Chargers’ glaring weakness, special teams, should be major focus at NFL draft


As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Times will examine their roster. Part 4 of 8: special teams.

After years of owning possibly the worst special teams in the NFL, the Chargers hired a new coordinator, George Stewart, to improve their coverage teams last season. They flipped kickers from Josh Lambo to Younghoe Koo. Travis Benjamin became the full-time punt returner.

The group was going to be better because it was a major priority.


But the improvements were marginal at best.

The kicking situation was a mess, the coverage teams took time to come together and the return game was uneven.

If the Chargers weren’t the worst, they sure were close.

Chargers draft needs: Linebackers

Finishing around the bottom of the league rankings isn’t the kind of improvement they had sought. This offseason, they’ve worked on correcting mistakes that undoubtedly cost them wins a season ago.

The biggest move was signing former Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis, who will try to do a job that Koo, Nick Novak, Travis Coons and Nick Rose couldn’t last season.

Before signing Sturgis, the Chargers also signed kicker Roberto Aguayo, a second-round pick in 2016, giving him a chance to resurrect his career.

Chargers draft needs: Defensive line

The Chargers also re-signed linebacker Nick Dzubnar, a key part of their special teams coverage units, and added safety Jaylen Watkins, who also should help on special teams.

But the Chargers aren’t done. They can’t be. And it’s not just a problem with making field goals.

The Chargers should be in the market for a kick returner considering no team had worse starting field position after kickoffs. They also need punter Drew Kaser to be more consistent. His shaky punting against Jacksonville was one of the reasons why the Chargers weren’t able to hold on in a critical Week 10 loss.

There’s work to be done. There’s not a clearer way for the Chargers to be better in 2018.

Under contract: Caleb Sturgis ($1.75 million), Roberto Aguayo ($555,000), Drew Kaser ($668,456), Mike Windt ($1.07 million), Anthony Kukwa ($480,000), Travis Benjamin ($7 million), Nick Dzubnar ($1.13 million), Austin Ekeler ($$556,666).

Free agents: The Chargers found a key special teams contributor in Ekeler last season as an undrafted free agent. Any players still available, with the exception of starting-level safeties, probably will have to contribute on special teams if they hope to stay on the roster.

Draft: If the Chargers hadn’t added Sturgis, kicker would’ve been high on the team’s draft wish list. Now, kick returner is the top special teams need. Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes and San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny are two of the top kick returners in the draft. Both should be off the board in the early rounds, though.

Roster decisions: Drew Kaser will be the punter for the third year in a row, and while he’s shown off a big leg, he also has been inconsistent. The Chargers brought in competition to face Kaser last year in training camp, and the team will have to decide if Kaser is the right man for the job.

NEXT: Offensive line.

Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports