WR Chris Chambers (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
The Chargers have two things every team craves at wide receiver: 1) a go-to target; and 2) oodles of depth. However, A.J. Smith can’t cross the position off his to-do list just yet. Not when four of the team’s receivers are entering contract years.
The Chargers have a lot to feel good about at receiver. It starts with Vincent Jackson, who in 2008 became the team’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Curtis Conway in '01. Jackson set career-highs in receptions (59), yards (1,098) and touchdowns (seven). He also emerged as a deep threat, catching seven passes of 40-plus yards.
On the field, Jackson is everything the Chargers could want in a receiver. He has incredible size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), strong hands and the ability to secure the ball in traffic. Off the field, he still has something to prove. Jackson was arrested for his second DUI in January and must prove he can keep his nose clean before he earns a contract extension; his rookie deal expires after this season.
Also entering a contract year is fellow starter Chris Chambers. The nine-year veteran got off to a torrid start last season, catching five touchdown passes in the first five games. However, he was kept out of the end zone the rest of the way.
Chambers missed time during the middle of the season with an ankle injury and never seemed to get back on track. Nonetheless, his ability to run consistent routes and work the sidelines makes him a safety valve for Philip Rivers.
No player has a better rapport with Rivers than Malcom Floyd. Rivers and Floyd joined the Chargers together in 2004 and spent that year working on the scout team. They have now climbed the ranks and are wreaking havoc on opposing defenses.
Floyd cracked the rotation in Week 6 and went on a nine-week tear in which he caught 27 passes for 465 yards and four scores. A punctured lung brought his success to a screeching halt, but he should remain in the rotation in 2009. Floyd is restricted free agent who will likely sign his one-year tender and share contract-year status with Jackson and Chambers.
Floyd’s biggest competition for the No. 3 role will come from 2007 first-round pick Buster Davis. The young LSU product has been plagued by nagging injuries and has failed to live up to his draft status. However, he has shown flashes of effectiveness out of the slot, especially on third down.
In fact, Davis’ best chance for playing time is as a slot receiver. Chambers and Floyd both spent time in the slot last season and looked uncomfortable in that role; if Davis can carve a niche in that capacity, he could merit more opportunities.
Pushing Davis will be fellow 2007 draftee Legedu Naanee. The Chargers remain high on Naanee because of his size (6-foot-2, 226 pounds), athleticism and knack for making timely plays. He has been limited to eight receptions in each of his first two seasons, but Norv Turner will look to design more packages this season to capitalize on Naanee’s versatile skill-set.
San Diego’s sixth receiver is the only one with multiple Pro Bowls on his resume. That, of course, is special-teams ace Kassim Osgood. Although Osgood is outspoken in his desire to be more involved on offense, the Chargers believe he is best suited to play special teams and serve occasionally as a run-blocking receiver.
At least Osgood doesn’t allow his discontent to affect his play. He’s averaged more than 15 tackles over the last two seasons and has been to two of the last three Pro Bowls. The Chargers had better enjoy him while they have him; he’s entering the final year of his contract and will likely use free agency to seek a new team that will let him be more involved on offense.
Also on the roster is Gary Banks, who joined the team last season as an undrafted free agent from Troy. He spent the 2008 season on the practice squad and re-signed this offseason. He was productive during training camp and the preseason but has no chance to stick unless the team suffers an unbelievable rash of injuries.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.