Philip Rivers keeps picking up talented companions for his road trip up Interstate 5.
While his fellow class of 2004 quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger pretended to happily welcome rookie quarterbacks during draft weekend, Rivers watched his already-loaded offense get better.
No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams joins perhaps the deepest group of pass catchers west of Foxborough: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates and Melvin Gordon. In Rounds 2 and 3, the Chargers bulked up their shoddy interior offensive line, with second-round pick Forrest Lamp coming at a terrific value after many analysts like Mike Mayock saw him as a top-20 talent.
FIRST LOOK AT 2017 SEASON
▹ Ranking the 5 best offseasons
▹ Who will snap playoff drought in ’17?
▹ Projected Starters (NFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ Projected Starters (AFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ All-32: One major question for every team
▸ AFC | NFC
▹ Most vulnerable division winners
‘TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017’
▹ Ike Taylor’s Rankings:
▸ 100-81 | 80-71 | 70-61
“This draft tells — it wasn’t about telling me — but I think it tells our team, which is something we already believe. And I think it tells the fans, ‘Hey, we think we’ve got a chance to compete for a championship right now,’ ” Rivers told a room of Chargers fans Saturday via the Los Angeles Times. “I know the guys in the locker room believe that. I think these pieces we’ve added can help us get that.”
Rivers is right. He has a chance to be the best story of 2017 — the underrated veteran quarterback, surrounded by great talent, making one last title bid late in his career. He can have the season Tony Romo should have had in 2016.
Rivers was just one of the NFL quarterbacks who got a boost during the 2017 NFL Draft. Here are the rest who enjoyed collateral benefits over draft weekend:
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: Even Bortles could not have anticipated his offseason going this well. After a season during which he challenged Brock Osweiler as the worst starting quarterback in football, the Jaguars …
1) Retained Doug Marrone as head coach, mostly because Marrone sold the franchise on the idea he could turn around Bortles while providing continuity with the offensive scheme.
2) Re-signed Chad Henne and did not draft a quarterback, signaling that Bortles will not be challenged in the offseason or during the season. (So stop asking the question, you pesky journalists.)
3) Loaded up an already-talented defense with big free-agent pieces.
4) Traded for left tackle Branden Albert.
5) Drafted Leonard Fournette No. 4 overall and tackle Cam Robinson at No. 34 to take more pressure off Bortles.
The offense will run through Fournette, and Bortles still has three quality wideouts to target when necessary. Rarely has a quarterback done so little and been given so much.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: Last season, the Titans convinced themselves a fifth-round rookie (Tajae Sharpe) could be a No. 1 receiver. This season, they drafted someone with a true No. 1 skill set. Top-five pick Corey Davis and third-round slot receiver Taywan Taylor should expand Tennessee’s short passing and mid-range attack. Perhaps it will take another year for this passing game to come together, but Mariota finally has a group around him that he can grow up with.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Panthers GM Dave Gettleman drafts in bunches. He took two defensive tackles to start his tenure in Carolina, two cornerbacks to replace Josh Norman last year and two super-sized wideouts one year apart in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.
In 2016, the Panthers looked like an NBA team that was still playing two big men after that strategy was made obsolete by a changed game. Give Gettleman credit for recognizing something was amiss and drafting Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel this year, two “space” players who should make Cam Newton’s life easier. Newton and offensive coordinator Mike Shula need to evolve along with the team’s new personnel. Cam always has excelled at the toughest throws; it’s the short, supposedly easy stuff that has given him trouble.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati’s offense should be fun to watch again. Adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon upgrades two starting jobs with speed and athleticism. Dalton is not naturally a creator, but the team just added two more players who can create for him.
The Bengals’ season might come down to whether third-year tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher can improve. If Dalton gets time in the pocket, this Cincy squad should be frisky.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills: Nothing is guaranteed for Taylor long-term in Buffalo, but this offseason couldn’t have gone much better. The Bills found a replacement for Robert Woods in East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones, who will follow his old receivers coach to Buffalo. The team added a potential starting right tackle in Temple’s Dion Dawkins and didn’t draft a quarterback until the fifth round (Nathan Peterman). It’s Taylor’s job, and his chances of keeping it only went up when the team fired general manager Doug Whaley.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I still worry about the offensive line. The team ranked 25th in PFF’s pass-blocking rankings last season and hasn’t done anything to upgrade the unit. The Bucs are counting on the same magical thinking — hoping they simply play better — that is taking place with the Bengals’, Giants’ and Colts’ offensive lines. This draft and free-agent crop left few other options.
With that preamble out of the way, this Bucs’ weaponry is stacked after adding tight end O.J. Howard and promising third-rounder Chris Godwin. Last year, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries were the team’s second- and third-leading receivers, respectively. They could both get passed by DeSean Jackson and Howard this year.
My goal for the summer is to find something in life I love as much as Winston will love playing with this group.