The decision by the Chargers to let Kyzir White go play elsewhere in 2022 signified to the masses that, despite having a breakout campaign in 2021, Brandon Staley does not hold all that much value in the linebacker position. As it stands, the team will roll into next season with a combination of Drue Tranquill, Kenneth Murray, Amen Ogbongbemiga, and Nick Niemann.
If you don’t see a problem with that, then I’d advise going to get a check-up.
While there’s a low chance of it happening on day one, I don’t think the Chargers can leave next months draft without drafting another linebacker to help reinforce the group. However, due to the trade that acquired Khalil Mack, the Chargers are without their second-round pick. So if they wish to snag a decent player with a chance to see playing time right away, that later pick on day two looks like the sweet spot.
So which linebackers are worth a selection in the third?
For me, I like Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal. The 6’2, 250-pounder is currently ranked as the 91st-overall prospect by The Draft Network and could immediately bring an obscene amount of physicality to the middle of the Chargers defense, a trait that’s been lacking within the unit for quite some time.
Before we get into the meat of Chenal’s game, I’m going to ask you all to please view the clip below. Chenal (circled) is lined up against Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, the consensus best center in this year’s class and a sure-fire top-15 selection.
Leo Chenal vs Tyler Linderbaum— Damian Parson (@DP_NFL) January 8, 2022
Chenal uses violent and powerful hands. He flips his hips and footwork after engaging. He quickly sheds Linderbaum and the fullback! pic.twitter.com/kjUVWXl31w
Wasn’t that something?
Chenal is able to shrug off Linderbaum’s initial block before knocking off the fullback en route to clogging up the running lane. I can’t tell you how impressive this is. Linderbaum is well-known in the state of Iowa for pinning former Hawkeye and current Buccaneers right tackle Tristan Wirfs during a heavyweight bout in high school. For more context, Wirfs was rated the number one “Freak” on Bruce Feldman’s annual list of the top physical specimens in college football. So this is all to say that Chenal is an absolute animal on the field.
If you watched any football in the Big Ten this past season, you would have been hard-pressed not to see a highlight play involving Chenal wreaking havoc in the backfield. The Second-Team All-American broke out in 2021 with 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks to go along with 115 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles. He was also named the Big Ten Conference’s Linbacker of the year despite missing the first two games of the season due to a bout with COVID-19.
At his size, Chenal is also one hell of an athlete. At this year’s combine, he ran an official 4.53 in the forty and jumped an astounding 40.5 inches in the vertical. While NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein notes in Chenal’s draft profile that he doesn’t possess ideal lateral agility, his effort on a down-by-down basis does more than enough to cover up his athletic shortcomings.
Absolutely love Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal. Not sure why he isn't getting any first round hype, but he's a top 30 player on my board pic.twitter.com/B4xAEQs93W— Jack Brentnall (@Jack_Brentnall) March 19, 2022
Overall, Zierlein describes Chenal as a “densely muscled” body type that piled up the stats in categories which highly affect the game’s outcome (i.e., tackles for loss, sacks, etc.). He’s a hell of a blitzer in the A gaps and is simply a menace when he’s lined up in front of you. He’s pound-for-pound one of the strongest players in this draft and that isn’t just an objective fact coming out of the weight room. All of that strength (34 reps on the bench press) can be seen in his tape.
As it stands, the Chargers have nowhere near this type of physicality within the linebacker room. The team’s biggest linebacker, per the team’s official roster, is Nick Niemann at 244 pounds (up from 233 coming out of college). Kenneth Murray is next at 241 with both Drue Tranquill and Amen Ogbongbemiga both weighing sub-240. This group needs an enforcer and a tempo-setter, and I think Chenal can be that guy.
Down below, let me know what you all think of Chenal as a prospect, whether or not you’d like to see him land with the Chargers, and whether you believe he could be there when the Bolts pick in the third round!