Danario Alexander, Keenan Allen, Vincent Brown, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. Toss in Robert Meachem, and slot man Eddie Royal for good measure.
That’s our target group when it comes to pass catchers in San Diego.
The previous statistical prediction for Philip Rivers can also double as an outline for the production of his receivers; all touchdowns and receiving yardage will be divvied up from a 3,900-yard, 28 touchdown pie (Rivers’ predicted numbers according to part two, if that wasn’t already obvious).
With that in mind, the challenge becomes sorting through the hectic pile of names on the depth chart at wide receiver and coming away with the two or three that have the ability to make a worthwhile impact.
The Chargers no longer possess a dominant No. 1 receiver like Vincent Jackson, but there are still plenty of intriguing wideouts on the roster heading into 2013. Will a 1,000-yard receiver emerge from the fray? How much decline should be expected from Antonio Gates? Why is Robert Meachem’s name even in consideration?
All of those questions and more answered as we attempt to make sense of the Bolts’ pass catchers.
The Wild World of Wide Receivers And Tight Ends
It seems that the most appropriate place to start is with San Diego’s godfather of offense, tight end Antonio Gates. After a decade in the league, Gates has hauled in 83 touchdowns and more than 8,300 yards of receiving, which places him behind only Tony Gonzalez in both categories among active tight ends.
Gates is a far cry from his former 1,000-yard, 10 touchdown a year self, but he is also capable of more than his 538 yards of receiving from last season, even if he has lived on the wrong side of 30 for quite some time. The good news is that he has continued to make routine house calls despite the dip in yardage - never has he fallen below seven touchdowns since his rookie season.
There are far more quality options at Philip Rivers’ disposal this season than there were in 2012, and so Gates’ redzone-security-blanket status is likely to diminish. However, a snappier offense that will increase the number of unimpeded balls coming out of Rivers’ hand can only bode well for targets and catches.
Gates is simply too old and forgone to suddenly become anything beyond a passable third or fourth option. Look for a moderate cache of yardage and an uninspired handful of touchdowns, enough to redeem his 2012 nightmare, if only slightly.
Running backs must also take their cut of the action, and it just so happens that the Chargers have two that are particularly adept in the passing game. Ryan Mathews will haul in his fair share of screens and swing passes when healthy, and Danny Woodhead is no stranger to the passing game himself, having totalled more than 30 receptions and 300 yards twice in his four year career.
Both are set to combine for 470 yards of receiving based on last segment’s prediction. Although the nature of the touchdowns scored by both men was unspecified, one would assume that the Chargers’ backs would increase their red zone take with a diminishing Antonio Gates in the fold, leading to about half of their nine combined touchdowns coming through the air.
That leaves about 2,780 yards and 19 touchdowns still to be had by the slew of remaining receivers. There is still plenty of space in that remainder for a 1000/10 juggernaut or two highly effective twin towers to emerge from one of 2012’s more forgettable air attacks. Danario Alexander heads into camp as the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, with the consistent Malcom Floyd and trendy breakout candidate Vincent Brown not far behind.
Though there are plenty of mouths in need of feeding at wide receiver, those three possess the potential to operate above replacement level. The biggest source of separation between San Diego’s main receiving trio is how their skill sets mesh with that of their veteran quarterback (yes, it all comes back to Philip Rivers again).
Rivers has shown preference to certain types of receivers, both in the physical and intangible sense of the word, which is unlikely to change at such a late point in his career. Here are the percentages of passing distribution for the top three options under Rivers since his first 16 game season in 2006.
Leading Receiver % of total passing yards
27.3% (A. Gates)
31.2% (A. Gates)
27.4% (V. Jackson)
27.4% (V. Jackson)
16.6% (A. Gates)
23.9% (V. Jackson)
22.6% (M. Floyd)
Second Leading Receiver %
19.5% (E. Parker)
19.8% (V. Jackson)
17.5% (A. Gates)
27.2% (A. Gates)
15.2% (M. Floyd)
18.5% (M. Floyd)
18.2% (D. Alexander)
Third Leading Receiver%
15.0% (L. Tomlinson)
17.6% (C. Chambers)
11.6% (M. Floyd)
18.2% (M. Floyd)
11.0% (D. Sproles)
16.8% (A. Gates)
14.9% (A. Gates)
Two trends are important to note here. One, for about the six thousandth time in the series, realize that Vincent Jackson is now situated in Tampa Bay and Antonio Gates has aged to the point of operating as merely a supporting player.
Also, as Rivers has become more acclimated with the professional climate, he has been less apt to lean on one or two leading receivers to support a majority of the passing game. The last two years featured a relative 23/18/15 percentage split for the top three receivers, which seems appropriate considering the same quarterback and a very similar group of receivers will take the field in 2013.
Although Malcom Floyd was the consistent No. 1 threat last season, Danario Alexander made a strong push for the first spot in the latter half of action. Alexander suited up for the first time in Week 8 of the 2012 campaign and proceeded to quietly wreak havoc on opposing defenses, to the tune of 658 yards and seven touchdowns.
In little more than half a season, Alexander tied for the most touchdowns and secured the second most receiving yards on the team, and his raw attributes don’t betray success either.
At 6’5” and only 24 years of age, Alexander is a near lock to usurp the No. 1 spot from Floyd, a productive but uninspiring veteran of eight years.
By the very same token (his middle-of-the-pack skills and years of service in San Diego) don’t expect Floyd to fall any farther than the second spot in the hierarchy.
He hasn’t finished with less than 700 yards of receiving since 2008 and has spent every year of his NFL career with lightning bolts etched around his shoulders and Philip Rivers on the roster. Vincent Brown, although vastly talented and relatively youthful, has effectively zero professional pedigree and has been inflated by preseason hype, which more often than not amount to nothing of merit.
On that basis, expect Alexander to enter the season as the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, followed by Floyd and Brown.
The aforementioned threesome are projected to consume about 55 percent of passing offense on their own, or 15 touchdowns and 2,145 yards of the 28 and 3,900 that Rivers is set to produce in his own projection. (Note: touchdowns will move largely in lockstep with yardage, at least in this simulation, where there is no space to accommodate random events or injury.)
Attribute another 1,120 yards and 8 scores to Gates and the two primary backs and you’re left with a few insignificant scraps.
And 635 yards and 5 wouldn’t sound so minute, if only it wasn’t split between so many different sources. Robert Meachem figures to take about 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns from the pile as he did last season. Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal could each contribute with similar numbers but are more likely to float around 100 yards and a solitary score. What little is left - perhaps a couple hundred yards and a pair of touchdowns - will dilute itself in a seven or eight-way split among a pack of roster-fillers.
As it turns out, there is likely not a 1,000-yard receiver waiting in the wings, at least anywhere south of San Francisco and west of Denver. However, Danario Alexander still projects as a serviceable first receiver that can quickly be overtaken by either Brown or Floyd if he falters.
Gates will never return to dominant form, nor will the running backs hog more than their fair share of the aerial attack, but all will play important contributing roles. Much like the rest of the offense, expect a slight improvement from all receivers involved in the Chargers’ passing attack.
What To Make of Antonio Gates: 650 yards, 5 TDs
What To Make of Danario Alexander: 897 yards, 7 TDs
What To Make of Malcom Floyd: 702 yards, 5 TDs
What To Make of Vincent Brown: 585 yards, 4 TDs
What To Make of Danny Woodhead: 240 yards, 2 TDs
What To Make of Ryan Mathews: 230 yards, 3 TDs
What To Make of Robert Meachem: 200 yards, 2 TDs
A Less Offensive Line
Bridging Philip Rivers
The Ryan Mathews Band