Chargers Draft Talk: One Offensive Lineman In Each Round
With the draft two weeks away, we are starting to get some real clarity on where things might be headed when the time comes and the Chargers are officially on the clock. The offensive line remains among the top priorities for the Bolts in the draft as they look to continue to support superstar quarterback Justin Herbert.
The Chargers have only drafted two first-round offensive linemen in Tom Telesco’s tenure (D.J. Fluker and Rashawn Slater) as general manager, so we are really in uncharted territory here with the possibility of it happening in back to back years. And to be fair to Telesco, AJ Smith never once took an offensive lineman in the first round in his nine years as general manager. In fact, Marcus McNeill was the only top 50 pick that Smith spent on an offensive lineman. We have to go all the way back to 1985 and 1986 to find the last time the Chargers took offensive linemen in consecutive first rounds, when they took Jim Lachey and James FitzPatrick, respectively.
That being said, there is obviously a world in which the Chargers don’t select an offensive lineman in the first round. Maybe the pick ends up being a Jordan Davis, Chris Olave, or Trent McDuffie kind of player. So I wanted to use this space to highlight my favorite offensive linemen available to the Chargers in each round of the draft. While this is not a true mock draft exercise, I will be using Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator for reference.
Zion Johnson – Boston College
At this point in the draft season, we know that the top two tackles: Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal will be gone by pick 17. It also seems like a long shot that Charles Cross falls to the Chargers. Trevor Penning could be there for them, and I’m sure some fans would prefer to see their favorite team plug that gaping hole at right tackle. I understand that thought process.
However, I feel that Johnson is a much safer and also higher ceiling pick for this team and where they want to go. Johnson is easily a top-five player in this class overall for me and the only reason he is going so low in mock drafts is that he is a guard and not a tackle. The Chargers believe themselves to be in “win-now” mode. If that is the case, they absolutely need their first-round selection to be an immediate hit. I think Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi (Daniel Popper believes that there is still a strong possibility he could be re-signed) are really solid players at the guard spots, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Johnson would provide an immediate upgrade at either spot and give the Chargers a long term building block to grow with Slater up front. He could also replace Corey Linsley at center when that time comes down the road in a few years.
Some fans have argued that guard is not a position worth drafting in the top 20. I strongly disagree with that sentiment and so too does the league. In the last 10 drafts the top guard in each class has gone off the board at the following picks: 14th, 24th, 14th, 6th, 38th (Forrest Lamp), 18th, 5th, 16th, 7th, 24th, and 15th.
So outside of Lamp in a bad guard class, the top option has generally come off the board in the top 25 with two (Quenton Nelson and Brandon Scherff) going in the top 10. To me, Johnson’s draft range starts at 14 with the Baltimore Ravens. The Chargers getting him at 17 is great value in my opinion.
Abraham Lucas – Washington State
Yes, I know that the Chargers don’t have a second selection due to the Khalil Mack trade. Maybe they are able to trade back and recollect a similar pick. Maybe they use a package of their future picks to get back into the second round. Either way, it’s a scenario worth talking about.
The selection here might surprise some, but I believe Lucas is the fourth-best tackle prospect in this class after Ekwonu, Neal, and Cross. The problem is that there is a steep drop-off between Cross and Lucas, which is why the latter is mentioned here as a second-round possibility and not a first-round possibility. There is a chance that he could be there for them in the third round, but that seems unlikely due to that drop-off at a premium position like offensive tackle.
Overall, Lucas has the ideal size, length, and athleticism for what the Chargers want at the position. He has over 2,000 pass-blocking snaps on his resume and maintained a pass-blocking efficiency rating of over 98 throughout his career, per PFF. He only allowed nine total pressures (zero sacks) this past season for the Cougars and shined in matchups against Kayvon Thibodeaux, Drake Jackson, and Mika Tafua who were three of the most productive edge rushers in the conference last year. I would much rather see the Chargers get back into the second round somehow and select Lucas than watch them reach for Penning or Bernhard Raimann in the first.
Marquis Hayes – Oklahoma
When it comes to the draft, and offensive line play in general, Brandon Thorn is an absolute must-follow for every football fan. There is no one else who does it better than him. If it weren’t for his work, I probably never would have watched Hayes at Oklahoma – Thorn’s fourth-ranked interior offensive lineman in the 2022 draft class. Hayes generally goes after the fifth round on PFF or The Draft Network simulators and I don’t understand that at all.
Hayes is an old-school, tone-setting kind of offensive lineman that every unit needs in my opinion. Not in a dirty way, but Hayes is a master of sustaining blocks, playing through the whistle, and throwing his opponents to the ground. He’s not the most technically refined player in the world when it comes to pass blocking and he’s not an elite athlete, which is probably why he’s not being talked about more. However, I believe his technique issues are correctable at the next level and he’s such a good run blocker that I’d be willing to take that chance.
Max Mitchell – Louisiana
Mitchell is my favorite realistic right tackle option for the Chargers at a pick that they currently possess. He’s a small school player and is a little undersized for my liking (his playing weight was around 290 pounds in college) so I think he could go around this range. However, he does have legitimately good tape and had a productive trip to the Senior Bowl so it is possible he is ultimately selected earlier.
Mitchell started a handful of games at left tackle early on his college career, and a couple at left guard as well, before ultimately settling in at right tackle for the Ragin’ Cajuns. (He was the player who replaced current Dolphins starter Robert Hunt after the 2019 season.) So he’s got the kind of versatility and athletic traits that teams like to throw darts at on day three. Ideally, the Chargers would have the starting position settled and allow Mitchell to be this year’s version of Brenden Jaimes at tackle.
Jean Delance – Florida
Delance is a really under-the-radar player – he’s not even listed on PFF’s simulator. But the Chargers have met with the former Gator stand out on an official top 30 visit after they met with him at the Shrine Bowl so there is at least something there.
He started each of the last three seasons at right tackle and has the length (36-inch arms) and athleticism to play there in the NFL, but I believe his best position will be guard at the next level. This way, he’d be better able to show off his second-level ability, which is something he really excelled at while playing at Florida. (He’s also been training in the offseason at center to show teams he can be a versatile player.)
Delance fits the athletic profile that the Chargers are looking for when it comes to a late-round tackle-to-guard convert, just like Jaimes before him. He also volunteers his offseason hours at his local boys and girls club and is regarded as a high character player so he really does check a lot of boxes for the Chargers.
Cade Mays – Tennessee
Another player who checks a good amount of boxes for the Chargers is Mays, who started games at all five positions along the offensive line at Georgia (a program Staley loves) and then transferred to Tennessee (where the Chargers have several coaching connections) where he primarily played right tackle. Mays actually has some similarities in terms of physical profile to Feiler. Mays is a little shorter but has similar testing numbers overall.
I think Mays projects best at guard, and wish he had been able to get more reps there after transferring but understand why Tennessee would put him at tackle. There is also some injury history with Mays, which is part of why he transferred away from Georgia. So he isn’t the cleanest prospect in the world but could be worth a dart throw.
Ja’Tyre Carter – Southern University
Disclaimer, I have not been able to get my hands on any game tape of Southern University football, so this is purely speculation on my part. Carter has apparently been catching steam after testing very well at his pro day and will be meeting with the Chargers this week. His athletic profile is similar to Delance and also played tackle in college.
Ultimately, I feel like the best plan of action for the Chargers as it pertains to the offensive line is to shift Feiler to right tackle and draft Johnson or another guard in the third round. This tackle class is not as deep as last year’s and I would rather get a top-tier guard and take advantage of the flexibility Feiler offers in the short term, then ideally develop a long-term solution like Mitchell or Delance.