NFL Season Preview 2017: Los Angeles Chargers

Denver Broncos defensive end Jared Crick (93) and linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) hit San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) after the throw during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos won 27-19. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams in the month leading up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 7. Today, the Los Angeles Chargers.

Head coach: Anthony Lynn
Last season’s record: 5-11
Playoff result: Did not qualify

Key Free Agent gains: The offensive line allowed Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks to be hit 98 times in 2016. Philip Rivers does historically perform well when under pressure yet in too many games last season he had no time to work with. The addition of left tackle Russell Okung should help. He was reliable with the Broncos and it earned him a four-year, $53-million contract. Okung’s presence should also help the run game, which will also be beneficial to Rivers.

The Chargers have one of the strongest secondaries in the AFC and former Panthers safety Tre Boston bolsters that group. Even if he doesn’t start he’ll be a valuable depth player and important on nickel and dime packages.

Kenjon Barner was brought in a kick returner from Philly. He averaged 30.8 yards on kickoff returns with the Eagles last year.

Key Free Agent losses: Danny Woodhead was an incredible utility player during his four years in San Diego. He was a reliable safety net for Rivers in the backfield and could run, catch and pass protect. He only played two gams in 2016 after suffering an ACL injury but regardless he will be missed.

D.J. Fluker was an impactful run blocker and he contributed to Melvin Gordon’s breakout campaign but he was a liability in pass protection and now he’s with the Giants. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson is gone but he wasn’t a vital part of the offence; veteran corner Brandon Flowers and offensive tackle King Dunlap retired and Manti Te’o signed with the Saints. Fluker (11th overall in 2013) and Te’o (38th overall in 2013) will be remembered as draft busts.

Key draft picks: Seventh-overall pick Mike Williams was a force at Clemson and will be a key to the Chargers’ success in the coming years, although his pro career is of to a rough start. The wide receiver is dealing with a herniated disc in his lower back. The Chargers have depth at the position with Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams so there’s no need for Mike Williams to rush his recovery.

The Chargers had high hopes for rookie guard Forrest Lamp after taking him early in the second round. Unfortunately the Western Kentucky standout tore his right ACL during training camp.

X-factor: Hunter Henry. The second-year tight end proved to be a more-than-capable starting tight end as future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates’s career winds down. Henry had eight touchdowns on 36 catches to go with his 478 receiving yards last year and he’ll play a more vital role in this year’s offence.

2017 will be a success if: This team can stay healthy. The Chargers have been unbelievably unlucky when it comes to injuries—see “key draft picks” above for a reminder. They lost seven games by six points or less in 2016. If they had a healthy roster they had enough talent to challenge for a playoff spot.