The Chargers have continued to add to their roster in free agency, filling in the gaps that were not addressed in this year's draft. The team’s most exciting offseason in recent memory continues to impress, with expectations growing for the upcoming season.
The Bolts recently signed two veteran defensive players in Bryce Callahan and Kyle Van Noy, both very interesting additions to the team. Let’s analyze both sides of the ball, and take a look at the state of the roster as a whole.
The defensive side of the ball has been the main focus of the offseason. After having one of the worst defensive units in the NFL last season, The Chargers made a tremendous effort to stack the roster. They now look to be one of the league’s premier defenses on paper heading into the 2022 season.
The secondary has been solidified following the recent signing of Bryce Callahan. The Chargers now finally seem to fit Brandon Staley’s vision for the defense. Free agency has gone extremely well and started off with the Chargers landing the best cornerback on the market in JC Jackson. He joins the team as the immediate clear-cut CB1 and offers everything you want at the position, plus rare turnover ability.
With the receiving talent in the AFC, and specifically the AFC West, a premier player at the cornerback position is a necessity. Last season Jackson earned an 83.0 coverage grade and an 82.7 overall grade per PFF. He accounted for 8 interceptions and 1 forced fumble.
The Chargers will have one of the league's best corners lining up across from either Michael Davis or Asante Samuel Jr. The Bryce Callahan signing now allows for more flexibility, as the Chargers will not be pigeon-holed into moving Asante Samuel Jr to the slot with a proven asset like Callahan on the roster.
It could be possible we see a decline in snaps for Michael Davis, who struggled to find consistency last year. Having competition for starting spots at a vital position like cornerback is a great problem to have, so it will be interesting to see who is lining up where in week 1 against the Raiders.
It is very refreshing to see that the depth in the secondary has finally been addressed, with the safety position also getting some attention in the draft. The Chargers' lone day two pick was JT Woods, a ballhawk that offers versatility and elite athleticism. Safety depth had a substantial drop-off outside of starters Nas Adderley and Derwin James in 2021. Woods comes from a pro-style defense at Baylor and lead the nation in interceptions last season, he is another player that can also man the slot for the Chargers.
After the draft, it was rumored that some teams actually viewed him as a cornerback, and it is easy to see why. He stands at 6-foot-2 with long 32 3/8” arms, and weighed in at 195 pounds at the combine. He went on to run a 4.36 40-yard dash, and also showed off a 39.5-inch vertical. Brandon Staley has been clear that he will allow for more freedom to deploy Derwin James without losing quality on the back end.
With JC Jackson, JT Woods, and Bryce Callahan added to the team, the Chargers will be going into the season with three safeties, and four cornerbacks they will be feeling confident in. Now looking back on last year's roster, it's clear that there is a big difference in quality and it is exciting to think about what the results could be.
The defensive line was completely revamped, and the team's biggest weakness from last season could now be one of its biggest strengths. The acquisition of Khalil Mack is simply a game-changer. Prior to getting injured last season, he had already racked up 6 sacks in seven games, with 2021 being the first season he had missed more than two games in since 2018.
In fact, 2018 was the only other season of his career in which he did not play a full 16 games. In that 2018 season, he played in 14 of 16, so any “injury-prone” narratives can be put to rest. In his last full season in 2020, he earned a 90.8 pass-rush grade, a 91.7 run defense grade, and a 92.3 overall grade per PFF, who also credited him with 10 sacks on the year.
At 31 years old, he will have plenty left in the tank. It's also worth mentioning that he is a full two years younger than Von Miller, and also one year younger than Chandler Jones, who were both on a lot of fans' wish lists coming into the offseason! Tom Telesco pulled off an excellent blockbuster trade out of nowhere.
Both Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa could be in store for massive seasons, with both benefitting from each other's presence. Opposing teams will now have to account for two of the best pass rushers in the NFL, a nightmare scenario.
The team put a strong emphasis on improving this defensive line, especially along the interior, which was the single biggest issue last season. This team was consistently torn apart in the running game. Similar to the year before, when the offensive line was the pressing issue, this time it was the opposite line that became the front office’s priority.
Brandon Staley has repeatedly stated that he wants to be a tough team that wins in the trenches, and it is critically important to do so in his defensive scheme, which utilizes light boxes at a high rate. The Chargers brought in two stout run defenders in Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, who will immediately start and allow the defense to operate as intended.
Jerry Tillery will need to find his stride after having his 5th-year option declined, and Christian Covington was also re-signed to a new contract. Rookie draft pick Otito Ogbonnia could also see the field in some capacity, and will at the very least provide solid depth, as there is a lot to like about his game and physical attributes.
The Joseph-Day signing stands out as a great move in particular, as he is an ascending player that has experience playing under Brandon Staley during his time as the Rams' defensive coordinator. He averaged 2.75 defensive stops last season, second only to Aaron Donald’s 2.76, and also managed 3 sacks in 7 games before his season-ending pectoral injury.
With the linebacker position not holding significant value in the Chargers' defense, it was unsurprising to see them pass on drafting the position after letting Kyzir White leave in free agency. They did add Troy Reeder, another former Rams player, to provide depth and special teams value before finally bringing in an exciting name with Kyle Van Noy.
This is a player coming in as a 2 for 1 special for the Bolts. Van Noy provides quality at the linebacker position, while also adding to the team's pass-rushing attack. With depth at the position barren outside of Chris Rumph II, the team will now have one more weapon to throw at opposing offensive lines and avoid a massive drop-off should either Mack or Bosa come off the field.
The 2x Super Bowl champion is the cherry on top of this newly improved defense and will play an important role for the 2022 season.
A great turnaround in just one offseason, with the secondary and defensive line being massively improved. The Chargers took an aggressive approach to fix the most prominent issues on the roster, and now boast four elite superstar players that are all among the best at their position — Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, JC Jackson, and Derwin James. With the talent this team has from top to bottom, the sky is the limit.