(Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) Rashawn Slater
How should the offseason moves made by the LA Chargers and the rest of the AFC West be graded?
Despite the LA Chargers, or any of the other three members of the AFC West, not being involved in the historic first-round quarterback frenzy that stole the show of the recent 2021 NFL Draft, each team from the division made some strides in protecting and supporting the franchise signal-callers they already have in place. Or, maybe the special one they may have in place in the near future for some.
Let’s kick these 2021 offseason grades off appropriately in Los Angeles with the Bolts certainly instilling a fair amount of hope in their fan base through free agency and last week’s draft following their frustrating 7-9 showing in 2020.
Los Angeles Chargers
- Grade: A
The Bolts are on a fast track to successfully do the exact opposite of what the New York Jets did with Sam Darnold by wholeheartedly investing in the best interest of their high first-round draft pick and ensuing franchise quarterback by protecting them up front.
The Chargers went from having a laughable offensive line to turning it into one of the strongest units in the AFC West in one offseason.
Former Northwestern stud offensive tackle Rashawn Slater fell out of heaven into Los Angeles’ lap at pick No. 13 when most thought he’d already be off the board. If healthy, the upgrade at the all too important left tackle position from Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins can’t be understated.
The tremendous blindside protection was complimented with the Chargers adding very solid veterans in Corey Linsley at center and guard Matt Feiler earlier this offseason.
Although a young, bright-eyed Justin Herbert captivated people who hadn’t watched much of him with his mobility and extending ability at 6-foot-6, he’s still most notably shaping up to be one of the top pocket passers in the league moving forward. He’ll be able to operate much more comfortably in year two behind this restructured, vastly improved Los Angeles offensive line.
Elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball, the one big departure for the Chargers this year was tight end Hunter Henry, who found his way to Foxboro to sign with the New England Patriots.
Even though he is a top-15 tight end when healthy, and by all accounts and reports he had an especially fantastic rapport with Herbert, Jared Cook is about as good as it gets as far as an available replacement.
Cook is an established high-quality pass-catching tight end with a big, red zone friendly body, who also has plenty of experience playing for a great QB, a-la Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Cook joined by Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, and an emerging Jaylen Guyton with this new and improved o-line and Herbert running the show? Sheesh. The league is certainly on notice and all Bolt fans’ eyes are on head coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi with high expectations.
On the other side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill (former defensive backs coach in Denver) has a shiny new defensive back piece in draft day two-star Asante Samuel Jr. Son of some royalty in four-time pro bowler, two-time super bowl champ, and one of the biggest names at cornerback in the good ol’ mid-2000s days.
Many deemed Samuel the highest-ranked corner of the 2021 draft outside of the consensus top two guys in top-10 picks Jaycee Horn and Pat Surtain II, when considering Caleb Farley’s serious reg flags with his back surgeries. The addition of Samuel and the return of safety extraordinaire Derwin James should vastly improve a Chargers secondary that got abused routinely last season.
There’s still plenty of questions and not a lot of excitement at linebacker and the front-four core outside of superstar Joey Bosa. There’s still one big blank unanswered question on this test, which is the fate of disruptor Melvin Ingram. Who, still lingering as a free agent, is likely done with Los Angeles, and rumored to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs recently. If he signs with a team in the division, that could come back to bite the Bolts. We’ll stand by on that one.
Overall, as crazy as this sounded given where Los Angeles was just months ago, the noticeable improvements at the two most glaring positions of need in the offensive line and the secondary, with the necessary complete house cleaning of last year’s brutal coaching staff, the Chargers may just find themselves in a legitimate wild-card race behind the Chiefs in the division come next winter.