2021 NFL Offseason: Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers (Last Year: 7-9)

2021 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Chase Daniel, TE Jared Cook, G Matt Feiler, G Oday Aboushi, C Corey Linsley, DT Christian Covington, DE/OLB Kyler Fackrell.

Early Draft Picks:
OT Rashawn Slater, CB Asante Samuel Jr., WR Josh Palmer, TE Tre McKitty, DE/OLB Chris Rumph. Chargers Rookie Forecast

Offseason Losses:
QB Tyrod Taylor, TE Hunter Henry, OT Sam Tevi, G Trai Turner, G Forrest Lamp, G Dan Feeney, C Mike Pouncey, DT Isaac Rochell, OLB Melvin Ingram, LB Denzel Perryman, CB Casey Hayward, S Rayshawn Jenkins, S Jahleel Addae.

2021 Los Angeles Chargers Offense:
It’s unlikely that even the most ardent Charger fan expected Justin Herbert to thrive like he did in his rookie campaign. Despite being inconsistent at Oregon, Herbert was a revelation as a rookie, beginning with his very first unexpected start when he nearly defeated the Chiefs as a massive underdog. Herbert ended up throwing for 4,336 yards, 21 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in 15 games. He completed 66.6 percent of his passes and also rushed for 234 more yards.

Not only did Herbert do this while having no NFL experience; he also endured some major struggles from his offensive line. The Charger blocking unit was missing several starters in most games, and even when that wasn’t the case, usually talented blockers like Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga weren’t meeting their potential because they were playing hurt. Turner is gone, while Bulaga will try to improve this year.

Bulaga will be accompanied by an injection of major talent. Corey Linsley, one of the better centers in the NFL, was signed to be an upgrade over the always-injured Mike Pouncey. Matt Feiler, who played well for the Steelers, will be better than Turner was last year. Rashawn Slater, chosen 13th overall, may not have the length to play tackle on a Pro Bowl level, but he’ll certainly be an improvement over what the Chargers had on the blind side this past season. The fifth starter, Oday Aboushi, isn’t very good, but he’s not a major liability.

Herbert’s extra protection should help offset the loss of Hunter Henry. The talented tight end signed with the Patriots, prompting the Chargers to obtain the decrepit Jared Cook as a short-term solution. A third-round pick was used on the raw Tre McKitty, so perhaps he’ll emerge as a threat at some point. Regardless, Herbert will still have two dynamic receivers at his disposal. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams could easily both have great seasons. Third-round rookie Josh Palmer potentially gives the Chargers some depth at the position that they lacked in 2020.

Another of Herbert’s dynamic weapons, Austin Ekeler, will return as the team’s primary running back. Ekeler isn’t the greatest runner, but he’s a terrific threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and sixth-round rookie Larry Rountree will all battle to share snaps with Ekeler.

2021 Los Angeles Chargers Defense:
The greatest acquisition the Chargers made defensively this offseason wasn’t a player, though that almost goes without saying because they signed just two defensive free agents and used only one first- or second-day pick on a player on this side of the ball. The greatest acquisition was head coach Brandon Staley, who did a terrific job of coordinating the Rams last year. It remains to be seen how Staley will fare as a head coach, but he’ll at least improve the Chargers’ defense.

Staley will have the luxury of seeing Derwin James patrol his secondary, which was something the previous defensive coach did not enjoy. James was out all last year with a knee injury, so his return will have a huge impact on the defense. James will start next to 2019 second-rounder Nasir Adderley, who had a solid 2020 campaign.

Asante Samuel Jr. is another new addition to the secondary. Samuel was selected in the second round, and he’ll be a possible upgrade over Casey Hayward, who struggled last year after performing on a very high level throughout his career. If so, the Chargers will have a nice cornerback tandem with Samuel joining Chris Harris. The former Bronco has been a terrific cornerback, but his age (32) is becoming a concern. Depth at the position is an issue as well. Outside of the mediocre Michael Davis, the Chargers don’t have much else at the position.

