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Chargers Mailbag: Ranking the Bolts 2023 MVP Candidates


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

We've reached the final Mailbag of the 2023 season.

A quick note of thanks to everyone for following along this year and for all of the great questions and insight over the past few months.

I'm still planning on running a Mailbag here and there throughout the offseason, it just depends on the timeline of the Bolts upcoming general manager and head coaching search … and how well I'm able to function early on with a baby due at the end of the month.

Alas, onward with a look at the Chargers MVP candidates from this year. Here are my Top 3:

1. Khalil Mack

This one seems pretty simple to me.

Mack has turned back the clock in numerous ways in his age-32 season and has been one of the league's best defensive players.

Because of the Chargers record, he likely won't be mentioned in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, but if you've watched the Chargers this year then you have seen Mack's impact.

Mack has set a career high with 16.0 sacks while also hitting the 100.0-sack milestone for his career. He's in range of tying (or breaking) the Chargers single-season sack record of 17.0.

Plus, Mack has been a dominant run defender, something Chargers Interim Head Coach Giff Smith alluded to after Sunday's game.

"The sacks are cool, but the way he plays the run and the amount of snaps that he is having to play since Joey [Bosa] has been out," Smith said. "The willingness to give everything for this team speaks volumes."

Simply put, it's been a treat to watch Mack play this season. He is a future Hall of Famer in my eyes.

2. Justin Herbert

Herbert's final stat line of 3,134 passing yards to go along with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions won't turn any heads around the league.

Especially since he's going to end up playing in just 13 games.

But Herbert's impact on the Bolts — both on the field and in the locker room — can't be understated this season.

He's the engine that makes this offense (and the team overall) go. That's been pretty clear by what we've seen in recent weeks.

This is also a quarterback who has played through numerous injuries, whether it was rib and shoulder issues in 2022 or the fractured finger on each hand this season.

Herbert is the face of the franchise and is the No. 1 reason why any general manager or head coach would want this job. And that's as good a reason as any.

3. Keenan Allen

While Mack shined on defense, it was Allen who aged like fine wine on offense.

If Allen had been healthy and played of late, he would have shattered all of his personal single-season numbers.

He already set the Chargers franchise record for catches in a season with 108.

And — depending on whether or not Allen plays in Week 18 — his 1,243 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches currently as the second-most of his career.

Oh yes, Allen also passed the 10,000-yard mark for receiving yards along the way.

Allen was nearly unguardable for most of the 2023 season. We'll see what the offseason brings, but Allen has cemented himself as perhaps the best wide receiver in Chargers history.

Which young players are you watching in Week 18? (Jeff via email)

Those of you who had been clamoring for youngsters to get more playing time got your wish Sunday.

Daiyan Henley saw some action on defense, even if it was just eight snaps. Jordan McFadden started at left guard due to injury and played well in his first start.

Those two players will be at the top of my list for Week 18 (that's assuming McFadden starts again for Zion Johnson).

Here's what Smith said of Henley postgame:

"We wanted to get him out there some. He had a little bit of a tight groin that we had to wrap up," Smith said. "But it was good to see him get some action out there. Hopefully we can increase that, get some numbers going and let him keep growing in that room.

"We went into the game rotating with him and Nick [Niemann] right there. We had some stuff early that he was not playing as good," Smith added. "We tried to keep it calm and keep him out of a difficult situation. We were able to get him out there and he made some plays for us. I think it is something we can definitely build on."

So, some early growing pains for Henley, but that's to be expected … and also likely why he wasn't out there in a larger role earlier this season.

As for McFadden, you almost forgot he was out there Sunday, and that's a good thing!

Like the rest of the Bolts roster, we'll see how the offseason plays out but perhaps McFadden is a name to watch up front.

Two other names to keep an eye on in Week 18: Quentin Johnston and Tuli Tuipulotu. Hopefully both can end their respective rookie seasons on a high note.

A valid question, but it's one I don't have an answer to right now.

However, we should get an answer fairly quick in the coming weeks as the Bolts HC and GM search gets fired up.

Given the injuries to Herbert and others on offense, plus Corey Linsley's health condition, it's a little tough to evaluate the job Moore did in 2023.

The running game was poor save for Week 1, something Moore and other have addressed. But there were plenty of bright spots in the passing game, just not enough consistency week-to-week.

While there's a lot of focus on the head coaching search, keep in mind that there's a trickle down effect with that, too, as some members of the Bolts current staff might not be back.

We'll end with this one.

For me, it's the feeling of excitement of walking up to the stadium knowing that anything is possible.

And that goes further than just wins and losses.

What throw will Justin Herbert make today? How does a specific 1-on-1 matchup play out? And so on…

As I've said here numerous times, I am very fortunate and blessed to have this job. That feeling remains the same even as a disappointing season comes to a close.

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