The Los Angeles Chargers are about to enter a new chapter in the franchise's history. The club parted ways with arguably the greatest player to ever put on their powder blue uniforms in quarterback Philip Rivers, who has since signed with the Indianapolis Colts, and are now set to move into SoFi Stadium, officially completing the move to Los Angeles. On top of that, the Chargers utilized their No. 6 overall pick at the 2020 NFL Draft to bring in Justin Herbert to hopefully serve as the future franchise quarterback going forward.
With all that change comes a number of questions as to what kind of club we'll get from Los Angeles in 2020. Will Herbert see the field at all during his rookie season or will Tyrod Taylor be able to shine under head coach Anthony Lynn once again? Can the Chargers defense turn the club into a playoff threat and compete in the extremely competitive AFC West or are they a club on the verge of a total rebuild? Los Angeles can truly fall either way on these questions in 2020, which is what makes this season so fascinating for the franchise.
As we look forward to this momentous season for Los Angeles, we're taking a stab at a trio of bold predictions that quite possibly could end up sticking by the time that 2020 is in the books.
1. Tyrod Taylor fends off Justin Herbert
For the last few stops of his NFL career, Tyrod Taylor has been the bridesmaid and never the bride to various franchises. After coming into the league and serving as a backup in Baltimore, Taylor did find a starting job in Buffalo, but that only lasted three seasons before the Bills made way for current signal-caller Josh Allen in 2018, trading Taylor to the Cleveland Browns. He was able to win the starting job over the summer that year but eventually fell out of favor for No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield just three games into his Browns tenure.
Now, with the Chargers, Taylor is faced with possibly being ousted yet again after Los Angeles used the No. 6 overall pick on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. He's clearly the future for the Chargers under center, but 2020 may not be the start to the Herbert era.
We see Taylor keeping the starting job throughout the 2020 season and performing well under head coach Anthony Lynn, who was his offensive coordinator for two seasons during his days with Bills. Over that three-year stretch as the starter in Buffalo and mostly under Lynn, Taylor was able to complete 62.2% of his passes for 8,857 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Taylor was also named to the Pro Bowl in 2017. Now that he is reunited with Lynn, that same magic should surface for Taylor in Los Angeles and keep the club competitive.
During a season that has been (and will likely continue to be) impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Herbert also hasn't been able to have a normal offseason to fully prepare himself for his rookie season, which gives Taylor a massive advantage in this battle. The Chargers will obviously want to see what Herbert looks like at some point, but Taylor's experience in the system and strong play will make sure it only happens in Week 16 and 17, not Week 4.
2. Austin Ekeler leads the AFC in scrimmage yards
No player benefited more from Melvin Gordon's holdout than Austin Ekeler. With his teammate holding out for a new contract, Ekeler showed the Chargers that he can be a true feature back within the offense and ultimately landed himself a four-year extension for his efforts. With Gordon out over the first four games of last season, Ekeler cruised to 220 yards on the ground (at nearly four yards a carry) and 270 yards receiving off 24 receptions. He also totaled six touchdowns over that stretch. When Gordon came back, Ekeler did lose some of his footing for snaps in the backfield, but still finished No. 9 in the entire NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,550).
While it may be a bit too bold to suggest that he'll surpass Carolina superstar Christian McCaffrey for the NFL yards from scrimmage lead in 2020, Ekeler will be able to grab the title in the AFC. Had Gordon, who has since signed with Denver, never returned in 2019 and Ekeler maintained his stellar pace, the 25-year-old would have totaled 1,960 yards from scrimmage. That would have well surpassed Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry for top honors in the conference. Expect a big year from Ekeler.
3. Kenneth Murray wins Defensive Rookie of the Year
We may not see the Chargers' top overall pick making a lot of noise in 2020, but we do have high hopes for their other first-round selection in linebacker Kenneth Murray. The 6-foot-2, 234 pounder finds himself in a fabulous situation in the middle of an extremely potent Los Angeles defense. At every level, you can find true impact players. Along the defensive line, the Chargers boast Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram as their edge rushers and Linval Joseph and Justin Jones on the interior. In the secondary, L.A. just added corner Chris Harris Jr. to Casey Hayward and safety Derwin James.
Because of all this talent around Murray, he should have plenty of opportunities to flourish as a speedy inside linebacker and put up some impressive stats. At Oklahoma, Murray was able to utilize his impressive speed to close and make a number of tackles in the backfield. In all, he totaled 36.5 tackles for a loss over his three-year collegiate career to go along with 9.5 sacks. The fact that opposing offenses will be scheming against more seasoned Chargers defenders like Bosa and others, that could open the door for Murray to play clean-up duty, pile up a number of stats and have some impact plays in the process.
He may not lead the league in tackles like 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year winner Darius Leonard did with the Colts, but it wouldn't come as too much of a surprise to see Murray have similar production and bring home that hardware in 2020.