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Chargers.com Team Awards: Most Improved Player
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We asked our panel of experts and insiders to select their choices for various awards for the 2017 season. We will reveal their answers over the coming days.
Next up, a look at who is the 2017 Chargers Most Improved Player:
Ricky Henne – Drew Kaser
What a difference a year makes. One year after an inconsistent rookie campaign, Drew Kaser emerged as one of the top punters in the NFL. He ranked third in the league in gross punt average (48.1) and ninth in net average (41.3). The second-year player out of Texas A&M also uncorked the sixth-longest punt in the NFL with a 69-yard blast. A ton of credit must go to Special Teams Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach George Stewart as well for helping Kaser take a huge step forward.
Hayley Elwood – Darius Philon
The 2015 sixth-round pick of the Bolts quietly made a name for himself in 2017. After struggling with some inconsistencies during his first two years in the league, Philon played in all 16 games for the first time in his career while starting four contests. As Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley said earlier this season, “Sometimes guys the more years they play, it kind of triggers for (them).” Trigger it did. Additionally, Philon finished the season with 31 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, one forced fumble and 4.5 sacks. He proved to be a reliable force to be rotated in up front, and when his number was called, the defensive line didn’t miss a beat.
Matt “Money” Smith – Melvin Gordon
Not just season to season, but each and every week it seemed Gordon got better and understood more of what was asked of him. His final three games of the season were his three best, culminating with a special effort against the Raiders. Gordon became a real three-down, all-around back this year, and his 1,600 yard, 12 touchdown effort is a product of his dramatic improvement, and his leap into the top tier of runners.
Nick Hardwick – Melvin Gordon
Both in the run and the pass, Melvin has shown that he has elite ability in this league and is a premier back. At first, he did it through the pass game, being a potent receiving back. But towards the end of the season, and in particular, from the Kansas City game and on, Melvin showed why he was a first round back as a runner. The best games of his career, not by the numbers, but by the eye-popping runs, the cuts, the suddenness when needed, the patience as required, making defenders miss in space, getting skinny, being big and devastating. Melvin showed how good he can be when he gets into a “state of flow” and turns himself loose. Look out 2018.
Chris Hayre – Trevor Williams
In two years, Williams has gone from undrafted free agent to impact starter on the league’s No. 3 passing defense. He, like Casey Hayward, was recognized as a top-10 cornerback in 2017 by Pro Football Focus. When Jason Verrett was lost after Week 1, Williams filled in seamlessly for the Pro Bowler. Improvement was evident at many position groups on both sides of the ball, but Williams gets my vote.