Chargers 53-man roster: Final projection as preseason concludes with win over 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers beat the San Francisco 49ers, 23-12, on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium to close out the preseason.

Coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco must now cut the roster down to 53 players by Tuesday’s 1 p.m. PT deadline. They currently have 91 players on the roster — the 90 maximum plus defensive lineman CJ Okoye, who holds an exemption spot as an International Pathway Program Player.

In previous seasons, teams faced multiple deadlines during the cutdown process. In 2021, rosters had to be at 85 players by Aug. 17, 80 players by Aug. 24 and 53 players by Aug. 31. Last season, the league decreased that to two deadlines — 80 players by Aug. 23 and 53 players by Aug. 30. This season, there is only one deadline. Because of the number of cuts being made in such a short period this year, we could see the Chargers announce their moves in phases over the next four days.

Using everything I have seen and heard during training camp and the preseason, this is my best and final attempt at predicting the Chargers’ initial 53-man roster.

Quarterbacks (2)

Justin Herbert, Easton Stick

Who’s out: Max Duggan

We have detailed the new emergency quarterback bylaw a few times this offseason. But a refresher: This season, teams can designate an emergency third quarterback on game days as long as that QB is on the 53-man active roster. The emergency quarterback is only eligible to play if the other two quarterbacks are unable to participate due to injury or disqualification. I asked Staley this week about his philosophy on the new bylaw with roster cuts looming. He mostly danced around the question, other than to say: “We’ve discussed it. We’ve kept three quarterbacks in the past, but every year is a new year.” In the past, Stick was that third quarterback. And I think the Chargers were concerned about Stick getting claimed on waivers if they had cut him. I do not think the same danger exists with Duggan, so I am going with two quarterbacks. The roster spot is better used in another position group. The odds of a team winning a game if they have to play a third-string emergency quarterback? Quite slim. Duggan should make it back onto the Chargers’ practice squad.

Running backs (3)

Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller

Who’s out: Elijah Dotson, Tyler Hoosman, Aaron Shampklin

The Chargers have kept four running backs on their initial 53-man in each of Staley’s two seasons as head coach. But I do not think any of the backs behind Ekeler, Kelley and Spiller have done enough to earn a spot. Dotson had a memorable performance in the first game of the preseason, but he had two big drops the following week against the New Orleans Saints. Dotson is a practice squad candidate. I could see the Chargers adding a running back as the dust settles after cutdown day. Kelley had the splash play of the day against the 49ers, breaking loose for a 75-yard touchdown run.

Fullback (1)

Zander Horvath

Who’s out: No one

Horvath is on first-team punt, punt return, kickoff and kick return. He will be one of the Chargers’ most important special teams players this season.

Receivers (6)

Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis, Keelan Doss

Who’s out: John Hightower, Pokey Wilson, Terrell Bynum, Milton Wright, Darrius Shepherd, Jalen Guyton (PUP)

Hightower was making a push for the 53-man through the first half of camp. But he missed time with an injury and has not played at the same level since. Hightower also had two false start penalties against the Saints. With Guyton still on the physically unable to perform list, I think Doss makes the team as a sixth receiver. Guyton would have to miss at least the first four regular-season games if he remains on PUP after the cut deadline.

The Chargers split into two fields for their walkthroughs before training camp practices — the ones on one field and the twos and threes on another. Doss was with the ones every day, and that did not waver throughout camp. The Chargers have kept five receivers on the 53-man in each of Staley’s first two seasons. But at this stage, I do not think Davis is ready to make any sort of significant impact as a receiver. His role will be as a return specialist. Because of that, I think the Chargers will keep an extra receiver. Doss has worked with the punt, punt return and kick return teams during the preseason, so he has some special teams flexibility. Hightower, Bynum and Shepherd are practice squad candidates.


