The Los Angeles Charger officially broke training camp on Wednesday, so it’s time to dish out some awards.
Our panel of insiders including Ricky Henne (@ChargersRHenne), Hayley Elwood (@ChargersHElwood), Chris Hayre (@ChrisHayre) and AM 570’s Beto Duran (@DuranSports) weighed in with who stood out this summer.
Ricky Henne: Hunter Henry –Big things are expected from the second-year tight end, and he didn’t disappoint in camp. I’m not sure a day went by when the 6-5, 253-pound Henry didn’t flash. Whether it was a spectacular, athletic grab or big rumble after the catch, Henry showed why he’ll be a major cog in the Bolts’ high-powered offense.
Hayley Elwood: Travis Benjamin – Coming off an injury-ridden season, it was clear Benjamin wasn’t playing at his full potential in 2016. Fast-forward to training camp and it looks like number 12 is back and ready to go. He caught deep balls almost daily, turning on his speed to bypass defenders for scores.
Chris Hayre: Philip Rivers –Keenan Allen was a close second here, but simply put: Rivers makes it all go. He was sharp throughout camp, but his performance during the first day of joint practices against the Saints’ first-team defense showed me all I needed to see from No. 17. He’s ready for Sept. 11 in Denver.
Beto Duran: Philip Rivers –Though we haven't seen much of him in games, the way he practices and leads stands out. Precision passing during drills, hitting receivers in stride and so much more.
Ricky Henne: Casey Hayward –Even though he rested the final week of camp, last year’s NFL leader in interceptions looked in midseason form. Hayward was all over opposing receivers with blanket coverage, and was a star in one-on-one drills when the receiver usually has an advantage. Melvin Ingram was a close second for me, as the speedy edge rusher was always in the backfield, but in the end, I couldn’t give it to anyone other than Hayward.
Hayley Elwood: Melvin Ingram – This was a tossup between Ingram and Joey Bosa. How can you pick one? The reasoning behind Ingram is that this was his first full camp after having made the switch to defensive end. He lives to rush the passer, and with his switch, is able to do it even more. It’s clear Ingram’s transition to the LEO position has worked, so opposing QBs better beware.
Chris Hayre: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (tied) –There are elite pass-rushing tandems throughout the NFL — and specifically in the AFC West — but Bosa and Ingram could be the league’s best in 2017. They consistently lived in the backfield against joint practice opponents (Rams and Saints), which in turn makes this Gus Bradley-led defense so effective. Earlier in camp, I asked former Chargers All-Pro Shawne Merriman about the Bosa-Ingram tandem, and he likened it to his years playing with fellow outside linebacker Shaun Phillips.
Beto Duran: Joey Bosa –Love watching him during drills. High motor, never stops working. Could see the frustration from some of the offensive linemen when battling Bosa.
Most Impressive Rookie
Ricky Henne: Desmond King –I know I’m not going to be alone, as I expect a clean sweep from the fifth-round pick out of Iowa.
Hayley Elwood: Desmond King – King is taking strong camp and transitioning it to games. The fifth-round pick worked his way into the first-unit defense per his play on the field. He’s had multiple interceptions in Chargers Camp, most notably picking off Drew Brees in one of the Chargers-Saints joint practices.
Chris Hayre: Desmond King – I have a sneaky feeling that the fifth-round pick may sweep this category. King makes the type of plays that can shift momentum and alter the course of a game. It showed up in flashes during camp, but shined bright during the first two preseason games at StubHub Center. King will earn his way onto the football field this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he does something to positively affect the outcome of a game or two.
Beto Duran: Desmond King –He's always around the ball! Taking advantage of playing time when starters were resting and learning the playbook. Looks like the fifth-round pick is proving that combine numbers can be misleading.
Most Surprising Player
Ricky Henne: Desmond King –I have to give it to King as well. The fifth-round pick showed flashes during the offseason since arriving in early May, but I don’t think anyone expected him to consistently have this type of impact early on. Now, it’s only three weeks of camp and two preseason games, but while he still has a long way to go, King has played above expectations. He looks to be the third straight fifth-round pick to make an immediate impact for the Chargers, following in Kyle Emanuel and Jatavis Brown’s footsteps.
Hayley Elwood: Artavis Scott – This was another tossup for me – this time between Geremy Davis and Scott. However, I went with number 82 based on his performance having joined the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent. Scott used camp to his advantage to show why he left Clemson as the school’s all-time leading receiver. Despite his 5-10 frame, he had numerous acrobatic catches, including many that went for touchdowns.
Chris Hayre: Travis Benjamin –Benjamin’s speed isn’t surprising, but the quick-strike, explosive plays that he routinely made throughout camp certainly were. That 74-yard touchdown reception in the team’s first preseason game against the Seahawks mirrored what we had regularly seen early in Costa Mesa. A lingering knee injury had some effect on Benjamin’s 2016 season. Now healthy, I look at him as this offense’s X-factor in 2017.
Ricky Henne: Sean Culkin –It’s got to be the undrafted free agent out of Missouri. While Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry top the depth chart, the next three tight ends on the roster in Sean McGrath, Jeff Cumberland and Asante Cleveland all missed extended portions of camp. Culkin was thrust into a bigger role, and made the most of it. His ability as a blocker has never been in doubt and he’s shown the ability to be a capable receiver in the passing game.
Hayley Elwood: Chris McCain – McCain joined the Chargers practice squad halfway through the 2016 campaign, but he clearly kicked it up a notch in camp in his push to earn spot on the 53-man roster. The lanky defensive end has been playing the LEO position in Gus Bradley’s defense and his camp performance has translated to game play as he’s had six total tackles, 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits through two games.
Chris Hayre: Branden Oliver –The importance of running the football during the regular season cannot be overstated. Oliver had an excellent camp, bouncing back remarkably from an Achilles injury in preseason last year. He provides needed depth behind Melvin Gordon, and adds big-play ability to an already potent offense.
Beto Duran: Tre Boston –I think every fan that attended camp walked away with a selfie or autograph. He was usually the last player to leave because he was signing for everybody. It’s the little things that mean the most to fans.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed above do not represent the opinions or policies of the Los Angeles Chargers’ front office staff, coaches or executives.