The Chargers will need a good pass rush to offset any potential injuries to the secondary. Joey Bosa will obviously be a huge part of that. Bosa is one of the best edge rushers in the NFL, though his former partner in crime, Melvin Ingram, is no longer with the team. This shouldn’t be an issue because the Chargers liked what they saw out of Uchenna Nwosu last year. Nwosu, a second-round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft, logged 4.5 sacks as a part-time player. Kyler Fackrell, a solid performer for the Packers and Giants, was also signed to compete with Nwosu for the job.

The Chargers’ other free agent signing was Christian Covington, a solid journeyman who will be able to take away snaps from first-round bust Jerry Tillery. If so, Covington will start next to Linval Joseph, a monstrous run stuffer, and 2018 third-rounder Justin Jones, who has some potential.

Speaking of first-round picks, Kenneth Murray will have to improve upon a middling rookie campaign. Murray, the Chargers’ “other” opening-round selection from 2020, has plenty of athletic ability, but wasn’t able to put it together last year. He should be able to improve, and if so, he’ll form a nice duo with Kyzir White.

2021 Los Angeles Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Chargers have no home-field advantage. Back when there were fans in the stands, they would constantly play in front of opposing teams’ fans, and it had gotten to the point that it became a complete embarrassment. The NFL will have to consider moving the Chargers, perhaps to Oakland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or Salt Lake City.

The Chargers had been great on special teams in most recent years, thanks to Desmond King. They traded King, however, so they weren’t as good on special teams last year.

Speaking of poor special-teams play, the Chargers had endured major kicking woes for years. That was the case last year, as Michael Badgley went a dreadful 24-of-33, including 2-of-6 from 50-plus. He also missed three extra points.

Continuing the trend of horrible special teams, punter Ty Long was dead last in net average.

The Chargers have a mixed schedule. They get the luxury of beating up on the NFC East, but they also have to battle the Chiefs and Broncos twice each.

2021 Los Angeles Chargers Rookies:
Go here for the Chargers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2021 Los Angeles Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2021 Los Angeles Chargers Analysis: The Chargers would be a real contender if they didn’t reside in the same division as Patrick Mahomes and potentially Aaron Rodgers. Assuming Justin Herbert doesn’t regress, the offense will be explosive because of the improvements made to the offensive line. The defense, meanwhile, should be better than it was last year because of the Brandon Staley hiring and Derwin James’ return from injury. However, the Chiefs and the potentially Rodgers-led Broncos both outclass the Chargers for now.

Projection: 12-5 (2nd in AFC West)

2020 Projection: 5-11. 2020 Actual Result: 7-9.
2019 Projection: 9-7. 2019 Actual Result: 5-11.
2018 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 12-4.
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 5-11.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2021 NFL Draft: The Chargers did a great job of building around Justin Herbert so far this offseason, but they still need at least one more offensive line upgrade, plus a replacement for Hunter Henry and a complement for Austin Ekeler. The Chargers also have some holes on defense (cornerback, safety, edge rusher) to address.

2021 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I imagine that Tom Telesco was shocked that Rashawn Slater was available at No. 13, given the praise that the Northwestern blocker received from the media. Some draft analysts ranked Slater above Penei Sewell. I did not, but there’s no doubt that Slater’s tape from 2019 was tremendous (one draft analyst loved his 2020 tape as well.) Slater will be the sort of huge upgrade at left tackle the Chargers sorely needed.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Chargers’ draft class was underwhelming. They made reaches for Asante Samuel Jr., Josh Palmer and Chris Rumph, which were three of their next four choices. All three have fatal flaws that should have made them available at least 20 selections after where they were chosen. The only exception in the quartet was Tre McKitty, who could develop into a fine replacement for Hunter Henry.

