The hype entering the 2021 Chargers football season was palpable.
Brandon Staley, the NFL’s next coaching prodigy and the defensive version of Sean McVay, was hired as the team’s next head coach following the firing of Anthony Lynn. In a league that’s been known for recycling the same old group of experienced coaches, the Bolts surprised many by sticking to the path less traveled, especially when it came to hiring a defensive-minded head coach for a team who obviously had an exciting young quarterback they just drafted.
Last year’s offseason was headlined by Staley’s hiring. Now, one year later, the hype is with the players.
In this season preview, I’ll be touching on how this offseason’s moves and additions will effect the team heading into the 2022 season and my overall expectations for the franchise as a whole. At the end, I’ll even cap it all off with a record prediction.
While Staley was stuck using a roster he didn’t have a lot of say in through year one, the 2022 version of the Chargers is much more akin to his image. Nothing more says that than his acquisition of All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack, whom he coached in Chicago, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, whom he coached with the Rams in 2020.
Now, Staley’s 3-4 defense has familiar faces within a familiar system. Add in the other additions of cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Bryce Callahan, defensive tackle Austin Johnson, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy and you’ve got yourself a defense that wouldn’t recognize itself from a year ago.
Mack will pair with Joey Bosa, a perennial Pro Bowler since his rookie season, to create arguably the top pass-rushing duo in the league. Despite playing in just seven games in 2021, Mack recorded six sacks and six tackles for loss. Those numbers would have ranked second and third on the defense a year ago, respectively. Without being too hyperbolic, Mack has a great chance of returning to form in 2022 while Bosa could very well set a new career high in sacks now that offense can no longer double and triple-team him on every play.
When it comes to Jackson and Callahan’s potential impact in the secondary, here’s a quick reminder that Jackson, alone, produced more interceptions in 2021 (eight) than the entire Chargers secondary (seven). Overall the former Patriot has 17 picks over the past two seasons and expectations will be high for him to come close to those numbers in his first year with the Chargers.
As for Joseph-Day and Johnson ... well ... I likely don’t have to convince you why upgrading at defensive tackle was a big need for the Chargers after the season they just had. Both of these studs were among the top players at their position in terms of run stop win rate in 2021 and neither have quite hit their peak just yet.
With all of these changes, it’s almost impossible to put into words just how excited the fan base is to see their defense take the field for the first time against the Raiders in week one. Heck, and in a massive revenge game? You aren’t going to want to miss it.
But of course, the defensive additions didn’t stop at free agency.
During the 2022 draft, the Chargers used four of their seven picks on defenders. It started with safety JT Woods in the third round whom the coaching staff fell in love with due to his 4.36 speed and impressive ball skills. The team went on to draft defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia out UCLA in the fifth, cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor in the sixth, and cornerback Deane Leonard in the seventh out of Ole Miss.
So far neither of the four appear to be instant impact players, but there’s plenty to be excited about. The three defensive backs have all earned praise at one point or another through training camp while Ogbonnia has done his job well enough to avoid anything negative. I expect him to be a solid rotational piece as a rookie and as long as he’s serviceable, that pick will receive a notable grade.
As day three defensive backs, expectations for Taylor and Leonard should be low, if not, nonexistent. Leonard has some versatility to play some safety and the staff likes Taylor’s athleticism, but a deep cornerback room likely keeps both off the field as rookies.
Woods was expected to be the team’s third safety in dime packages out of the gate by hastily leapfrogging Alohi Gilman. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far, especially after a rocky start to the preseason. The athleticism and instincts are readily apparent but it’s his shortcomings as a consistent tackler that will keep him from seeing the field as early as many expected. After a number of missed tackles and blown assignments, it’s likely in the coaching staff’s best interest to make sure he takes some time to adjust before throwing a liability out on the field during a rough opening stretch of the Chargers schedule.
Now for the linebackers ... things have looked better for the Chargers here. After a breakout season, Kyzir White was allowed to walk in free agency where he signed with the Eagles for essentially nothing (one year, $3 million guaranteed). The team did well to replace him with Super Bowl champions and veterans in Van Noy and Troy Reeder but the group is still somewhat middling outside of their top guys. Drue Tranquill also remains and this is as good of a year as ever for him to have a breakout of his own.
Nick Niemann should be serviceable in spot duty but it’s best they don’t stray too far from special teams duties for another year.
The headliner for offensive changes this offseason is most certainly the drafting of offensive guard Zion Johnson during this year’s first round. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Johnson is a certified tail-kicker along the interior and should pair extremely well with center Corey Linsley playing to his left. Whoever ends up winning the right tackle job should also see improved play now that Michael Schofield isn’t their running mate.
The passing game returns just about everyone aside from veteran tight end Jared Cook. Justin Herbert returns for year three along with his litany of weapons in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler who will all play alongside one of the best offensive lines from a year ago.
