The LA Chargers snagged another bodyguard for Justin Herbert in the first round with Boston College OL Zion Johnson, their second consecutive NFL Draft doing so. Given the names that were still on the board at pick seventeen, as well as the positional value available in later rounds, the Johnson selection personally came as a surprise.
Head coach Brandon Staley provided some insight during his recent appearance on The Rich Eisen Show. When asked about the decision to select Zion Johnson "in the middle of a wide receiver palooza in the first round", here was his substantive response:
"We felt like Zion Johnson would really complete our offensive line and be able to really solidify the interior and the quarterback position. The pressure that affects you the most is the pressure up the middle, and when you have to anchor in against the Aaron Donalds of the world, the, you know, the Chris Jones of the world, the Deforest Buckners, you know that's tall duty. You can help on an edge rusher a lot easier than you can help on an interior rusher so we just felt like Zion was a complete guard, complete in the run game and in the pass game."- Chargers HC Brandon Staley
Staley began by acknowledging Rashawn Slater's 2021 Pro Bowl rookie season. The sentiment around Johnson's arrival is that he'll not only find himself in an environment catering to his strengths (similar to Slater), but also with an organization that feels he can be one of their key staples against opposing defenses for years to come.
If Telesco's view plays out come Week 1, the right side of the offensive line is shaping to be Johnson at guard and Trey Pipkins at tackle. Spending first-round capital on an interior lineman makes it safe to reason that the rookie will earn plenty of snaps.
Given this assumption, it's interesting to ponder exactly how the LA Chargers perceived the position in 2021.
According to PFF data, Michael Schofield III recorded 75.1% of the Bolts' snaps at RG. He was one of 33 NFL guards to tally 600+ pass-blocking snaps during the regular season. Among them, he had the seventh-highest pass blocking grade (75.2). However, his 59.5 run-blocking grade placed him 42 out of 53 guards with at least 300 opportunities.
The concluding Staley remark rings true with Schofield's splits; a balance in run/pass blocking is an element Zion Johnson will ideally provide this coming season.
It shouldn't be difficult to upgrade run blocking, but mirroring the solid level of pass protection that (now free agent) Schofield displayed is no small feat. Briefing last season's data highlighted just how underrated it was to solidify the RG position, independent from its liability of a neighbor in the trenches.
According to PFF, there were 32 QBs with 100+ pressured dropbacks in 2021. At 37.2%, Justin Herbert had the league's highest rate where RT shared "some responsibility" for the allowed pressure.
Could it be that, in the organization's eyes, Schofield's success was inflated and RT didn't deserve 37.2% of the blame? Or that Zion Johnson can hold his own at guard, while simultaneously aiding the right side's true liability (RT)?
Expect to see some shuffling on the offensive line. But no matter how the cards play out, be sure to pencil in Johnson as a key role on the interior.