San Diego Chargers: Ladarius Green

ESPN fantasy football experts released the top 200 players for the 2014 season Tuesday, which you can check out here. And with all 11 starters returning from one of the top offenses in football, it's no surprise that six San Diego Chargers made the cut.

Running back Ryan Mathews is the top San Diego player at No. 37, followed by Keenan Allen (42), Danny Woodhead (87), Donald Brown (114), Philip Rivers (118) and Nick Novak (157).

Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green did not make the list, but the duo is rated the No. 15 and 16 tight ends in ESPN fantasy football.

Mathews is ranked No. 17 among running backs, followed by Woodhead (36) and Brown (48).

Rivers is ranked No. 14 among quarterbacks, and Allen comes in at No. 16 among receivers.

Novak is the No. 7-ranked kicker in ESPN fantasy football.

And if the Chargers' defense is looking for any more motivation, they will find it here -- ESPN fantasy football ranks San Diego's defense as the second-worst in the league.
ESPN NFL insider Matt Williamson listed 14 current players as No. 1 pass-catchers in the NFL in this ESPN Insider piece. Insider Surprisingly, the San Diego Chargers did not have a player on that list, even though Keenan Allen posted 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season last year.

Williamson followed that article up with this ESPN Insider piece Insider detailing his top 13 future No. 1 pass-catchers. Now, I fully expected to see Allen’s name on this list. But another San Diego player, talented tight end Ladarius Green, was included instead.

I understand Williamson’s reasoning for leaving Allen off of this list. Here’s what Williamson had to say about Allen when asked to evaluate San Diego’s receiving group in a positional analysis I posted last week.

“As much as I like Allen, to ask him to improve dramatically in one season may be asking too much,” Williamson said. “He’s a really good receiver, but he does not have the athletic ability of an A.J. Green or a Julio Jones. He could be close to his ceiling already.

“He uses his body really well. He’s an advanced route runner, has good hands and is physical. But he’s not fast. Teams will have another year to study him, and they’re not afraid of the deep ball against him.”

Williamson says that Green could be the next Jimmy Graham because of his size and speed, and believes Antonio Gates is impeding the Louisiana-Lafayette product’s development. Williamson is not as high on Allen because he does not believe the Cal product has enough speed to consistently create separation and force corners out of their backpedal.

And I agree with this sentiment -- to a point. As a slow possession receiver back in college known more for crack-back blocks than explosive plays, I can appreciate a 4.4-second, 40-yard time more than most.

However, the ability to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage, short-area quickness, strong hands, polished route running, competitiveness and the ability to run after the catch have more to do with winning consistently in man coverage in the NFL than straight-line speed.

The most obvious example of this fact is Jerry Rice, considered by most the best receiver in the game. Rice ran a 4.6-second, 40-yard time coming out of Mississippi Valley State. But you rarely saw Rice get caught from behind.

Hall of Famer Cris Carter and San Francisco's Anquan Boldin are two other receivers who have a similar skill set to Allen, and both had long, productive careers in the NFL. In my opinion, Allen is elite at enough of these characteristics that he will develop into a true No. 1 receiver with diligence and hard work.

Another underrated aspect for Allen is he has one of the best quarterbacks in the game throwing to him in Philip Rivers.

The Oakland Raiders have had one of the best 4 X 100-meter relays at receiver in the NFL in the past decade, but that speed has not equated to consistent production.

Allen ran a 4.71-second, 40-yard time at his pro day coming out of Cal. But he still was nursing a knee injury, and is probably more of a 4.55 guy now. That’s fast enough.

Speed is important, but it isn’t everything.
In this series we take a look at 12 players for the San Diego Chargers who are 25 or younger and who could be considered foundational or impact players.

Player: TE Ladarius Green
Age: 23

The skinny: Selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft by the Chargers out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Green flashed his playmaking ability in 2013. Taking advantage of teams double covering Antonio Gates, Green totaled 17 receptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with an impressive 22.1 yards per catch. Green was targeted 28 times and finished with seven catches of 25 yards or more, including a season-high 60-yard reception for a score at Kansas City.

