1. TE Brandon Manumaleuna – The versatile, beefy H-back has been a steal since joining the Chargers via a draft-day trade in 2006. He keys the running game using his powerful 295-pound frame to function as an extra offensive tackle. And he plays a vital role in pass protection, as well, by chipping defensive ends and lining up as a personal protector in third-and-long situations.
While Antonio Gates is clearly the tight end de jour when the Chargers look to pass, Manumaleuna can make some plays with the ball in his hands. He's caught 39 balls and scored six touchdowns over the last three years.
DE Jacques Cesaire
2. DE Jacques Cesaire – The seven-year veteran is the personification of a self-made player. He came out of Southern Connecticut State as an undrafted rookie in 2003 and has developed into one of the NFL's top backup 3-4 linemen. However, the term backup isn't entirely accurate, since Cesaire has averaged seven starts over the last five seasons.
In addition to playing both end spots with equal efficiency, Cesaire does the little things it takes to build a winning football program. He contributes on special teams; he helps bring along young linemen, such as Vaughn Martin and Keith Grennan; and he sets a great example on the practice field and in the locker room. Those intangibles far outweigh the 8.5 sacks he's posted over the last three seasons.
3. LS David Binn – Nate Kaeding already has a Pro Bowl appearance on his résumé. Mike Scifres is likely to earn an all-star invite of his own after this season, thanks in part to last season's playoff masterpiece against the Indianapolis Colts. And both of the Chargers' kickers say Binn is the catalyst for their success.
Binn, who holds the franchise record for most games played (239), is among the most consistent performers in the NFL. He flies under the radar because the media only talks about long snappers when they botch a play, a seemingly non-existent occurrence for San Diego's iron man.
FS Steve Gregory
4. FS Steve Gregory – Although he is not exceptional in any one area, Gregory does a lot of little things well. On defense, he's a versatile safety who's become a steady contributor in the dime defense. On special teams, he has a knack for making big plays on the kickoff and punt teams. And on the practice field, he sets the tone with his unrelenting focus and drive.
Gregory faces a daunting task this season, as he'll scrap with up-and-comer Paul Oliver and newcomer Kevin Ellison for time in a suddenly crowded safety rotation. But given Gregory's history of overcoming the odds -- sticking as an undrafted free agent, proving white boys can play defensive back, etc. -- it would be foolhardy to bet against him.
5. OL Scott Mruczkowski -- Despite starting just two games over the last four seasons, Mruczkowski plays a key role for the Chargers. In addition to blocking on special teams, he provides proven depth at every position on the line except for left tackle. That versatility can free up an extra spot on the roster or on the game-day active list, both of which are huge assets.
Mruczkowski's ability to play the hub position is what allowed the Chargers to let Jeremy Newberry leave this offseason without adding a true backup center. And his selflessness is what allowed the Chargers to draft another versatile interior lineman, Tyronne Green, knowing Mruczkowski will mentor the rookie rather than fight him off. Those types of intangibles make Mruczkowski a quintessential glue guy.
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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.