Of the five selections the Chargers made in Rounds 2-5, four were scored as a “C” grade or worse. It’s a shame for Justin Herbert, as he could have used some better support beyond just Slater in order to challenge the Chiefs and potentially Aaron Rodgers-led Broncos in the division.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

13. Rashawn Slater, OT/G/C, Northwestern – A- Grade
I’m all for improving the offensive line, especially when the quarterback is very young. The Chargers did a good job of this earlier in the offseason, but they weren’t done. They needed a left tackle, and Rashawn Slater seems like a great fit. The one concern teams had with Slater is his lacking length. Some teams believed he would have to play guard or center. That said, plenty of successful tackles have had Slater’s issue, so I’m in the camp that he can succeed at the position.

47. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State – C Grade
The Chargers lost Casey Hayward this offseason, so they had to replace him. However, I think this is a bit high for Asante Samuel Jr. He’s short and slow, which is not a good combination for an NFL cornerback. I think this is a bit early for him, but I don’t hate the pick.

77. Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee – D Grade
Not a fan. The Chargers are making a reach here with Josh Palmer, who I had pegged in the fifth or sixth round. Palmer is a big receiver, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to separate from NFL cornerbacks.

97. Tre McKitty, TE, Georgia – A- Grade
I mocked Tre McKitty to the Chargers in this spot, so I think this pick makes so much sense. The Chargers lost Hunter Henry in free agency, and McKitty projects as a dynamic pass-catcher once he gains some experience. McKitty needs to get stronger, but the upside is certainly there.

118. Chris Rumph, DE/OLB, Duke – C Grade
The Chargers lost Melvin Ingram, so it’s not a surprise that they obtained a pass rusher. Rumph is undersized, however, so I thought he would go later on Day 3. I like getting a player who can get after Patrick Mahomes, but the value isn’t there.

159. Brenden Jaimes, OT/G, Nebraska – C Grade
Brenden Jaimes is a good athlete for a tackle, but the problem is that he’s a tweener. He’s not lengthy enough to be a tackle, and he doesn’t seem to be strong enough to be a guard. I’m not sure where he fits in with the Chargers.

185. Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa – B Grade
I didn’t have Nick Niemann drafted in my final mock draft, but he easily could have been. Nieman is a highly athletic linebacker with plenty of upside, so this is a solid pick to kick off Round 6.

198. Larry Rountree, RB, Missouri – A- Grade
Take note, Steelers and Jaguars: A team that needed a running back waited until the sixth round to acquire one. The Chargers had to find a complement for Austin Ekeler, and Larry Rountree is a nice value pick as someone who could have been chosen a round earlier.

241. Mark Webb, CB, Georgia – B Grade
Mark Webb has nice size and ball skills, but there are some major speed concerns. Those weren’t answered by his 4.61 40-yard dash. Still, it makes sense to take him in the seventh round in case those issues don’t end up being a big deal.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
No one expected Justin Herbert to perform as well as he did in his rookie year. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year, leading the Chargers to four consecutive wins to close out the year. The future is bright as long as Herbert improves with experience.

Offseason Moves:
  • Chargers sign DT Christian Covington
  • Chargers sign QB Chase Daniel
  • Chargers sign G Oday Aboushi
  • Chargers sign TE Jared Cook
  • Chargers sign G Matt Feiler
  • Chargers sign C Corey Linsley

    Team Needs:
    1. Left Tackle: Protecting Justin Herbert is obviously imperative. Yet, the Chargers have a huge hole at left tackle, so that’s a need that must be addressed this offseason.

    2. Center: Here’s another big hole on the offensive line. Mike Pouncey is an impending free agent, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy anyway. Signed Corey Linsley

    3. Two Guards: The final needs on the offensive line. Forrest Lamp has struggled and must be upgraded. Trai Turner was cut after getting hurt too much. Signed Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi

    4. Cornerback: The Chargers will need a cornerback to replace the recently cut Casey Hayward.

    5. Edge Rusher: Melvin Ingram endured an injury-plagued 2020 campaign and is now an impending free agent. The Chargers could move forward with Uchenna Nwosu across from Joey Bosa, but they would still need depth in that area.

