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Chargers 2021 Pre-Free Agency Overview: Offensive Line

Let’s talk about the hog-mollies.

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Los Angeles Chargers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Alright, Chargers fans. It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite position group: the offensive line.

Of all the positions across the Chargers’ roster, this is the group likely to see the most change over the course of the next two to three months. Guys will be released, others will walk in free agency, and we all fully expect one or two new names to be added via this year’s draft.

This might get a bit long, so let’s go ahead and dive in.

On Roster: OT Bryan Bulaga, OT Trey Pipkins, OG/C Scott Quessenberry, OG Tyree St. Louis, OT Storm Norton, OG Nate Gilliam, OG Ryan Hunter

Bulaga, despite missing six games in 2020, is the only player with his named currently penciled in as a starter in 2021. He was the highest-graded starter for the Chargers with an overall grade of 61.6, per Pro Football Focus, and that’s essentially right on the dot as “average” with their grades. When he was on the field, The 32-year old was rock-steady in both pass and run blocking, but did see some struggles against pure speed rushers like Carolina’s Brian Burns. He rarely ever put Justin Herbert in harm’s way and that’s essentially all we can hope for when it comes to this position.

Pipkins was a surprise pick in the third round of the 2019 draft. Telesco justified the pick with his excellent footwork, athleticism, and smarts. Through his first two seasons, he’s still fairly far off from being consistent enough to hold a starting job. He got better from year one to year two, but there’s still work to be done. He allowed five sacks across 13 games with five starts.

Quessenberry is an interesting case. After seeing time as an emergency interior lineman his rookie season, “Q-Berry” was thrust into the starting lineup at center for nine games in place of Mike Pouncey. I personally thought he played admirably as he allowed just one sack and had three total penalties. His final PFF grade of 58.4 is just a hair under “average” (60.0) and would have been a full 10 points above the 2020 grades of both Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp. Do with that information as you will.

At the end of the season, Norton was the Chargers’ highest-graded offensive lineman with an overall grade of 65.1. He played in six games and started three in place of an injured Bulaga at right tackle and saw some time at left tackle in spot duty.

Tyree St. Louis was a surprise member of the initial 53-man roster this past September. When it was announced that Turner would miss Week 1 against the Bengals, St. Louis got the nod to start in his place. He would go on to start two games at right guard and play in five total. As of Friday, it was reported that the Chargers tendered St. Louis in what is likely an attempt to retain some depth with so many starters from this past season expected to hit the market. In all, St. Louis played a total of 80 snaps, allowing zero sacks, but recorded an overall grade of 37.7 by Pro Football Focus.

Gilliam and Hunter round out the lineman on the bottom of the Chargers’ roster. Gilliam was signed as a UDFA out of Wake Forest who rooms with Justin Herbert and fullback Gabe Nabers. He saw zero time on the active roster but it looks like the Chargers think he’s worth keeping around. Same goes with Hunter. He was signed at the start of last October after spending some time with the Chiefs from 2018 until he was cut prior to the start of the 2020 season. He spent two stints on the active roster in 2019, including their Super Bowl victory over the 49ers.

Free Agent(s): Mike Pouncey (Retired), Sam Tevi, Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Ryan Groy, Cole Toner

Pouncey gave the Chargers one excellent back in 2018 when the team went 12-4 and won their first playoff game since 2013. It was incredible to see how much of a difference a great center could make and I think that’s another area the Bolts need to focus on during the upcoming singing period. Unfortunately, Pouncey suffered a severe neck injury early in 2019, costing him his entire season, before succumbed to his chronic hip ailments which ultimately ended his career after he was forced to miss the entire 2020 season following hip surgery.

He was a heck of a player during his career and his time in Los Angeles and he’ll always hold a special place in the hearts of fans for what he did in his short time with the Chargers.

Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco will have their work cut out for them as they try to maneuver through the decisions on whether or not to bring back any or all of Lamp, Tevi and/or Feeney once free agency begins.

I thought Tevi had his best season as a professional in 2020. His athleticism on the outside helps make up for a lack of nuance in his game and he’s at his best when asked to seal off the edge in the run game. His two sacks allowed were a career-best by a mile as the former sixth-round pick allowed eight sacks in each of the previous two seasons. I personally don’t think Tevi should return as the starter, but the team could stand to bring him back as a swing tackle who can slide in during emergency situations.

After such a rough start to his career, seeing Lamp not only start every game in 2020, but play every single snap of the seasons was incredible. His seasons totals of one penalty committed and two sacks allowed look awesome on paper but his PFF grade of 49.4 tells a different story. At the same time, I think any semblance of an underwhelming 2020 season can be pushed off a bit knowing it was his first season as a starter and the first year since his senior campaign at Western Kentucky where he’s played in more than seven games. Lamp has minimal tread on his tires and I believe he’s still got the most upside of the three. Of the big three free agent lineman, I think Lamp has the biggest chance to return in 2021.

Feeney garnered a lot of love from fans this past season for rocking the tried-and-true mullet all year long while starting at center for the first time in his career. Feeney did fine, all things considered. His penalties (two) and sacks allowed (four) were the lowest since his promising rookie season, but his overall PFF grade of 48.2 was the worst mark of his four years in the NFL. Of course we should hold his latest campaign with minimal weight knowing his inexperience there, but his previous two seasons at guard were not what this team needed, either.

Over the past three seasons, Feeney is the only Chargers offensive lineman to record multiple games with an elite PFF grade (90.0+). However, he’s also the only lineman to have recorded a grade below 10.0. In 2020, he was most inconsistent in pass protection. In fact, Feeney recorded more games with a sub-40.0 grade than he did with a grade above 60.0, which is considered just “average.”

Feeney’s best ability has always been availability, but that cannot be the best measuring stick for a Chargers offensive lineman anymore if this team is ever going to get to where they want to be under the new coaching staff.

Groy and Toner each started three games apiece at right guard as the team tried numerous combinations up front in order to mitigate the effects of Turner’s lingering groin injury. Both were just “fine”, which isn’t exactly what you hope for. Groy was an Anthony Lynn connection from there days in Buffalo so I do not expect him to be back in 2021. Same for Toner. I expect Staley to cut ties with a good number of the guys near the bottom of the depth chart.