Post-Chargers 2022 NFL Draft Analysis: Questions That Need Answering

Photos: Zion Johnson in Vegas

Post-Chargers 2022 NFL Draft Analysis: Questions That Need Answering

The Chargers 2022 NFL Draft has come and gone, and they added eight new players to the roster after trading two of their seventh-round picks in this year’s class to retrieve the 2023 6th-round draft pick they initially traded for Khalil Mack. Those eight players are: guard Zion Johnson, safety J.T. Woods, running back Isaiah Spiller, defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia, guard Jamaree Salyer, cornerbacks Ja’Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard, and fullback/h-back Alexander Horvath

This was not a sexy draft by any means, many of us wanted to see them add another speedy wide receiver or another pass rusher. Ultimately, I think it has the makings of a very good draft for general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Brandon Staley. Johnson, Woods, and Spiller will contribute immediately as a starting guard, rotational defensive back, and complementary running back to Austin Ekeler

That said there are a few questions the Chargers will need to answer between now and training camp.

Who Starts At Right Tackle?

The Chargers entered the offseason with big-time question marks at right tackle after cutting the oft-injured Bryan Bulaga. Storm Norton essentially started the whole season in his stead last year (Norton missed one game with Covid) and struggled mightily. He allowed the second-most pressures in the league (60) and finished with the 10th worst pass-blocking efficiency rating (94.9). Norton was a restricted free agent this year and the Chargers did decide to keep him around on that tender, which to me is a clear sign that they do not view him as a starting-caliber player. 

Instead of addressing the tackle position in the draft, the Chargers ended up prioritizing the guard spot by selecting Johnson and Salyer. Judging from the press conferences after the fact, it appears they simply viewed those two to be the best players on the board at the time they were chosen. Salyer started a lot of games for Georgia at left tackle and the Chargers like that flexibility, but he will start his career at guard. So it is a little puzzling they didn’t at least come away from the draft with a developmental tackle. 

The question obviously becomes who will fill that void left by Bulaga’s injury history and Norton’s ineptitude. Ever since Staley was brought in the Chargers have been very smart about upgrading their offensive line. They’ve prioritized low-pressure numbers and high pass-blocking efficiency ratings at every turn – Johnson and Salyer are the latest pieces of that puzzle. This is another reason why I have such a hard time believing Norton will be that player.

Trey Pipkins, their former third-round pick from Sioux Falls, is an option that we have to talk about. Pipkins only started two games last year and he clearly showed flashes of development in those starts, especially after looking completely lost in the pre-season and struggling mightily in 2020. He’s been training this offseason with Rashawn Slater and known offensive line guru Duke Mayweather, who believes he will take another big step forward this year. He is a candidate for the role but I don’t believe he is THE candidate.

Of the players on the roster, Matt Feiler is a much stronger possibility to start at right tackle in my opinion. He started there for the Steelers in 2019, where offensive line assistant coach Shaun Sarrett was also on staff. That season he allowed 25 total pressures and had a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 97.8, which was nearly identical to the rating he had this past season at left guard with the Chargers. With the addition of Salyer and the lack of a tackle addition in the draft, I think the odds of Feiler kicking out to tackle went up. 

The other option of course is for the Chargers to add a veteran in the summer wave of free agency. Former Packers and Titans tackle Dennis Kelly remains a free agent and would probably be my preferred option. He started six games in Green Bay last season and essentially performed at the same level he did for the Titans in 2020 when he only allowed 27 total pressures and had a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 97.7. That fits the profile and we all know how the Chargers like former Packers offensive linemen. Former Bills tackle Daryl Williams and Seahawks tackle Brandon Shell could be options as well.

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Where Is The Depth At Edge Rusher?

As I mentioned earlier, the Chargers did not address the backup edge role behind Joey Bosa and Mack. This happened after they let Kyler Fackrell leave in free agency for a minimum contract – to the Raiders no less. They appear to be very high on a potential second-year jump from Chris Rumph, despite barely seeing any flashes from him as a rookie. 

They could have (and should have in my opinion) taken someone capable of being a legitimate upgrade over him with the 79th or 123rd overall pick. I would have even settled for a selection for someone that would have been next in line after Rumph. That spot currently belongs to former CFL standout Jamal Davis. Staley said on Saturday after the draft that they will explore the veterans left on the market. 

That market unfortunately has been mostly tapped out. Now, it’s left with players like Trey Flowers, Takkarist McKinley, Justin Houston, Kyle Van Noy, and Alex Okafor. They are each upgrades over Davis to be sure, but hardly an awe-inspiring group of players. Signing someone like Flowers, who was once considered a rising star at his position, rebooting his value, and then potentially gaining a compensatory pick for him after the season would make a lot of sense from a business and football perspective. Regardless, the Chargers have to add someone to the rotation. The Chances of Mack and Bosa each playing 17 games this year are slim. They need reliable depth. 

Who Will Be The Fourth Cornerback On The Depth Chart?

***Editor Note: Since this article was published, CB Bryce Callahan was signed by the Chargers to a 1-year deal

Easily the biggest surprise of the draft for me was the Chargers neglecting the cornerback position in the draft until the sixth round. They were heavily rumored to be taking one with the 17th overall pick after Staley said at the combine that they would always be looking for cornerbacks and reports came out that they were not particularly high on incumbent Michael Davis. They passed on several quality cornerback options at every pick and frankly settled for special teams contributors over potential depth options, all due respect to Taylor and Leonard.

The pass defense was a major concern last season and a lot of that was due to the lack of depth at corner. Davis, Asante Samuel Jr., and Chris Harris each struggled with injuries throughout the season and that left the Chargers relying on Tevaughn Campbell, and the likes of Ryan Smith, Kemon Hall, Davontae Harris, and Essang Bassey. As it currently stands, Campbell remains the fourth cornerback on the roster and Staley said on Saturday that they hold Hall in very high regard. They only carried five cornerbacks on the roster last season, so where does that really leave us? To me, it seems that Campbell’s job is safe and they’ll let Hall, Taylor, and Leonard compete for that final spot. The process they carried out in this regard, is underwhelming. It reminds me a lot of the K.J. Hill situation last year where they added bodies to challenge him for the return duties but didn’t really add competition. I won’t be surprised if Taylor and Leonard end up being practice squad stashes while Campbell and Hall keep their spots on the depth chart next year. 

I would have loved it if the Chargers could have answered at least one of these questions during the draft but overall I do really like this class. Ultimately, each draft class is judged by how many contributors you are able to find after 2-3 years and I think we’ll see at least four from this class become starters at some point in that time frame. My favorite thing the Chargers did this weekend was bolstering the interior of both sides of the ball. Both of those units are well equipped with quality depth going forward, for really the first time in years. 

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Photos: Zion Johnson in Vegas – John Locher