Reason for optimism: San Diego head coach Mike McCoy admitted that the Chargers did not use Green enough in 2013, an acknowledgement that the 23-year-old has just scratched the surface of his vast potential. The humble Green said he’s still learning the nuances of the game from mentor Antonio Gates, so expect that relationship to continue to pay dividends for the Chargers. Quarterback Philip Rivers called Green the fastest player on offense (he ran a 4.53-second, 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine). Expect the Chargers to find innovative ways to use that speed in the upcoming season.

Reason for concern: At 6-6 and 240 pounds with great body control and soft hands, Green should have been targeted more near the end zone. But Green had just four red zone targets in 2013. That should change in 2014, with Green playing a more prominent role in San Diego’s red zone package. Also a willing blocker in the run game, Green needs to continue to work on that skill set so opposing defenses don’t treat plays with him on the field as obvious passing situations.
SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates had a bounce back year, playing a full, 16-game season for the first time since 2009. And Ladarius Green emerged as a big-play threat, giving the San Diego Chargers one of the best tight end combinations in the NFL.

Lock: Gates, Green
Looking good: John Phillips
On the bubble: Ryan Otten
Free agents: Jake Byrne

The good: Gates was productive, finishing with 77 catches for 872 yards and four touchdowns. Green emerged as a big-play threat the second half of the season, finishing with 17 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns for an impressive 22.1 yards per catch average. Phillips developed into one of the better blocking tight ends in the league.

The bad: Gates fumbled twice this season, and bobbled another pass that led to a Philip Rivers’ interception against Cincinnati. Gates totaled three catches for 15 yards in two playoff games, after finishing with a team-high 114 targets during the regular season.

The money: Gates is due to make $5 million in base salary for the upcoming season. He turns 34 in June. Although Gates is getting long in the tooth, he still commands attention from defenses in the middle of the field, and teams have to game plan for him. The presence of Gates allowed other players like Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Green to shake loose in the passing game. Gates also provides a good veteran presence in the locker room, so I think the future Hall of Famer is worth bringing back at that number. Green will make $570,000 in 2014, and is under contract until the end of the 2015 season. Phillips is rehabbing from a knee injury that cut short his 2013 season, and is due to make $1.175 million in 2014. Phillips is under contract until the end of the 2015 season.

Draft priority: The Chargers could add depth at tight end, but other positions have more pressing needs. Green is developing into one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. And if Phillips returns healthy from a serious knee issue that required surgery, the Chargers solve their need a blocking tight end. Perhaps San Diego could invest a mid-to-late-round pick in another developmental tight end for the future.
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC wild-card round:

What it means: San Diego’s Cinderella season lives on. The Chargers kept Cincinnati’s 22-year playoff-victory drought alive and in the process earned their first postseason win since the 2008 season. San Diego advances to the AFC divisional round, where the Chargers will face a familiar foe in the Denver Broncos. The Chargers split with the Broncos during the regular season, losing 28-20 in San Diego on Nov. 10 and winning 27-20 in Denver on Dec. 12.

Turnover bonanza: San Diego's defense forced the Bengals into four turnovers on Sunday -- a fumble by running back Giovani Bernard and three costly miscues by quarterback Andy Dalton, a fumble and two interceptions. The Chargers scored only six points off those turnovers, but defensively, they did a nice job of putting consistent pressure in Dalton’s face.

Cool-hand Rivers: While Dalton again struggled in the postseason, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers showed the value of having a franchise quarterback. Rivers didn’t throw for a ton of yards, but he didn’t need to. Rivers finished 12-of-16 for 128 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to tight end Ladarius Green. More importantly, Rivers and the San Diego offense finished with zero turnovers.

Stock watch: Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Chargers linebacker Donald Butler showed why San Diego should consider keeping him around. Butler finished with a team-high 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss.

What’s next: The Chargers travel to face the Broncos in the AFC divisional round playoffs at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday in Denver.
SAN DIEGO -- Good morning. The San Diego Chargers’ playoff chances were not helped by the Miami Dolphins (8-6) win at home against New England on Sunday.

