Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

AFC West 2024

WRITTEN BY :: Hilow

Los Angeles Chargers

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Jim Harbaugh was hired away from Michigan following the perfect season to make his triumphant return to the head coaching ranks at the NFL level; Greg Roman was brought in to serve as the offensive coordinator after a year away from the league
  • Defense: Harbaugh brought defensive coordinator Jesse Minter with him from Michigan to serve in the same position; Minter coached under Jim’s brother John in Baltimore for four years before joining the collegiate ranks

Personnel Changes::

  • Signed RBs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, TEs Will Dissly and Hayden Hurst, FB Ben Mason, DT Poona Ford, and CB Kristian Fulton
  • Drafted OT Joe Alt in the first round and WR Ladd McConkey in the second; third-round selection Junior Colson should push to start at LB in camp
  • Released WR Mike Williams and LB Eric Kendricks and allowed RB Austin Ekeler and TE Gerald Everett to walk in free agency; traded WR Keenan Allen to the Bears for the No. 110 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft
  • Sixth-round running back Kimani Vidal could push for significant backfield usage from the jump

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Chiefs x2, Raiders x2, Broncos x2
  • AFC North (4)::
    • @Browns, @Steelers, Ravens, Bengals
  • NFC South (4)::
    • @Falcons, @Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers
  • @Patriots, @Cardinals, Titans

Bull Case::

Sharp Football Analysis gives the Chargers the second softest strength of schedule entering the 2024 season, which should allow this team to attack in their preferred method for deeper into games this year (more on this below). The AFC West now includes three of the weaker teams in the Conference in the Raiders, Broncos, and Chargers, and the division drew arguably the softest NFC division in the NFC South this year. Furthermore, the three one-off games for the Chargers this year include three of the worst teams in the league in the Patriots, Cardinals, and Titans. At the bare minimum, this team will likely remain competitive throughout the season. I know, not exactly a resounding bull case, but here we are. 

Bear Case::

There’s little reason to beat around the bush with this team – the term “rebuild” is true in every sense of the word. They enter the 2024 season with no fewer than six new starters on the offensive side of the ball and will see no fewer than four new starters on defense. The franchise brought in one of the most run-heavy offensive coordinators over the previous decade and a head coach long known for #establishingit. That’s all well and fine until you consider the multitude of personnel changes and the fact that this is the first year under a new coaching regime. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

Harbaugh wasted no time in pushing this franchise closer to his vision, which appears to consist of a run-heavy juggernaut intent on grinding out games as he has done at each of his previous three head coaching stops.

The youthful wide receiver corps enters the new season with 2023 first-round pick Quentin Johnston, 2021 third-round pick Joshua Palmer, and 2024 second-round pick Ladd McConkey atop the depth chart. The signings of TEs Will Dissly (31.2 percent route participation rate in 2023) and Hayden Hurst (64.4 percent route participation in 2023) further reinforce the shift to a more run-heavy expectation moving forward.

The team watched as longtime alpha running back Austin Ekeler departed, filling that gap with two-down grinder Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, the latter of whom is fresh off yet another significant season-ending injury. RB Kimani Vidal was selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft and could push for significant playing time early considering the current state of the depth chart.

During Harbaugh’s stint as head coach of the 49ers (2011-2014), the team finished top 10 in rush attempts per game in all four seasons, finishing top five in all but his final year. His Michigan team attempted 37.3 rushes per game in 2023 after 42.9 per game in 2022. Finally, the Baltimore Ravens finished each of the 2019 through 2022 seasons in the top six in rush attempts per game while Greg Roman served as the offensive coordinator, leading the league in rush attempts per game in two of those seasons.

This should be one of the more run-heavy teams in the league in 2024. I’m not one to invest heavily in running backs who have missed the bulk of the previous three seasons with an ACL tear, a hamstring tear, and a torn Achilles, leaving J.K Dobbins about as uninspiring as they come through my eyes. Gus Edwards managed a startling 13 touchdowns in 2023 while playing under Jim’s brother, John, in Baltimore, but he has just 30 career receptions through the first six years of his career (one missed with injury) and ran to a career-low 4.1 yards per carry a season ago. Considering the state of the depth chart and the health of Dobbins, it is likely we see Edwards begin the season as the lead back, albeit in a strict two-down role. Kimani Vidal is a 5’ 8”, 213-pound back with 4.46 speed and the primary traits of a North-South runner. He should start the season behind Edwards for early down work but has every opportunity to carve out significant usage considering the state of the depth chart in Los Angeles. Considering early ADP, I have no issues with pairing Edwards and Vidal in best ball as a path to a full season’s worth of lead back duties on what is expected to be one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league.

ADP will dictate my level of exposure to any of the three primary wide receivers on the Chargers, but I am on record stating I don’t see the hype that McConkey has driven this draft cycle. All three plus the tight end stable should be viewed as poor best ball options. That also leaves my interest in franchise quarterback Justin Herbert lower than consensus.

Kansas City Chiefs

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