Wednesday, August 10, 2016

San Diego Chargers All Career-Year Team

By John Turney

At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Chargers. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Lance Alworth’s best two seasons and use both QB slots.

Here is the team, First-team on left, Second-team on right:
Starting with the center, we went with Don Macek over Nick Hardwick. Macek was one of most underrated performers of his era, he was usually in the top 2-3 centers in the NFL according to Proscout, Inc, though he didn't get many media awards, such as All-Pro or All-AFC. Hardwick gets the Second-team nod. Courtney Hall, 1994, and Don Rogers, 1963, are the honorable mentions.
Russ Washington. Credit Chuck Ren

Walt Sweeney. Credit: George Bartell
Doug Wilkerson
The guards were easy:  Doug Wilkerson, 1982, Walt Sweeney, 1968, though Ed White was a close third in a number of seasons, Kris Dielman, 2009, edged Second-team All-Pro Dave Richards, 1992. Sweeney was called by Merlin Olsen the best guard he faced, year-in and year-out
Ron Mix. Credit: Merv Corning
Ron Mix, 1968, a season where he was not called for holding and allowed just one sack. Russ Washington's 1979 was his best thoughlike Wilkerson and Sweeney and White a number of years would fit. All-Pros Marcus McNeill, 2006 and Jim Lachey, 1987 grab the Second-team nods with

Ernie Wright, 1961, Terry Owens, 1972, and Joe Barksdale, 2015. Barksdale was the 2015 Chargers lineman of the year and secured a 4-year extension due to his 2015 play. Kris Dielman's 2007 and 2008 seasons were top-notch but we went with 2009 but any one of the three would work.
Kellen Winslow. Credit: Merv Corning
Kellen Winslow, 1981 and Antonio Gates, 2005, are the top tight ends, and Willie Frazier, 1967, and Dave Kocourek, 1961 are honorable mentions. As is the best blocking Charger tight end Bob Klein, who at age 32, caught 5 TDs, a career-high in what turned out to be his final season.
Dan Fouts. Credit: Merv Corning
Like Winslow, Dan Fouts had a number of excellent seasons, but we went with 1982. Philip Rivers, 2013, is next and the honorables are Jack Kemp, 1960, John Hadl, 1966 and Tobin Rote, 1963.

Lorenzo Neal, 2006, and Mike Tolbert, 2010, are the blocking backs. 
Keith Lincoln. Credit: Lon Keller

Paul Lowe. Credit: Merv Corning
LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006 and Keith Lincoln's 1963 are the top two, but closely followed byPaul Lowe, 1965 and Chuck Muncie, 1981. Natrone Means, 1994, Gary Anderson, 1986, Marion Butts, 1990, and Dick Post, 1969, warrant special mention.

Marion Butts. Credit: Merv Corning
The third-down backs are in order:  Ronnie Harmon, 1992,  Danny Woodhead, 2015 and Darren Sproles, 2010. Sproles seemed like a lock until Woodhead produced so many touchdowns last season. Lionel James is an interesting honorable mention, he was a third-down back, but so much more—and excellent slot receiver who had a 1000-yard receiving season while rushing for over 500 yards. James took the place of James Brooks who had honorable mention season in 1981 (1983 also worthy). When we look at this project again in a few years we may change the order of some of these players, it's that close.

The third wide receiver (a non-starter) slot goes to Bobby Duckworth, 1984 followed by Tony Martin, 1994.

Lance Alworth and Charlie Joiner. Credit: Merv Corning
The Chargers passing game is legendary with coaches like Sid Gillman and Don Coryell. They produced some spectacular receiving seasons. The First-team picks are Lance Alworth, for 1965and Wes Chandler, 1982. Chandler's 1982 edges the 1980 season of John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner 1976, was excellent (and he was All-Pro in 1979). However, we think Jefferson was the superior player to Chandler, it's just that the numbers Chandler put up in the strike-shortened season of 1982 are too hard to ignore.

 In 1976 Bill Walsh was the Chargers offensive coordinator. Anthony Miller, 1989, Vincent Jackson, 2009, and Tony Martin, 1996 get honorable mention slots.
Anthony Miller. Credit: Merv Corning
John Carney, 1994, is First-team kicker then Nate Kaeding, 2009. It was hard to leave Rolf Benirschke's 1982 season to the honorable mentionsbut Carney and Kaeding were a bit better relative to their peers.
Rolph Benierschke
First-team punter goes to Darren Bennett, 1995, and is followed by Ralf Mojsiejenko, 1987. Dennis Partee gets a kicking HM in 1968 and a punting HM in 1969 as he was a dual kicker, handling both the kicking and punter for a number of seasons.

Eric Metcalf, 1997 and Speedy Duncan, 1965 are the top two punt returners and Darrien Gordon's great 1994 is left to the honorable mention slot. Andre Coleman, 1995, is the kick returner and Ronney Jenkins, 2001, is Second-team. Ron Smith's 1973 is an honorable mention.

Darrell Stuckey, 2014, and Hank Milligan, 2005, are the honorable mention special teamers. The Second-teamer is All-Pro Kassim Osgood, 2007.

The First-team special teams player is Hank Bauer, who in 1981 was credited with 52 tackles (31 unassisted), more than a three-per-game average. His 1979, 1980, or even 1982 would also fit.

Earl Faison. Credit: B. Bandaras

Fred Dean. Credit: Chuck Ren
Fred Dean, 1980, and Earl Faison, 1964 are the top defensive end seasons. Both were consensus All-Pros in their leagues and were dominant players. Dean's 1978 (14-½ sacks, 4 FF) and 1979 would also fit. In 1980 Dean had 10½ sacks and 44 tackles and drew many double teams. Faison could have been chosen for 1961, 1963 and 1965, too. We went with 1965 because he was part of a dominating run defense. He was an excellent pass rusher, and sometimes would play his left defensive end spot from a 2-point stance and was especially good at getting his hands up and knocking down passes.