However, San Diego’s path to the postseason remains the same. The Chargers need to win their final two games at home against Oakland and Kansas City, finishing alone at 9-7. Along with that, the Dolphins have to lose their final two games at Buffalo and at home against the New York Jets, coupled with the Ravens (7-6) losing two of their last three games. The Ravens travel to Detroit to face the Lions in Monday Night Football, then finish the season at home against New England and on the road at Cincinnati.

This projected playoff scenario using ESPN’s playoff machine shows the Chargers getting in at 9-7 as the last AFC Wild Card team, and traveling to Cincinnati for a rematch against the Bengals in the opening round of the playoffs.

Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated provides an updated look at the playoff picture after Week 15 results.

ESPN Dolphins beat reporter James Walker writes that Miami’s win over New England makes the Dolphins’ path to the playoffs simple -- win at Buffalo and at home to the New York Jets in the regular season finale and they are in.

In this ESPN Insider piece, Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus ranks the roster depth of every NFL roster. The Chargers are placed at No. 13 in the league, which I thought was a bit high. Jahnke: “The Chargers have used a nickel defense most often this season, which makes Sean Lissemore (+15.2), Lawrence Guy (+8.5) and Cam Thomas (+2.4) all backups -- with Lissemore standing out the most. Whether you consider Woodhead or Ryan Mathews the starting running back, both have played very well when called on. Ladarius Green (+9.3) also looks like a future star at tight end. The Chargers tried to fix the offensive line in the offseason, but it still has a little ways to go. Due to injuries, they lack players who can come off the bench and provide a pass rush off the edge.”

Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus takes a look back at San Diego’s big win over Denver last week.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego talks to Melvin Ingram about his long road back from ACL reconstructive knee surgery.

Ricky Henne of offers five lessons learned from San Diego’s win at Denver.

Playing-time breakdown: Chargers

December, 3, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of the snap counts from Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

OFFENSE (Based on 65 snaps)

Quarterback -- Philip Rivers 65.

Running back -- Ryan Mathews 36, Danny Woodhead 27, Le'Ron McClain 4 Ronnie Brown 1.

Wide receiver -- Keenan Allen 65, Vincent Brown 63, Seyi Ajirotutu 5.

Tight end -- Antonio Gates 60, Ladarius Green 60, John Phillips 4.

Offensive line -- D.J. Fluker 65, Jeromey Clary 65, Johnnie Troutman 65, Chad Rinehart 65, Nick Hardwick 65.

Offensive analysis -- With slot receiver Eddie Royal unavailable due to injury, the Chargers predominantly played two-tight end sets against the Bengals. Ladarius Green played a season-high 60 snaps. ... All five offensive line starters made it through the game without an injury taking them off the field for a second straight week. ... Philip Rivers finished 5 of 10 for 73 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on third down. ... Rivers 80.0 passer rating was his lowest this season.

DEFENSE (Based on 62 snaps)

Line -- Corey Liuget 43, Kendall Reyes 43, Cam Thomas 39, Sean Lissemore 25, Lawrence Guy 20.

Linebacker --– Donald Butler 61, Reggie Walker 59, Manti Te'o 56, Tourek Williams 45, Thomas Keiser 19, Bront Bird 2.

Secondary -- Eric Weddle 62, Marcus Gilchrist 62, Shareece Wright 61, Richard Marshall 61, Johnny Patrick 17, Jahleel Addae 6, Darrell Stuckey 1.

Defensive analysis: After being replaced in the starting lineup, cornerback Derek Cox did not play a single snap on defense for the first time this season. But Cox played seven snaps on special teams. ... Sean Lissemore played a season-high 26 snaps, totaling four tackles. ... After struggling to start the game, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton finished 8 of 13 for 149 yards and a touchdown in the second half. ... San Diego's defense has forced four turnovers the past two games. The Chargers' offense has scored just 10 points off of those turnovers.

