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State of the 2023 Los Angeles Chargers: Will Justin Herbert, Brandon Staley find postseason success?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Chargers organization, Chargers fans around the world and those who recognize the Chargers have the best collection of uniforms in the NFL, from the standard to the alternate to the throwback.

You know what was not awesome? The way the 2022 season ended for L.A. I mean, it was nice to bounce back from that overtime loss to the Raiders in Week 18 of the 2021 season and avenge the whole thing by getting to the playoffs. And we will dive into that in a moment. Before we look ahead to the Chargers' 2023 season, let's take a look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Making the playoffs. The Chargers were 6-6 at one point, but then they won four consecutive games and found their way into the postseason. They drew the Jaguars in Super Wild Card Weekend and held a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter of the game. It looked like they were going to cruise to a victory. I was hosting a Chargers viewing party in Irvine, California, and everybody was confident that the Chargers were going to end up winning.

One low from last season: A historic playoff collapse. Oh, yeah. About that viewing party -- I was just kidding about the confidence thing. Honestly, Chargers fans at the party seemed to be dreading that their team had such a comfortable lead. And the last 34:25 of the game was the thing of nightmares they were preparing themselves for once their team went up 27-0. The Chargers became the first team in NFL history to lead by a score of 25-0 or more in the playoffs and lose. They were the first team to lose a playoff game with a turnover differential of +5 or better. The Chargers' offense went dry, scoring just three points in the second half. That's not acceptable.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Justin Herbert. How amazing has Herbert been in the first three seasons of his NFL career? He set an NFL record with 102 offensive touchdowns in his first three years. He's second in NFL history behind only Dan Marino for the most touchdown passes in the first three years of a player's career (94). His 287.5 career passing yards per game rank second all-time in league history behind Patrick Mahomes. And most people forget Herbert was thrust into the lineup unexpectedly when he made his first career start in a game against Mahomes and the Chiefs back in 2020. He came out firing and hasn't slowed down since. I don't want to bring up any unpleasantness or anything, but the only thing missing are the signature wins. I mean, beating the Bengals in Cincinnati two years ago was big. But I'm thinking about the playoffs.

Projected 2023 MVP: Herbert. Here's a weird stat: Herbert's passer rating has decreased each year since his rookie campaign, while his win totals have increased each year. I mean, he had a 98.3 rating as a rookie, so he set a high bar. But the Chargers are 13-3 since 2021 when he has a 100-plus passer rating. Overall, he has a 25-25 record in his NFL career (including playoffs). He has a 70.9 completion percentage with 52 touchdown passes, nine picks and a 106.3 passer rating in the wins. He has a 62.8 completion percentage with 43 passing touchdowns with 26 picks and a 86.1 passer rating in the losses. I love Austin Ekeler and was thinking of saying he was the MVP. But it's Justin.

New face to know: Eric Kendricks, linebacker. The Chargers brought in Kendricks to replace Drue Tranquill at inside linebacker. I wouldn't be shocked to see Kendricks take over the play-calling duties for L.A. Tranquill wore the green dot on his helmet as the Chargers' defensive play-caller for most of last season.

2023 breakout star: Zion Johnson, guard. Johnson was pretty good as a rookie. The first-round pick gave up 40 pressures and five sacks, according to PFF, but that's not unusual for a first-year player making the leap. He had the fifth-highest PFF run-blocking grade among rookie offensive linemen last season. And with a full offseason training with the team, I trust he's going to make the leap and be a key figure on the Chargers' offensive line.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Brandon Staley
General manager Tom Telesco
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore
Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley
Special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken
  • I'm a Brandon Staley guy. I love that he seems like a like a Madden gamer at times because he's willing to go for it on fourth down and do things that upset the football traditionalists. It would have really boosted his brand if the Chargers had won that game in Jacksonville, though.
  • Kellen Moore was on the market for about six minutes after parting ways with the Cowboys in January. This should be a really good fit for Moore. With Mike McCarthy now calling plays for Dallas, Moore will be given the reins to the Chargers' offense.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Chargers' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU (1-21) Nick Williams, DL Chase Daniel, QB
Tuli Tuipulotu, OLB, USC (2-54) Eric Kendricks, LB DeAndre Carter, WR
Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State (3-85) Storm Norton, OT
Derius Davis, WR, TCU (4-125) Matt Feiler, OG
Jordan McFadden, OL, Clemson (5-156) Kyle Van Noy, Edge
Scott Matlock, DL, Boise State (6-200) Christian Covington, DL
Max Duggan, QB, TCU (7-239) Troy Reeder, LB
Drue Tranquill, LB
Bryce Callahan, CB
Nasir Adderley, S

