The LA Chargers put together arguably the best offseason of any team in the NFL. Of course, fans have grown accustomed to the team winning the offseason only to fall short of expectations when all is said and done in the regular season.
With that said, it's hard not to get excited about the 2022 Chargers.
Clearly looking to take advantage of Justin Herbert while he's still on a rookie contract, LA went out and added JC Jackson and Bryce Callahan to revamp their secondary, traded for Khalil Mack, beefed up their interior defensive line and gifted Herbert another weapon in Gerald Everett.
If fans could have one complaint about the offseason, however, it'd likely have something to do with the Chargers' linebacker room. Already a weakness, the unit grew weaker after budding stud Kyzir White signed with the Eagles as a free agent.
While Drue Tranquill took major strides in 2021, Kenneth Murray is coming off a disaster sophomore season after a promising rookie year. With no way to know how Murray will perform in Year 3, Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport fittingly picked the 23-year-old defender as the Chargers' biggest X-factor for 2022.
The Chargers need Kenneth Murray to rebound after a disappointing 2021.
"After losing Kyzir White in free agency, the Chargers signed former Rams linebacker Troy Reeder, who is a middling talent at best. A Chargers team with Super Bowl aspirations needs Murray to live up to his predraft expectations in 2022."- Gary Davenport, Bleacher Report
We're hard-pressed to push back against Davenport picking Murray. As a rookie, Murray looked the part of the Chargers' future inside middle linebacker. He started 16 games and racked up 106 tackles (five for loss), 37 run stops and three passes defended.
Unfortunately for LA, Murray took a huge step backward in 2021, as he ranked among Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded linebackers with a 34.0 player grade. The former Oklahoma standout was such a liability in the middle of the defense that the coaching staff moved him to the edge to see if he could spark the D as a pass rusher.
Suffice it to say that was a failed experiment.
Though Murray is trending down entering a pivotal Year 3, there's reason for optimism that he can actually be the Chargers' X-factor. For starters, Murray underwent offseason ankle surgery to repair the injury he suffered in the first month of 2021. The injury knocked him out of commission for five weeks, but it never fully healed and clearly limited his range of motion when he returned to the lineup.
Following the surgery, Tranquill has noticed Murray is rehabbing with a chip on his shoulder. This quote will excite Charger Nation.
It might take time for Murray to clear the mental hurdle of trusting his surgically-repaired ankle, but that's to be expected. The important thing is the former Sooner has a clean bill of health entering an all-important Year 3.
Following the departure of White, the Chargers need Murray to rediscover the form he showcased as a rookie when he led the team in tackles. If he's able to do that, there's no telling what LA's defensive ceiling could be after the improvements that were made to the secondary and defensive line this offseason.