Can’t decide which player your team should take in the 2022 NFL draft? Then ask yourself this question: What would the Los Angeles Chargers do?
Since 2003, Los Angeles has drafted 134 players in 19 seasons. Of that total, a whopping 124 prospects have played at least one NFL game.
Let that resonate for a moment.
The last three drafts have been more of the same. Out of 21 players drafted since 2019, all but one of those players is still on the team, and all receive some playing time for the Chargers. The lone player no longer with the team? That’s DL Cortez Broughton, a 2019 seventh-rounder who’s now on Kansas City’s practice squad.
The bottom line?
Whoever Los Angeles drafts in 2022 will make the team – and stick around for a long time.
With that said, the team will need to address a few positions with potential free-agent losses looming. Here are five players for Chargers fans to keep an eye on the rest of the season:
The Chargers are in a tough spot. Los Angeles has needs at defensive line and cornerback, but the team also needs to think about upgrading the right tackle spot, currently manned by Storm Norton. If healthy, Bryan Bulaga would be the starter, but he’s out indefinitely with groin and back injuries, and he’s on the wrong side of 30.
But taking an OT in the first or second round isn’t a slam dunk, either, as the top three OTs – Alabama’s Evan Neal, Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross – might all be gone by the time the Chargers are on the clock. And while the next-tier group of OTs is solid – including Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard, Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland, Miami’s Zion Nelson, Penn State’s Rasheed Walker and Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann – there’s no guarantee that any of them would be able to step in as a starter from Day 1.
Faalele, though, could be the exception. Drafting him in the latter portion of Round 1 may be a bit of a reach – he’s currently the No. 40 prospect in the Jake Rigdon-Fanspeak big board – but he most assuredly would immediately step in as the Chargers’ new right tackle. Faalele will likely be the biggest prospect at 6-foot-9, 380-pounds, and he comes with the usual issues plaguing big tackles (mobility, balance, pad level), but he also has tremendous strength and size.
— Oliver Hodgkinson (@ojhodgkinson) November 5, 2021
Is he a defensive end or a defensive tackle? For Los Angeles, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Carter would be a bit of both, as he would likely play the 5-tech for the Chargers and comes with positional versatility. The senior has started every game at DT this season for Florida, picking up 21 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks, giving him a four-year line of 92-24-15 (and counting).
FanNation recently called Carter “a coach’s dream,” adding that Carter is a first-round talent. From FanNation: “What makes Carter such an intriguing prospect is that he not only has been highly productive, he has a tremendous amount of upside. Carter hasn’t played the same position for four years but has instead excelled at many. A smart defensive coordinator will utilize all the tools Carter brings to the table as both a pass rusher and a run defender. What also separates Carter is that he is pro-ready. He’ll be able to contribute early on and could be counted on for meaningful snaps.”
Carter would step in right away as the replacement for free-agent-to-be Justin Jones.
Zachary Carter beats Evan Neal for a SACK here. Way to stick with the rush. pic.twitter.com/ZQ2sS9psiF
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) November 5, 2021
If your team needs a nose tackle, then you won’t find many as big or as menacing as Ridgeway. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound senior won’t give you much in the way of a pass rush, but he commands double teams and is very disruptive.
Ridgeway was very productive after redshirting his freshman season at Illinois State, where he played from 2017 to 2021. In fact, Ridgeway already played a football season this year, as Illinois State was one of the teams that played during the spring due to Covid. He’s been just as impactful in his lone season at Arkansas, picking up 30 tackles so far along with 3 TFLs and 1 sack.
And, like Carter, Ridgeway would potentially fill an immediate need, as current nose tackle Linval Joseph is also set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Jerry Tillery (1st round, 2019)-Ridgeway-Carter trio would be one of the youngest in the league – if not also one of the top DL units.
Former HS wrestling champ & Illinois State NT John Ridgeway is an impact transfer for @RazorbackFB. Here’s a textbook grown-man rep with sudden lockout & easy block sling. @seniorbowl staff will see @ridgeway_79 (6051v, 320v, 34” arms) play live this week. 💤📈 pic.twitter.com/3qUmqTb3us
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 22, 2021
Don’t assume the 5-foot-10, 180-pound two-time team captain will be limited to slot/nickel corner at the next level due to his size. A lot of people said the same thing about Chargers rookie Asante Samuel, who was drafted in the second round and is listed at the same height and weight. Samuel has fared well on the outside, and his 2 INTs is tied for the team lead with LB Kyzir White. Williams, a senior, held his own in recent years against future NFL receivers like Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and SMU’s James Proche. Williams is a sure-tackler and can play either man or zone coverage. Most of his snaps at Houston have been as an outside corner – another reason why it’s not a given that he would move inside.
Blue Chip Scouting gave Williams a third-round grade earlier this season. From Blue Chip Scouting: “Williams impressed me with his patient feet and eye discipline at the LOS. He displays quality mirroring skills and does a good job at using the sideline to his advantage. Additionally, he plays with consistent aggression down the field, however, you’d like to see a bit more activity with his hands.”
Always learn things during pre-game talks with coaches and @UHCougarFB staff raved about CB Damarion Williams. Nobody in UH program loves ball & competes more than @FTK2662. Quick-footed three-year starter projects as nickel/free at next level.#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/Nzy3J04gPu
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 8, 2021
By now, you’ve probably heard of Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal, who would be a consideration for the Chargers in Round 1. Same goes for Edge Michael Clemons. You might have even heard of A&M’s big defensive tackle, Jayden Peevy.
But the player who leads the Aggies in sacks is the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Johnson. His 8 sacks lead the team by a wide margin and is tied for the fifth-most in the nation.
Johnson would likely struggle initially if he had to play defensive end in a 4-3, but the senior would play OLB in the Chargers 3-4 alignment and might be able to replace Uchenna Nwosu, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Johnson recently earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, the third time he’s won that award this season. His 7.0 sacks against SEC opponents rank him second in the conference, and he’s had a sack in four consecutive games.
In fact, at the rate he’s going, Johnson might not be available after the second- or third-round.
#Aggies EDGE Tyree Johnson (#3) had another incredible performance vs. Auburn.
He shows a nice first step into his arc and plays with great effort to finish this sack. His rawness is still evident here, however you have to like the tools on display. pic.twitter.com/oVQmUtft1h
— Nick Price (@PriceCheck3) November 9, 2021