2022 NFL DRAFT DEEP DIVE: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
By Simon Carroll
The NFL Draft is over, and we cannot head into the three-month abyss that is the offseason without looking at what all 262 selections mean for each franchise. Whilst too early to judge just how successful a draft class each team’s was, we can look at how rookies fit within schemes, where they stand on depth charts, and who we can expect to make an impact in 2022. We continue our team by team series with the Los Angeles Chargers:
|1||17||Zion Johnson||IOL||Boston College|
|4||123||Isaiah Spiller||RB||Texas A&M|
|6||214||Ja’Sir Taylor||CB||Wake Forest|
|7||236||Deane Leonard||CB||Ole Miss|
The Chargers have long been considered a team on the cusp of challenging for the AFC, only to find a myriad of ways to let themselves down; be it injury, kicking woes, or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, with last season’s week 18 defeat to The Raiders costing them a playoff spot. With that in mind, they were aggressive in free agency, luring cornerback JC Jackson and also trading for Khalil Mack. There is a feeling of now or never for The Bolts, and they headed into the draft looking to add the final touches to their talented roster.
With superstar quarterback Justin Herbert under center, the clock is ticking for Tom Telesco and this franchise to maximise their Super Bowl window whilst he plays on his rookie contract. Learning the lessons from the days of Philip Rivers, The Chargers have poured a lot of resources into their offensive line, and on day one of the draft found the missing piece to give their gunslinger the protection he deserves. Zion Johnson possesses the size and power to be a dominant run defender, but it was his proficiency as a pass protector at tackle at Boston College that stood out on tape. His athletic testing backed up the film – the 312lb behemoth can MOVE. More suited working in confined quarters, Johnson will likely play at guard for the Chargers, allowing Matt Feiler to supplant Storm Norton at right tackle, the glaring weakness on this o-line. But Johnson’s versatility will also be valued in an organisation that seems to suffer with injuries more than most.
This offense has no excuses now – it’s time to deliver.
After using their second round pick to bring the aforementioned Mack to LA, The Chargers had to wait until pick 79 to make another selection. The acquisition of JT Woods is further testament that Brandon Staley and this coaching staff are concerned about the strength in depth of their secondary, and have focused on adding speed to the back end. JT Woods has rare athletic ability, showing elite testing at the combine, including running a 4.36 40-yard dash. He’s a tall, lean, long safety with excellent range who can change direction with ease, and showed some serious playmaking ability at Baylor, with eight interceptions in the last two seasons.
Adding a guy with the coverage ability of Woods opens up things for Staley and this defense. Woods can challenge Nasir Adderley to play as the free safety, and I would argue offers a more proficient skillset to operate in single-high. That allows Derwin James to be the wildcard, attacking the line of scrimmage safe in the knowledge that every blade of grass is covered behind him. Despite all the attention being on Jalen Pitre in Waco, Woods also has the tools to be a long-term difference maker at the next level.
With a solid roster capable of challenging in the ultra-competitive AFC West, The Chargers headed into day three looking for talent that could have very clear pathways to production on gameday. In that vein, adding Isaiah Spiller to the backfield was a savvy move, trying to offer a little thunder to the lightning that is Austin Ekeler – something I think it’s fair to say that Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree have failed to provide.
More attention to the secondary was sought in the later rounds, with Ja’Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard added to the cornerback ranks. Taylor in particular is an intriguing selection; one of the few recruits to not be redshirted at Wake Forest despite never playing defense in his life before arriving at Winston-Salem, Taylor is an impressive athlete who is a real pest at the catch-point. His football smarts and tenacity make him the ideal nickel corner, and that will be his ultimate position should Asante Samuel ascend to a spot on the outside. Until then, he should provide electric return value on special teams:
The Chargers didn’t neglect a perceived big need either, bolstering both trenches on day three. Georgia guard Jamaree Salyer was a steal in the sixth round, but it’s interior defensive linemen Otito Ogbonnia out of all the late selections who has the best opportunity to rise through the depth chart. Telesco added some d-line pieces in free agency, but The Bolts were considered players for a defensive tackle in the early rounds. WIth Jerry Tillery underwhelming and not having his fifth-year option picked up, Ogbonnia could be in line for snaps as a five-tech, and give the kind of run-stuffing presence that this unit so desperately lacked in 2021.
