.
Biggest Disappointment: Nick Vigil
Los Angeles signed Vigil to a one-year deal in the offseason, worth up to $3 million with incentives. He will likely start week one along with Murray and Drue Tranquill, although he may have to fight for that spot in camp. Vigil piles up the tackles, but often just from being “in the right place at the right time” and he is woefully inept in the passing game. Unless he has an amazing turnaround with the coaches in Los Angeles, he’ll either be extremely frustrating on the field or standing on the sideline as a wasted signing who got beat out for the job.
Biggest Surprise: Tyrod Taylor
I am not going to sit here and wax poetic about how Taylor is going to be a top-five quarterback and in the race for MVP. That said, one thing that could have changed the fortunes of the team last season would have been to limit turnovers. Rivers tossed 20 interceptions and could have had five to eight more than the defense got their hands on. In three years as the starter in Buffalo, Taylor had 16 interceptions combined. Add to that his elusiveness (since 2011 he is third among quarterbacks in tackles evaded, though playing in far fewer games) and a running back in Ekeler that thrives on the dump-off. The biggest surprise of all, barring injury, Taylor will be under center in week 17.
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