Morning Links: Ken Whisenhunt a stud

November, 25, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- ESPN’s Kevin Seifert places San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on his weekly list of studs and duds for Week 12 of the NFL for his role in the resurrection of Philip Rivers. Seifert: “So who gets credit for Rivers' renaissance? Rivers, of course, and surely new Chargers coach Mike McCoy has played a role. But I submit Whisenhunt as a less-obvious recipient. Whisenhunt's work with Rivers and the Chargers' offense has reminded us how good he had the Arizona Cardinals going as head coach when he had competent personnel at quarterback. There will be more than a few NFL teams searching this winter for an offensive-minded head-coaching candidate with a history of elevating the play of quarterbacks. At this point, it's difficult to know how Whisenhunt couldn't qualify as a strong candidate for one of those jobs.”

Speaking of Rivers’ rebirth, ESPN Insider Louis Reddick breaks down how Rivers has made such an impressive comeback in this ESPN Insider piece. Insider

ESPN Chiefs beat reporter Adam Teicher writes that the Chargers exposed some weaknesses in Kansas City’s stingy defense, using crossing routes to create some explosive plays.

Former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen writing for Bleacher Report has an excellent break down of Rivers' winning touchdown throw to Seyi Ajirotutu.

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego says against Kansas City we might have seen the beginning of a succession at tight end from Antonio Gates to Ladarius Green.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes that Ajirotutu silenced Arrowhead Stadium with his winning touchdown catch.

Ricky Henne of recaps the game.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated places San Diego at No. 15 on his Fine Fifteen list. King: “Hat tip to Antonio Gates. Here’s a basketball player at Kent State who took a flyer on football because he was the size-speed type of athlete to be a good tight end. Good call. Sunday in Kansas City, Gates became the fourth tight end in NFL history to pass the 700-catch and 9,000-yard plateaus. He now has 701 receptions and 9,006 yards. Don’t want to bum him out, but Gates needs only 600 catches to pass Tony Gonzalez.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Even as San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green blazed past Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs Quintin Demps and Brandon Flowers as if the two were standing still for a 60-yard touchdown reception, something else ran through his mind.

“I just hoped I didn’t trip,” Green said, smiling. “Or fall down and fumble or something. I was just so excited. I don’t think I ran by him. I think he took a bad angle. It just looked kind of deceiving. C’mon now, I’m not that fast.”

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers begs to differ.

“He’s the fastest guy on the team,” a smiling Rivers said in the locker room afterwards. “That might make some of the receivers mad, but it’s true in my opinion.”

As promised, the Chargers used Green more often against Kansas City, and it paid big dividends. Green was targeted four times, and finished with three receptions for 81 yards, including his first career touchdown reception in San Diego's 41-38 victory.

Those numbers do not include what would have been a 35-yard reception in the second half that was called back because of an ineligible player downfield penalty on San Diego offensive lineman Jeromey Clary.

The heir apparent to Antonio Gates, Green still has some work to do, according to his mentor.

“I try to do as much as I can to help mold him into a starter in this league,” Gates said. “I see that in the future for him. I was once a guy in that situation. Unfortunately I played and started as a rookie. I think once you put everything you have into a situation like I have and my career, and you play with a guy and are like, ‘Wow, he’s starting in the league and he’s working.’”

Rivers and Reid get cozy: After completing a pass to Green near the Kansas City sideline, Rivers argued with the officials when Kansas City head coach Andy Reid stepped between the San Diego quarterback and the referee, bumping him from behind as if telling Rivers to get back out on the field.

Rivers had a few words with Reid before running back to the huddle.

“He kind of bumped me, but it was all in fun,” Rivers said. “He probably coaches a lot like I play, with a lot of passion, respect and love for the game. That’s how I played today. I had a lot of interaction with the fans behind me, but it was all good clean fun.”

Injury update: Running back Ryan Mathews suffered a hamstring injury in the second half and was replaced by Ronnie Brown. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker suffered what looked to be a leg injury, but should be OK. Receiver Eddie Royal had to leave the game in the final quarter with a chest injury according to U-T San Diego, and did not return. And defensive lineman Corey Liuget suffered an unknown injury on the final play of the game, and had to be helped off of the field.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- All Ladarius Green does is make plays.

The second-year tight end out of Louisiana-Lafayette is an explosive play waiting to happen. And once again that was apparent against the Miami Dolphins, as he finished with four catches for a team-high 81 yards, including a long of 35 yards.

