Surely, this is the year. The Los Angeles Chargers have missed the playoffs the last three seasons, but after coming ever so close to the postseason last year, and with a young, ascending star quarterback, 2022 promises to be the year the Chargers return to the NFL’s January tournament.
Despite not making the playoffs in 2021, general manager Tom Telesco saw enough in the Chargers’ nine-win 2021 season to garner further investment. And invest he did, heavily.
With quarterback Justin Herbert still on his relatively inexpensive rookie contract, Telesco took the extra salary cap space at his disposal and handed out a whopping $125-million in total guaranteed money during free agency. Most notably, Los Angeles signed J.C. Jackson, the top cornerback on the market, to a five-year, $82.5 million deal. They also bolstered their run defense by signing defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson to multi-year deals, and brought in tight end Gerald Everett on a two-year contract.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the trade market, which they used to acquire three-time All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears.
After Telesco’s wheeling and dealing, Los Angeles enters 2022 as one of the most talented teams in football.
Los Angeles brings back the near-entirety of an offense that finished top-five in both total yards and points last season. The major catalyst for their offensive success is Herbert, an unconscionably talented quarterback entering his third year with MVP potential. Herbert can make any throw on the field with seeming ease, and he does so with a poise and deciveness that belies his age.
It helps that Herbert has one of the NFL’s most complimentary set of offensive weapons to work with. Wide receiver Keenan Allen remains an elite route technician now in his tenth season. Fellow receiver Mike Williams is a very good downfield ball winner, averaging over 15 yards per reception last year. Second-year receiver Josh Palmer in another big, athletic wideout that could blossom as a sophomore.
Austin Ekeler is probably the best multi-purpose running back in the game. He scored a whopping 20 total touchdowns last year, second among all non-quarterbacks. The newcomer Everett is a reliable target at tight end.
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Where this offense needs to see the biggest improvement is along the offensive line. Second-year left tackle Rashawn Slater is already Pro Bowl caliber, and center Corey Linsley is excellent. Rookie first-round pick Zion Johnson is expected to play well immediately at right guard. Right tackle, though, remains this team’s biggest question mark. Trey Pipkens will probably get the starting role to begin the season, despite having only started 10 games over his three-year career with meager results. Last year’s starter at right tackle, Storm Norton, is still there, but the Chargers would be loath to have to turn back to him.
This offense should be comfortably top-10 by season’s end. If the offensive line can greatly improve over last year, this offense could be something truly special.
Defense is where the Chargers are hoping to see the greatest returns on their offseason spending spree. Despite having a defensive-minded head coach in Brandon Staley, Los Angeles finished 29th in points allowed last season. The additions of Jackson and Mack to already present defensive stars Joey Bosa and Derwin James give Staley plenty of firepower to work with. He should have the talent to run the two-high-safety defense he became known for as the Los Angeles Rams’ coordinator.
The first and third levels of this defense should be more than fine. Bosa and Mack form perhaps the most fearsome pass-rushing duo in football, and the signings of Joseph-Day and Johnson should fortify the defensive line. On the back end, Jackson can be counted on to cover top receivers, while James can be used wherever he’s most needed. Los Angeles is hoping to see a leap from second-year cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. to round out the secondary.
Linebacker is where this defense could struggle. 2020 first-round pick Kenneth Murray has been a major disappointment and may not even start. 2019 fourth-round pick Drue Tranquill is likely to start alongside Kyle Van Noy, yet another free-agent signing, at interior linebacker. That’s hardly a dynamic pair, but the Chargers are hoping they’re good enough to allow the star power on this defense to shine.
The range of outcomes for this defense is wide, but if it can stay healthy, it has more than enough talent to leap into the league’s upper third.
To say the playoffs is the expectation for this team is an understatement. The Chargers should be ready to vault into the NFL’s upper echelon. Despite playing in an extremely difficult division, Los Angeles has its eyes on a deep postseason run and a championship to show for it.
– Ryan Cuneo is the Managing Editor of Full Press Giants. He covers the New York Giants. Like and follow on Follow @ryan_cuneo Follow @FullPressGiants and Facebook.
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