Often mentioned in the same sentence as colossal free agent bust Robert Meachem, fellow wide receiver Eddie Royal, though not as big of a disappointment, still didn’t live up to the expectations the San Diego Chargers had when they signed him to a three-year, $13.5 million deal last offseason.
Injuries and lack of chemistry with Philip Rivers were mostly to blame for a disappointing 2012 season, in which he caught just 23 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. Though Royal hasn’t had great production since 2008, the Bolts believed they could get the most out of him and return him to rookie form when he was viewed as one of the NFL’s best young receivers with the Denver Broncos.
Under then-head coach Mike Shanahan, Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns in his rookie year, by far the best numbers of his career. After his rookie season, Shanahan was fired, and Royal’s production has never been the same. Under the offensive minds of Shanahan’s successor Josh McDaniels and former Broncos offensive coordinator and current Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, Royal has averaged just 340 yards receiving per year. The fact that Royal’s production dipped right when McCoy became his OC in Denver is a concern as they now reunite in San Diego, but things possibly could be different this time around.
More concerning though is Royal’s injury history. Royal was having an excellent offseason last year, but any momentum he created was lost after he injured his groin in training camp and his hamstring during the season. Royal has had some durability issues throughout his career, missing 10 games over the past two seasons. Injuries may have zapped some of his quickness and explosion, but he should still have some shiftiness and speed to get the job done, both as a receiver and punt returner.
In OTAs and minicamp this offseason, Royal was running with the first-team offense as the slot receiver. Though he may be the early favorite to win the slot, he’ll have to be at his best to hold off youngsters Vincent Brown and rookie Keenan Allen, both of whom have superior upside. With so much talent at receiver, the ship could sail without Royal if he suffers another injury.
With San Diego focusing more on short and intermediate routes this season, Rivers may look to Royal in the underneath routes often and will rely on him to make plays in space and gain yards after the catch. If Royal can stay healthy, he could be in for a big year. However, if he gets injured or struggles at any point, the Chargers won’t hesitate to replace Royal with any of the other talented receivers on the roster.