Keenan Allen dominates in his final practice of training camp

Tight ends (4)

Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr., Tre’ McKitty, Stone Smartt

Who’s out: Hunter Kampmoyer, Michael Ezeike

Smartt led the Chargers with four catches in the loss to the Saints. He has started making plays more consistently in practice over the last two weeks. He is a good athlete with reliable hands who has shown signs of developing into a real contributor on offense. Smartt has also been a regular on the first-team punt return unit. I still have concerns about the blocking in this room, but the time to address that was months ago.

Offensive line (9)

Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Corey Linsley, Jamaree Salyer, Trey Pipkins III, Will Clapp, Jordan McFadden, Zack Bailey, Foster Sarell

Who’s out: Brenden Jaimes, Isaac Weaver, Austen Pleasants, Johari Branch, Matt Kaskey

Jaimes played some guard in practice this week with Bailey kicking out to right tackle. But right now, McFadden and Bailey are ahead of Jaimes on the depth chart at the guard spots. So, too, is Pleasants, who started at right guard over Jaimes on Friday night. Jaimes has played more center than guard this summer, and the Chargers already have a backup center in Clapp.

Defensive line (6)

Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox, Austin Johnson, Scott Matlock, Christopher Hinton, Nick Williams

Who’s out: David Moa, Jerrod Clark, Terrance Lang, CJ Okoye, Otito Ogbonnia (PUP)

I am projecting Ogbonnia to start the season on PUP. If that happens, these six seem set. The Chargers kept five interior defensive linemen in 2021. They kept six last season. With Johnson just returning to practice after a long rehab from season-ending knee surgery, I think some extra depth in this room is needed. Matlock has flashed and looks like he will make an impact defensively at some point in 2023. If Okoye is cut and clears waivers, the Chargers can stash him on their practice squad using an exemption spot that does not count toward the 16-player maximum.

Edge rushers (4)

Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Tuli Tuipulotu, Chris Rumph II

Who’s out: Carlo Kemp, Ty Shelby, Brevin Allen, Andrew Farmer

Not much to add here. Kemp, Allen and Farmer should all be practice squad candidates.



Derek Carr, Khalil Mack ready to lead new teams where they couldn’t take the Raiders

Linebackers (5)

Eric Kendricks, Kenneth Murray Jr., Daiyan Henley, Nick Niemann, Amen Ogbongbemiga

Who’s out: Blake Lynch, Mikel Jones, Nathan East, Tae Crowder

Henley, Niemann and Ogbongbemiga will all have big roles on special teams this season. Lynch could land on the practice squad, but he suffered an injury against the Saints and did not practice this past week.

Safety (5)

Derwin James Jr., Alohi Gilman, JT Woods, Raheem Layne, Mark Webb Jr.

Who’s out: A.J. Finley, Tyler Baker-Williams, Michael Jacquet

Webb is the player I debated the most when finalizing my 53-man. He had a groin injury that kept him out of the game against the Saints. But he returned to practice this week before starting and playing the entire first half Friday night. Webb has always had the talent to be a reliable rotational player for the Chargers. Injuries have held him back. He’s healthy now, and I think that means he makes the roster.

Will the Chargers keep Mark Webb Jr. as a fifth safety? (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Cornerback (5)

J.C. Jackson, Michael Davis, Asante Samuel Jr., Ja’Sir Taylor, Deane Leonard

Who’s out: Cam Brown, Tiawan Mullen, Amechi Uzodinma, Matt Hankins

Samuel has won the slot corner position battle with Taylor. Brown and Mullen, both undrafted rookies, have performed well at corner in camp and the preseason — Brown on the outside and Mullen in the slot. Mullen has also flashed as a special teams coverage player. I think both guys will end up on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

P JK Scott, LS Josh Harris, K Cameron Dicker

Who’s out: K Dustin Hopkins

Dicker and Hopkins both kicked Friday night. I think Dicker ends up winning this competition. Hopkins missed most of last season with a hamstring injury. He then missed most of training camp this year due to injury. Dicker has performed well, and then injury concern with Hopkins feels like the difference.

(Top photo of Keelan Doss: Sergio Estrada / USA Today)

The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.

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