Los Angeles Chargers depth chart: Derwin James slated to start

Derwin James, drafted No. 17 overall, could step into the starting lineup from day one. Allen Kee / ESPN Images

With free agency and the draft completed, and OTAs and minicamps scheduled for the next month and a half, here’s a closer look at the depth chart for the Los Angeles Chargers (starters in bold):


Quarterback (4): Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones, Geno Smith, Nic Shimonek

It should be a good competition between Jones and Smith for the backup job that likely will come down to who performs best during exhibition play. Shimonek replaced Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech last season and is an interesting developmental prospect.

Running back (7): Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Russell Hansbrough, Detrez Newsome, Derek Watt, Anthony Manzo-Lewis

Something to keep in mind -- the Chargers averaged 37 passes and 19 runs during the team’s 0-4 start. During the team’s final stretch when they won nine of their last 12 games, the Chargers averaged 34 passes and 29 runs a game. The Chargers want to create more balance and run the ball more effectively, particularly at the end of games.

Receivers (10): Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis, Andre Patton, Artavis Scott, Dylan Cantrell, J.J. Jones, Kent Shelby

Patton and Scott were on the practice squad last season and have a shot to work their way onto the back end of the roster in 2018. Led by Allen, receiver is one of the team's strongest position groups. With Nick Sirianni's departure to the Indianapolis Colts as that team’s offensive coordinator, Phil McGeoghan takes over as the Bolts’ new receivers coach.

Tight end (6): Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Sean Culkin, Braedon Bowman, Cole Hunt, Ben Johnson

Antonio Gates is not on the roster for the first time since 2003, which means that Henry will assume the role as the Chargers’ main pass-catching tight end. Culkin has a chance to earn a more impactful role with Gates and Sean McGrath gone.

Tackle (6): Russell Okung, Joe Barksdale, Sam Tevi, Zachary Crabtree, Zack Golditch, Chris Durant

Okung and Barksdale are both 30 years old, so overall depth at the tackle position is a concern.

Guard (7): Dan Feeney, Michael Schofield, Forrest Lamp, Donavon Clark, Brett Boyko, Trenton Scott, Cole Toner

Schofield is penciled in at right guard as Lamp continues to recover from knee surgery that forced the Western Kentucky product to miss his rookie season.

Center (3): Mike Pouncey, Spencer Pulley, Scott Quessenberry

The addition of Pouncey in free agency should help the Chargers improve as a run-blocking unit and he should take some responsibility in blitz pickup.


Cornerback (11): Casey Hayward, Jason Verrett, Trevor Williams, Desmond King, Craig Mager, Michael Davis, Jeff Richards, Tony Brown, B.J. Clay, Marcus Edmond, Brandon Facyson

Corner is the deepest position group on the roster, with two Pro Bowlers in Hayward and Verrett. This talented group provides flexibility for the rest of the defense, with an ability to play man, zone and combo coverages with the same level of competence.

Safety (6): Jahleel Addae, Derwin James, Adrian Phillips, Jaylen Watkins, Rayshawn Jenkins, A.J. Hendy

King likely will get reps here as well, as the Chargers try to figure out how to get the best 11 defenders on the field. We should see a lot of experimentation with rotations during offseason work and training camp, but for now I believe James, the Bolts’ first-round draft pick, will start at free safety.

Linebacker (8): SAM Kyle Emanuel, MIKE Denzel Perryman, WILL Jatavis Brown, MIKE Hayes Pullard, ILB Nick Dzubnar, SAM Uchenna Nwosu, WILL Jatavis Brown, WILL Kyzir White, MIKE D'Juan Hines, SAM James Onwualu

This group should have one of the more interesting position battles at outside linebacker between Emanuel and Nwosu. The Chargers have much better speed and athleticism at linebacker after the draft.

Defensive line (14): LDE Joey Bosa, DT Darius Philon, NT Brandon Mebane, LEO Melvin Ingram, DT Corey Liuget, NT Damion Square, DE Isaac Rochell, LEO Chris Landrum, DT Justin Jones, DE Whitney Richardson, DT Bijhon Jackson, DE Steven Richardson, DE Albert Havili, DE Tevin Lawson

Like receiver, defensive line is one of the strongest position groups on the team. The addition of Jones adds depth to the interior of the defensive line. Along with Philon, two young defensive linemen to watch are Rochell and Whitney Richardson.


Punter (2): Drew Kaser, Shane Tripucka

Kaser was fourth in the NFL in punt average (48.1 yards per punt) and also finished with 31 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

Kicker (2): Caleb Sturgis, Roberto Aguayo

Because of the two-year contract ($1 million in guarantees) he signed in free agency, Sturgis is likely the front-runner to earn the kicker job.

Long-snapper (2): Mike Windt, Anthony Kukwa

The Chargers’ long-snapper since 2010, Windt turns 33 years old on May 29 and the Bolts could be looking for a cheaper alternative.

Kick returner (2): Desmond King, Austin Ekeler

The Chargers averaged just 19 yards per kick return last year (third-worst in the NFL), so we could see an open competition at this spot.

Punt returner (2): Travis Benjamin, Keenan Allen

Benjamin averaged 9.5 yards per punt return (No. 8 in the NFL), including a 65-yard return for a score. Benjamin also had a 91-yard punt return called back against the New York Jets on a holding call.