The fourth-annual ranking of the top 10 Bolts

The time has come once again for the annual ranking of the San Diego Chargers' ten most important players. When this tradition began four years ago, it was a challenge to come up with ten players worthy of any sort of distinction. Now, it is almost impossible to trim the list without doing an injustice to several deserving players.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson – Not only is Tomlinson the best player on the Chargers, he may be the best player in the league. Even with all of his record-breaking numbers in 2006, the most impressive stat is that he lost just one fumble in 404 touches.

2. Antonio Gates – Despite scoring single-digit touchdowns for the first time since his rookie season, Gates had another great year in 2006, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He dominates between the hashes and routinely rips passes away from defenders.

3. Luis Castillo – An ankle injury cost Castillo six games last season and derailed his Pro Bowl campaign. Extrapolating his numbers over a 16-game schedule would have given him 59 tackles and 11 sacks, incredible numbers for a defensive end in a 3-4 alignment.

4. Jamal Williams – A phenomenal combination of size and power, Williams commands double-teams on every snap yet still collapses the pocket and makes plays in the backfield. The Chargers will need another strong year from Williams with first-time starters Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm playing behind him.

5. Shawne Merriman – Lights Out was the driving force behind the last season's most ferocious pass rush, netting 17 of the team's 61 sacks despite his four-game steroid suspension. If he plays in all 16 games in 2007, he could challenge Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22½ sacks.

6. Philip Rivers – When the team finally took the reins off, Rivers quickly proved he is capable of greatness. His 22-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio was stellar, as was his performance in crunch time. His passer ratings in the fourth quarter (116.6), in the last two minutes of a half (120.8), and on fourth down (a perfect 158.3) were all sensational.

7. Quentin Jammer – After years of modest production, Jammer finally played up to the potential the team saw in him when he was a top-five pick in 2002. He had four interceptions in the first 12 games before teams started throwing away from him. Also, he is the best cornerback in the league in run support.

8. Marcus McNeill – A magnificent rookie season ended with McNeill earning a well-deserved spot in the Pro Bowl. The second-round pick started all 16 games and was called for zero holding penalties in the process. His pass blocking gave Rivers time in the pocket and his run blocking had L.T. routinely running left.

9. Vincent Jackson – The time has come for Jackson to take over as the No. 1 receiver and indications are he is more than ready. He has the toughness to make difficult catches over the middle, the speed to get deep, and the size to block linebackers and safeties.

10. Igor Olshansky – This ranking is a reflection of not only what Olshansky has done, but what he is primed to do. He is one of the league's strongest players and excels at stuffing the run and occupying blockers. Additionally, he has been working diligently on developing his pass-rushing repertoire and has the potential to get about half-a-dozen sacks.

Also Considered: Shaun Phillips, Kris Dielman, Mike Scifres


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