We're a long way from week 1, but I feel loathe to focus on my job today, and the Padres don't play for a few more hours. So without further ado, here are my off-the cuff guesses at how 2022 plays out:
Jerry Tillery does not make final roster cuts:
With team not picking up a lucrative 5th year option (an easy choice for a team that historically loves to reward its "guys"), Tillery not showing up to voluntary OTAs in a make or break year, and his reputation as a player that does not work at his craft or fight every down like others -- it looks harder and harder to justify using a roster spot on a player just because of his draft spot. I would have never pegged the Chargers as capable of such a decision, however what I saw in year 1 of Brandon Staley's regime was: give Telesco's defensive roster a shot while we put resources around Herbert on offense (how bad could it be?), and if the defense with this roster is a disaster (it was worse than a disaster), Staley gets the green light to build the defense his own way (he has to be embarrassed as all hell after that pathetic showing on D down the stretch). By the end of OTAs, Tillery will be 3rd on the depth chart behind Morgan Fox and Tito. Jerry Tillery, like T Billy a season before, is an easy cut simply based on being a bubble player with upside, but that is decidedly not an attitude/culture fit.
Pipkins starts at RT... and is serviceable.
Looking back at last year, Storm Norton played reasonably well the first half of the season. I attribute this to playing alongside Oday Aboushi for the first 6 games. Over the 6 games after Oday went down, LA went 2-4, only beating the two Philadelphia teams that couldn't field an NFL offense. Norton played fine against poor opposition, but against good defenses the Chargers' offense was handicapped by poor offensive line play on the right side. I don't see how they can roll with Storm week 1 after his disastrous night against Las Vegas, who now has two premiere edge rushers instead of just one. However, I believe that even Storm could be a serviceable right tackle -- if Zion Johnson's floor is as high as it seems. If the rookie struggles, whoever plays right tackle will have a rough time, but if Zion slot in and plays to his potential, it's going to make a world of difference to whoever is lined up outside. I predict that will be Pipkins, not because he showed anything great last year against Denver's backups, and KC's ghost of an edge rush room, but because the team knows that with Zion next to him, and an RB2 that can actually pass block, Pipkins will have enough help to get it done. While he will likely have a handful of games where he allows far too many pressures, the unit overall will be a run-blocking monster.
Isaiah Spiller turns heads: I won't go as far as a 1000 yard rushing season, but ~ 600 rushing, 900 total yards and 6 TDs. With his 3-down ability, Spiller will see immediate action, as he can spell Ekeler as a check down receiver and as a pass blocker, and come into 2RB sets so Ekeler can flex out wide. But where Spiller will make his biggest impact is as a ball carrier, and especially as a closer. With a top-5 QB and a huge rebuild on defense, this team expects to be jumping to early leads and looking to close out games. This is where Spiller will FEAST, as the OL around him is shaping up to be a mauling unit that will open up some huge running lanes late versus worn-down opponents.
Michael Davis has 4+ INTS and a career year: A lot of fans are ready to give up on "Vato" - Daniel Popper reported before the draft that the Chargers "weren't as high" on Davis, and a lot of analysts are basically writing him off as having one foot out the door. Personally, I'm expecting Davis to earn himself a huge payday this year, even if it's with another club. Davis has all of the attributes one looks for in an outside corner -- size, track speed, willing tackler. Some fans remember the first few years of Davis's career, when he flashed athleticism and sticky coverage, but struggled with awareness and ball-skills, but even then he showed he can run with anyone. I see last season as a blip on Davis's otherwise upward trajectory. Davis had to learn a new defense that is much more complicated that Gus Bradley's, but in 2019/2020 he covered a lot of #1 corners and more than held his own. Davis started as an athletic corner who committed DPIs by not getting his head around, and allowing receptions while running stride for stride with a guy. These flaws were always correctable, and Davis has shown the ability to improve over his career. This season, he won't be asked to do as much -- and since he'll be covering guys liike MVS instead of Tyreek Hill, I predict Mike is gonna make some plays. He may not fit into the Chargers defense long term, but Davis will excel on a team like Miami or New England that plays a lot of man.