For the season, Green has 11 receptions for 229 yards. And Green’s only been targeted 14 times this season, averaging 20.8 yards per catch.

“I still need to get more comfortable,” Green said. “I still need to get better with my route running. Like I said, I’ve still got a long way to go, and a lot more to learn.”

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said that Green is continuing to earn his trust by being in the right place at the right time.

“We know what he’s capable of,” Rivers said. “And he’s going to continue to have a role for us in the passing game, and in the running game. He was big for us with a couple of big catches.”

At 6-6 and 240 pounds, Green is being groomed as the heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates. He’s blessed with good speed and soft hands. But with as much as San Diego uses three-receiver formations, it’s been hard for offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to work Green onto the field.

“He gets plenty of reps,” Whisenhunt said this week. “I don't think you worry about that too much. It’s not like Gates is playing bad. You try to put him in there with Antonio so maybe you could do some things with him in packages, but he'll get playing time.”

Add to that the fact that Gates, even at 33 years old, continues to play at a high level. It’s no surprise that Gates is San Diego’s most targeted receiver with 80 targets. He also leads the Chargers in receptions with 56 for 664 yards and three touchdowns.

“I’m a little more comfortable, but I’ve still got a long way to go,” Green said. “Especially, I’ve still got a lot more to learn from the big guy over there (motions to Gates).”

One area the Chargers could use Green more is in the red zone. Green has yet to score a touchdown for San Diego this season, and red zone efficiency remains a thorn in the side of San Diego coach Mike McCoy. The Chargers have a 49 percent efficiency rate in the red zone, No. 24 in the NFL.
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

Observed in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers' 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

On to the next: After his team squandered a fourth-quarter lead for the second time in three games, San Diego running back Danny Woodhead told the Chargers Radio Network he won’t spend time worrying about what could have been. “I think that’s how it has to be, because we’ve got to get ready for the next one,” Woodhead said. “That’s part of the NFL. You can’t sit and whine or be mad about it. You’re not happy, but you’ve got to move on and get better at the things that we’ve got to get better at.”

Prayers unanswered: San Diego tight end Ladarius Green had a solid day, finishing with two receptions for 48 yards, including a 34-yard catch. However, Green told the Chargers Radio Network that he had his eyes elsewhere when Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker found Justin Hunter for the go-ahead score. “I honestly wasn’t looking up at it,” Green said. “I had my head down, praying.”

Heads-up play: Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker knew he should have made the catch over the middle that bounced off his hands on the final drive. But with San Diego defensive back Marcus Gilchrist taking in the ball for a drive-ending interception, Walker quickly atoned for his mistake by knocking the ball out of Gilchrist's hands. Walker’s heads-up play gave Tennessee the chance for the go-ahead score four plays later. “That’s a huge play. If he quits on that play, feels sorry for himself because he dropped it, the game is over,” Locker said.

Chargers bounce back well

August, 25, 2013
Random thoughts on the San Diego Chargers’ 24-7 win at Arizona on Saturday night:
  • The Chargers bounced back and played a strong game in the most important one of the preseason. San Diego was sloppy last week in Chicago. But Mike McCoy’s team showed nice improvement at Arizona.
  • Quarterback Philip Rivers’ numbers were not great. He was 10-of-18 passing for 71 yards and he was intercepted once. But the Chargers moved the ball well under Rivers’ guidance.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews continued his strong preseason as he had 57 yards on 14 carries. Mathews did fumble (the Chargers ended up scoring on the play) once. He needs to fix that part of his game.
  • San Diego’s offensive line appeared to be much improved from the Chicago game. Arizona had just one sack. That is a positive development. Rivers needs protection.
  • San Diego was strong defensively. Defensive end Dwight Freeney was very active. At 33, he has shown this preseason that he still has something left in the tank.
  • After being awful on special teams in the first two preseason games, San Diego was better Saturday. They blocked a punt and a field goal.
  • Second-year tight end Ladarius Green had a 57-yard catch. He continued to show he may be ready to be a contributor this season.
  • Second-year safety Brandon Taylor had five tackles and looked good. It was his first action since tearing his ACL late last season. The team has high hopes for him.