The Second-team defensive ends are Leslie O'Neal, 1992 (17 sacks) Ron Nery, 1961 (All-AFL). There are some really good honorable mentions, too. Lee Williams, 1989, Steve DeLong, 1969 (14½ sacks) Marcellus Wiley, 2001 and Deacon Jones, 1972, which was his final Pro Bowl season. Additionally, Burt Grossman's 67-tackle, 10-sack year of 1990 is and HM and Chris Mims in 1994 had 43 tackles, 11 sacks, and three forced fumbles and he gets a nod, too. Finally, Leroy Jones's 1980 season of 55 tackles, 12 sacks, and 7 passes swatted away gets a bid for HM as does Coy Bacon's 10-sack year of 1975 and Joe Owens's 55-tackle and 11-sack performance in 1970. A 30 end honorable mention is Igor Olshansky and his 2007 campaign. His stat line was not impressive, but he did have a career-high in tackles, sacks, passes defensed, quarterback hits and forced fumbles, but he graded high and was one of the top 3-4 ends in the NFL for that season. 

Gary Johnson, 1980, and Ernie Ladd, 1965, get the tackle slots. Johnson was a consensus All-Pro and had 17½ sacks and 52 tackles and 3 forced fumbles and was voted by the NFLPA the NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year. Ladd was All-AFL and had 6 sacks (career-high was 9½ om 1962, though) and was stout in a top-run defense. Louie Kelcher, 1978, gets one Second-team slot. He had 75 tackles and 9 sacks and was a consensus All-Pro, though in 1977 he had 10 sacks and 108 tackles (10 were stuffs). Nose tackle Jamal Williams, 2005, gets final Second-team slot with his All-Pro 69-tackle run-stuffing performance. Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated picked Wilbur Young as one of his All-Pro tackles in 1979 and Young's 70 tackle, 12½-sack performance warranted it. Here, he gets an honorable mention.

The nickel rushers are Chris Mims, 1992, followed by Raylee Johnson, 1998.

The middle/inside backers are All-AFL Chuck Allen, 1961, and Donnie Edwards, 2004. Frank Buncom, 1964 and plugger Gary Plummer, 1991 back them up. Allen was All-AFL in 1961 and had 5 picks. In 1964 Buncom was a consensus Second-team All-AFL middle backer. In 2002 Edwards had 128 tackles, 5 picks, returned one for a touchdown, scored another touchdown on a long fumble recovery and deflected 10 passes, and was a Pro Bowler.
In 1992 Junior Seau was the NEA Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-Pro but he had several qualified seasons. In 1992 he had 15 stuffs and 4.5 sacks among his 102 tackles. Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman, 2006, due to his pass rush prowess gets the other spot. That season he had 62 tackles, 17 sacks 4 forced fumbles, and 8 pass deflections.

Billy Ray Smith, 1986, and Woodie Lowe, 1979 are the Second-team picks. Woodie Lowe's 1979 season was special. He had 97 tackles, 11 passes defensed, picked off five passes returning two for scores, had a sack, forced two fumbles. And he was almost as good in 1980 when he was a Pro Bowl alternate. Smith, in 1986, had 120 tackles, 11 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 6 pass deflections and led the NFL with 15 stuffs as a 3-4 OLBer.
Woodie Lowe
Shaun Phillips, 2010, Emil Karras, 1961, Ray Preston, 1979, and Pete Barnes, 1970, are the honorable mentions.  Preston, like Lowe, had a great 1979 season. He led the team with 131 tackles (6 were stuffs) and deflected 7 passes and picked off 5 passes of his own. Barnes in 1970 had 127 tackles and 4 sacks from his Will position. Phillips's 2010 consisted of 55 tackles, 11 sacks, 7 passes defended, 1 interception which he returned for a score and a Pro Bowl berth.
Junior Seau. Credit: Merv Corning
Antonio Cromartie, 2007, and Gil Byrd, 1990 get the First-team slots. Byrd edges Mike Williams, who in 1979 was rated by Proscout, Inc. as the top cornerback in the NFL. Williams and All-AFL Dick Harris, 1961 (3 pick 6s) are the Second-teamers. Harris could read a short pass and step up and take it to the house, which he did three times in 1961.

Dick Westmoreland was an NEA (players poll) All-AFL in both 1963 and 1964. He had no interceptions in 1963, was it because teams didn't throw his way? In 1964 he had 6 picks and recovered 2 fumbles. We are going with that, showing a stat bias. But further research is needed to sort that out and we look forward to doing it. We are giving another HM to Jason Verrett, 2015. Quentin Jammer never seemed to live up to his draft status but in 2012 he put together a good season and scored two defensive touchdowns.
Credit: Merv Corning
The top two safeties are Rodney Harrison, 1998 (strong), and Eric Weddle, 2011 (free). Their second-team mates are Kenny Graham, 1969 (strong), and Charlie McNeil, 1961 (free and a good tackler). Weddle led NFL with 7 interceptions, was All-Pro and had 88 tackles. Harrison, too, was All-pro had 114 tackles and 4 sacks.

The extra DBs are both from 1992 when Chargers used lots of nickel and dime sub-packages. Darren Carrington and Donald Frank are First- and Second-team respectively. Carrington started only four games, but picked off 6 passes and returned them for 152 yards and a score. Frank didn't start any, only played in sub packages, and pick off four passes.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.

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