Los Angeles Chargers Draft Not Flashy, But Necessary After Flashy Offseason Start

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers turned heads early in the offseason.

They acquired All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a second-round pick this year and a 2023 sixth-round pick. The Bolts then signed Pro Bowl cornerback JC Jackson to a huge contract. five years and $82.5 million in free agency.

But a streak of star-studded activity came to a halt on the opening night of the NFL draft when the Chargers used their first-round pick, No. 17 overall, to select a guard.

“The guards are people too, right?” Tom Telesco asked, smiling, in a rhetorical question after the first round of his 10th NFL draft as general manager of the Chargers.

After making the initial high-profile offseason moves to improve a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL last season and allowed an average of 27 points per game, the Chargers selected Boston College shooting guard Zion Johnson. with his first pick in the draft, prioritizing protection for third-year quarterback Justin Herbert and the need to keep his offense moving.

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“I know he’s not the sexiest pick in the world, but he’s tough, durable, smart,” Telesco said of Johnson, who is expected to step in immediately at right guard. “We have some excellent skill players, both as a receiver, tight end, also as a running back and with Justin Herbert.

“Obviously, these guys can’t do their job without a rock-solid offensive line. As much as this pick is to protect our quarterback, which is a big part of it, it’s also to make it easier for everyone else. It’s pass protection, it’s run game.”

It’s not just that the Chargers’ first pick wasn’t that exciting, their entire draft didn’t make the headlines. And it also didn’t produce the exact results the general manager expected.

“It never comes out perfect, because you can’t control everything,” Telesco said. “But it was a good weekend of work.”

However, in a season with playoff expectations after a near miss in 2021 extended a three-year postseason drought, the Bolts were able to quietly address several areas of need, including the offensive and defensive lines, running back and secondary.

“From the last game we played to now, we certainly are a very different-looking football team,” said Brandon Staley, whose first season as coach resulted in a 9-8 record and a third-place finish in the AFC West. “There’s a lot of time between now and when we play, so we’re always going to be trying to find that winning edge, but I really like the team that we have in front of us now.”

The Bolts selected eight players after entering the three-day event with 10 total picks. Two of his picks, both seventh-round picks, ended up with the Bears, as the Chargers traded them to reacquire 2023 sixth-round pick they shipped to Chicago as part of the Mack trade.

The Chargers selected guard Jamaree Salyer in the sixth round to join Johnson on the offensive line. The Georgia product has experience playing all five positions on the line, and while he said some teams projected him at right tackle, the Chargers have targeted him as an inside player.

“He has a great makeup, a great attitude to go in there and try to win a job,” Telesco said of the NCAA national champion.

The Bolts used a fourth-round pick in Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller, whose running and pass-catching skills are expected to complement Austin Ekeler. Staley said safety Derwin James Jr. endorsed Spiller “to a great extent” as another former player for coach Jimbo Fisher, who coached James at Florida State and Spiller at A&M.

«[James] I was saying, ‘You know if you can play all three downs for Jimbo, you’re a legit guy,'” Staley explained. “He has very good instincts.”

Spiller has led the SEC in rushing since 2019, which includes 1,844 rushing yards after contact in that span, the best mark in the conference.

The Chargers also added Purdue fullback Zander Horvath in the seventh round.

Defensively, the Bolts built depth in their secondary by drafting Baylor safety JT Woods in the third round.

“It’s a deep with a lot of coverage capacity, with its length and its speed,” Telesco said. “He shows a little bit of movement in the corners, so we see him as a defensive back.”

They also took Wake Forest cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor and Mississippi cornerback Deane Leonard in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively.

The Chargers also drafted UCLA defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia in the fifth round to join a defensive front that has already undergone a significant makeover with the addition of defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson in free agency. Like Ogbonnia, Joseph-Day doesn’t have far to travel, as he was with the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams last season.

“We see a lot closer to what I expect it to look like,” Staley said of the inside of the defensive line. “We are not there yet, but we are much closer.”

Some questions remain as the Chargers continue their offseason schedule and look ahead to training camp.

Despite adding two offensive linemen, there is no clear starter left at right tackle. Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III will again be among the candidates to fill the position.

And depth remains a concern behind Mack, Joey Bosa and second-year man Chris Rumph II.

“To fill the depth of that position, we’re going to have to look elsewhere,” Staley said. “Whether it’s undrafted free agency right now or veterans free agency or before Game 1, sometime during training camp, that’s probably going to happen at one of those three junctures.”

As Staley prepared to leave his post-draft news conference, he reminded himself that work is ongoing.

“Today is an end, tomorrow is a beginning,” he said.

Sometimes it is conspicuous. At times, as seen during a three-day draft stretch, it’s less than glamorous.

But if all goes according to plan, each phase will play its part in making the Chargers relevant again in late January.

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Los Angeles Chargers Draft Not Flashy, But Necessary After Flashy Offseason Start