After earning a second-team All-Pro nod as a rookie, Rashawn Slater now highlights a group that still includes another All-Pro in Linsley and the underrated Matt Feiler. With one of their two sixth-round picks, the Chargers also drafted former Georgia left tackle Jamaree Salyer who just helped the Bulldogs win a national championship. He’ll play left guard for the Bolts for now but don’t be surprised to see him take snaps elsewhere before the end of the season. He’s got the chops to play every position but center in a pinch.
The wide receiver room got a little bit of juice in free agency with the addition of DeAndre Carter. The former Eagle and Texan will mainly see the field as a return man but don’t sleep on his ability to make an impact on offense. Second-year wideout Josh Palmer and Jalen Guyton also return to round out the position group.
The Chargers nabbed running back Isaiah Spiller in the fourth round, making it three consecutive drafts where the team used a day-three pick on the position. Spiller was highly-regarded coming out of Texas A&M but an underwhelming pro day led to his draft stock taking a dive. Still, he possesses receiving ability, natural instincts, and notable evasiveness that neither Josh Kelley nor Larry Rountree has been able to show thus far. As it stands, Kelley is in the driver’s seat for the RB2 gig, but I don’t expect it to last long into the regular season.
Last but not least, the tight end group isn’t going to inspire much excitement in anyone but Chargers fans, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t legitimate reason to be hopeful about this group. The team swapped the aging Cook for Gerald Everett, the athletic tight end who began his NFL career with the Rams and was most recently a member of the Seahawks in 2021. The versatile Everett brings a level of explosiveness versatility to the position that stands to open a few more doors for an already-exciting offense. When you pair that thought with 6-foot-8 Donald Parham having one more year of experience under his belt, there’s a ceiling for this group that may end up being a lot higher than even the team could have predicted.
The Chargers got a big boost to their special teams a year ago by signing veteran kicker Dustin Hopkins early in the season. He looks to be finally ending the non-stop kicker carousel with the Chargers and I cannot express how relieving that is to say.
After Hopkins, two new faces joined the core group this offseason with punter J.K. Scott and All-Pro long snapper Josh Harris. Scott was most recently with the Jaguars while Harris has played his entire 10-year career thus far with the Falcons. Both should add stability which means the Chargers hopefully do not need to go out searching for specialists this time next year.
2022 Season Record Prediction
And now we come to the record prediction part of this thing.
The Chargers fell just short of expectations in 2021 by going 9-8 and missing the playoffs. After beating the Giants, the team was 8-5 with four games left against the Chiefs, Texans, Broncos, and Raiders. The went 1-2 over the first three games which meant the season finale in Las Vegas had the postseason appearance on the line. We all know how that game ended up and I’m sure we all truly don’t ever wish to relive it.
Enter the 2022 new season with all the new faces, upgrades, and changes. The roster is as talented as it’s been in recent memory and that is expected to translate into more than nine wins this season. It’s truly playoffs or bust for this group.
The unfortunate part is that the entire AFC West got better as a whole around them. The Broncos and Raiders each added All-Pro level players while the Chiefs are still the Chiefs despite trading away Tyreek Hill.
Now before I make a final prediction, let’s take a look at the entire schedule:
- Vs. Raiders
- @ Chiefs
- Vs. Jaguars
- @ Texans
- @ Browns
- Vs. Broncos
- Vs. Seahawks
- @ Falcons
- @ 49ers
- Vs. Chiefs
- @ Cardinals
- @ Raiders
- Vs. Dolphins
- Vs. Titans
- @ Colts
- Vs. Rams
- @ Broncos
The Bolts get an early-ish bye after seven games and finish with 10-straight. That post-bye stretch has got to be one of the hardest in the league, especially when it comes to defending the run. The final quarter of the season will feature Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers/Darrell Henderson, and the duo of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
That’s tough. But heck, that’s what this team spent all that money during free agency, right?
The Chargers could very well start 0-2 but I just don’t see that happening. I predict a 5-2 record heading into the bye with losses to the Chiefs and the Broncos. That’s not bad at all. If that is the case, they must start hot out of the bye to help weather the storm that is the back half of their schedule. Wins against the Falcons, 49ers, and revenge against the Chiefs will have them sitting really pretty. If they go on to lose four out of seven to end the season, that would still put them at 11-6 which is a two-game improvement from 2021.
No matter how they get there, however, that’s my final record prediction. I predict the Chargers will win 11 games and lose six. Those losses to me would include splitting the division 3-3 while adding losses to the Cardinals, Titans, and Rams.
Now as it compares to the odds put out there by our good friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, I’d be taking the over on their O/U 10-win odds. DraftKings has been really bullish on the entire AFC West so I’m not surprised to see them a little lower on the Chargers and higher on the likes of the Broncos who also boast an O/U of 10 wins.
That about does it for this preview. Shoutout to you for making it this far!
In the comments below, let me know whether or not you agree with my record prediction and, go ahead and drop your own!