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 4 vs. Las Vegas Raiders. The Chargers play four of their first six games against 2022 playoff teams. The Raiders, who did not make the playoffs last season, come to town before the team's Week 5 bye. Yes, that does seem way too early for a bye week in a 17-game season. 
  • Week 7 at Kansas City Chiefs. A big road game against the reigning champs. The Chargers have had some success on visits to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in recent years, winning two of their last three in Kansas City.
  • Week 16 vs. Buffalo Bills (Saturday night). The Chargers play the AFC's top two seeds from last season in the final three weeks of the 2023 campaign. After the Bills visit in Week 16, L.A. will host the Chiefs in Week 18, with a trip to Denver sandwiched between those games.

Will the Chargers be able to ...

... stay healthy on defense? The defense finished 20th in yards allowed last year, but it really struggled against the run, ranking 28th. This is where I hope Kendricks can be a real asset. It's worth noting that the Chargers are 3-13 when they have allowed 25-plus points since 2021. They're 16-2 when allowing fewer than 25 points over that span. The good news is Joey Bosa should return healthy after setting career lows with 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in just five games last year. Bosa missed 12 games last season with a groin injury, and he's played in more than 12 games in just three of his seven NFL seasons. Khalil Mack led the Chargers with eight sacks and 12 quarterback hits last year. But the point of acquiring Mack from Chicago last year was to have him and Bosa on the field at the same time. It's like the Blink-182 reunion -- it doesn't really count until Mark and Tom start playing together (Travis, too). Also, I should mention the Chargers were seventh against the pass last year, despite being without big free-agent addition J.C. Jackson for 12 games. 

... count on another great year from Austin Ekeler? Ekeler has led the NFL in scrimmage touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. He has 25 rushing touchdowns (most in the NFL) and 13 receiving touchdowns (to lead all running backs) since 2021. He can become the only player in the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in scrimmage TDs in three consecutive seasons. I could go on and on. I will point out the Chargers were 9-2 when he had at least one scrimmage touchdown in 2022. Maybe he is the MVP of this team. Ekeler requested -- and received -- permission to seek a trade this offseason, but ultimately the two sides got together and agreed to a revised contract. He will be a free agent after this season, though. I'm curious to see how Kellen Moore uses his backfield. Ekeler had a career-high 915 rushing yards last year. Ideally, the Chargers would probably love to see Joshua Kelley or Isaiah Spiller -- last year's fourth-round pick -- make bigger contributions.

One storyline ...

... people are overlooking: The Chargers are now loaded at wide receiver. The Chargers led the NFL with six players recording 500-plus receiving yards in 2022. That tied the 2011 Saints for the most such players in a single season all-time. The only player from that group who will not return to the Chargers is DeAndre Carter, who signed with the Raiders. But the Chargers will replace him with first-round pick Quentin Johnston out of TCU. And much like the defense, the key is to keep the receivers healthy. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have each averaged 70-plus receiving yards per game since 2021. But Allen has missed 10 games over the last three seasons. Herbert played just four games when both Allen and Williams played 50-plus percent of the offensive snaps last year. They were 4-0 in those games. This is where Johnston can be such a huge asset for the team. I really did like that pick.

For 2023 to be a success, the Chargers MUST:

  • Win a playoff game. Look, we've already discussed the epic collapse in the playoffs last season. The Chargers have appeared in only one Super Bowl in their history and Brandon Staley was 12 when that happened. They haven't reached the AFC Championship Game since the 2007 season, when Justin Herbert was 9 years old. I don't mean to rub it in. I'm an Angels fan, so I've been living my own nightmare. The only way to change that narrative is to go out and win some playoff games. Or maybe the Chargers can trade for Shohei Ohtani. I bet he would be awesome.

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