    6. Running Back: The Chargers could stand to find a running back to complement Austin Ekeler.

    7. Tight End: Re-signing Hunter Henry should be a priority this offseason. Signed Jared Cook

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2021 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Corey Linsley, C, Packers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Chargers (5 years, $62.5 million)

      Corey Linsley is one of the top centers in the NFL. His absence was felt in the middle of the season when the Packers struggled to blow out the opposition. His only downside is that he has entered his 30s, but that’s not a big deal.

    2. Matt Feiler, G, Steelers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years, $21 million)

      Matt Feiler was sorely missed down the stretch when he was sidelined with an injury. He’s a very talented guard, and he should be able to perform on a high level throughout the duration of his next contract.

    3. Christian Covington, DE/DT, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers

      Christian Covington is a quality run-stuffing defensive lineman, but his pass-rushing skills need work.

    4. Jared Cook, TE, Saints. Age: 34.
      Signed with Chargers (1 year, $6 million)

      Jared Cook caught 37 passes for 504 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. He’s still a quality tight end, but that won’t last much longer, given his age.

    5. Oday Aboushi, G, Lions. Age: 30. — Signed with Chargers (1 year, $1.75 million)
    6. Chase Daniel, QB, Lions. Age: 34. — Signed with Chargers (1 year)

    Los Angeles Chargers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Casey Hayward, CB, Chargers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Raiders

      Casey Hayward has been a shutdown cornerback throughout his career, but is coming off his worst year as a pro. He turns 32 in September, but should have some strong seasons remaining.

    2. Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots (3 years, $37.5 million)

      Hunter Henry is a tremendous talent, but he’s had trouble staying healthy throughout his career thus far. The upside is there, however, as Henry is just 26.

    3. Trai Turner, G, Chargers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Steelers

      It seemed like the Chargers obtained a steam when they traded for Trai Turner in exchange for Russell Okung. Turner, however, had an injury-ravaged 2020 campaign, which was his worst in the NFL. Turner is still young, however, so he figures to rebound in 2021 and beyond.

    4. Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 32.
      It’s hard to believe that Melvin Ingram is 32. The 2020 campaign was a lost season for him, as he did nothing in seven injury-ridden games. He could bounce back in 2021, but he may regress as well.

    5. Denzel Perryman, LB, Chargers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Panthers (2 years)

      Denzel Perryman is a stout, two-down run defender. The Chargers were so much worse against ground attacks when Perryman was sidelined in 2020.

    6. Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Chargers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jaguars (4 years)

      Rayshawn Jenkins has made some nice improvements to his game. He missed some tackles in 2020, but he covered very well.

    7. Forrest Lamp, G, Chargers. Age: 27. — Signed with Bills
    8. Dan Feeney, G/C, Chargers. Age: 27. — Signed with Jets (1 year)
    9. Mike Pouncey, C, Chargers. Age: 32. — Announced retirement
    10. Isaac Rochell (RFA), DT, Chargers. Age: 26. — Signed with Colts (1 year, $2.5 million)
    11. Sam Tevi, OT, Chargers. Age: 26. — Signed with Colts
    12. Jahleel Addae, S, Chargers. Age: 31.
    13. Damion Square, DT, Chargers. Age: 32.
    14. Kalen Ballage, RB, Chargers. Age: 25. — Signed with Steelers
    15. Michael Davis, CB, Chargers. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Chargers (3 years)
    16. Ryan Groy, G, Chargers. Age: 30.
    17. Nick Vigil, LB, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with Vikings (1 year)
    18. Virgil Green, TE, Chargers. Age: 33.
    19. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Chargers. Age: 32. — Signed with Texans (1 year, $12.5 million)
    20. Jaylen Watkins, CB, Chargers. Age: 29.
    21. Cole Toner (RFA), G, Chargers. Age: 27. — Signed with Texans (1 year)

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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