One To Watch: Jamaree Salyer
If i’m truly honest, I wasn’t as high as many were on Jamaree Salyer heading into draft weekend. The former Georgia Bulldog was touted by some as an early second-rounder, and whilst that was a little rich for my blood I still had him firmly as a day two prospect. Salyer has prototypical size and length for an NFL guard, and brings an aggressive mentality to the position too – he’s a physical bully who delights in moving defenders to places they do not want to be. His sheer size make him a difficult man to circumnavigate, and as a road-grading, phone booth mauler, it’s easy to see his appeal.
Salyer offered incredible value to the Chargers in the sixth round. His versatility alone will ensure he makes the 53-man roster – Salyer played every position on the offensive line during his time at Georgia. But for the Chargers, he has an excellent opportunity to challenge last year’s fifth rounder Brendan Jaimes at right guard. After last year’s selection of Rashawn Slater and acquisitions of Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler, as well as taking Zion Johnson in round one this year, the Chargers’ new look offensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the league. And if Salyer outplays his draft position, he could carve himself out a role on this unit.
|Trevon Bradford||WR||Oregon State|
|Leddie Brown||RB||West Virginia|
|Brandon Sebastian||CB||Boston College|
|Stone Smartt||TE||Old Dominion|
|Andrew Trainer||OT||William & Mary|
|Isaac Weaver||IOL||Old Dominion|
The Chargers weren’t shy in adding bodies to their roster after the draft was over, signing an incredible FOURTEEN UDFA’s. A wide variety of positions in the haul, it may be important to look at the weapons Telesco took flyers on – this front office passed on the opportunity to add more pass catchers for Herbert in this draft, so could Oregon State’s Trevon Bradford, Old Dominion’s Stone Smartt or USC’s Erik Krommenhoek earn themselves a spot in the final 53 this offseason?
Bradford excelled in Corvallis as a real possession receiver. Slightly undersized with a lack of play strength, the former Beaver shows good aggression to haul in catches under pressure, and seems to be able to carve out separation on short to intermediate routes. His path to game time as a slot receiver looks congested, with Keenan Allen, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer and Joe Reed all proficient at the position, so he’ll need to showcase his talents well through the upcoming training camps.
Tight End pair Smartt and Krommenhoek’s route to relevance looks even tougher; The Chargers depth chart at the position currently reads Gerald Everett, Donald Parham and Tre McKitty, one offseason free agent addition alongside two guys who had significant roles last year. It’s a testament to the depth in talent this roster possesses, but if either guy is hoping to wear powder blue in 2022 they best offer upside on special teams at the very least.
After historically being underwhelmed with offseasons in the past, the last two years have made a lot more sense to Chargers fans when trying to understand the direction of their franchise. A lot of that will have to do with Brandon Staley’s introduction as head coach, and likely giving GM Tom Telesco very defined requirements when it comes to building a roster. Having a talent such as Justin Herbert under center means half the battle is won, but this front office has shown a refreshing aggression of late in adding pieces to both sides of the football that can make a real impact on gameday. So much so, that if this wasn’t the Chargers and their propensity to underwhelm, you’d bank on this roster making a real push to go deep in the playoffs this season.
The focus on the offensive line and adding speed to the secondary in this draft class is welcome, and there are clear snaps to be earned for Johnson, Salyer, Spiller, Ogbonnia and Woods, with the other additions providing some depth to a roster that typically needs it. Questions will be asked as to whether this defense got more stout against the run this offseason, and after last year’s misgivings it’s a fair concern. But as the rest of the AFC continues to load up and make this half of the league formidable, The Chargers have done their part to keep pace. They have the coach, and they have the talent. Will they find a new way to disappoint in 2022, or is this truly a new era?
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.