3 Chargers who exceeded expectations in 2021

Here are three Chargers players who exceeded preseason expectations during the 2021 season.

The Chargers’ season ended heartbreakingly, but there was still plenty of good to take away from 2021, including players who surpassed their expectations.

Here are three players who exceeded expectations:

LB Kyzir White

The Chargers always had a talented player in White, but his undefined role in Gus Bradley’s defense kept his playing time to a minimum. That was until Brandon Staley came aboard, and with his system, it was able to maximize White’s true potential. Manning the middle of the defense with the ability to play freely in space, White was impactful against the run, in coverage, and as a blitzer. He had 144 tackles, seven for loss, three passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a sack.

OT Rashawn Slater

The Chargers knew that they had their left tackle of the future when they snagged Slater in last year’s draft. However, the team had no idea that he would establish himself as one of the best at his positions in Year 1. Facing the league’s best edge defenders week in and week out, Slater allowed just 26 pressures and four sacks while mauling defenders in the run game en route to being named a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro.

OT Trey Pipkins

Pipkins was selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft with the hope of developing into a starter. However, he was being written off amid his struggles in his first two seasons. When Slater was ruled out with COVID-19 in Week 15 against the Chiefs, Pipkins was called on to make the start in place of him. On 42 pass-blocking opportunities, Pipkins allowed just three pressures. Two weeks later against the Broncos, he started at right tackle in the absence of Storm Norton. He did not surrender a single pressure on 32 opportunities. While it was a small sample size, Pipkins is a prime example that scheme and coaching are significant factors in the development of mid- late-round offensive tackles.

Chargers Scouting Report: Purdue WR David Bell

Breaking down a Day 2 wide receiver to see if they’re a fit for the Chargers in the 2022 NFL draft.

David Bell, Purdue, #3, Junior, Indianapolis, IN, 6’2”, 205

40-yard Dash: N/A

Bench Press: N/A

Vertical Jump: N/A

Broad Jump: N/A

3-Cone Drill: N/A

20-Yard Shuttle: N/A

Career: First Team All-Big Ten as a sophomore and junior. Finished career as a consensus First Team All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist. Garnered 232 receptions, 2,946 yards, and 21 touchdowns through the air over 29 games. 

Red Flags: None

Strengths: Fearless and gritty receiver that routinely puts his body second and makes the catch first. Hardly fazed when met by contact after reeling in the pass and is malleable enough to absorb the blow and keep the play alive. Played on the perimeter with ample time in the slot to create mismatches. Poor QB play often forced Bell to contort himself for an impressive resume of out-of-frame catches that showcased elite body control and tracking skills. Footwork is quick and technical with no false steps. Great mix and understanding of how to utilize patience and suddenness to increase separation once he breaks. Changes direction in a blink and closes off angles with remarkable burst. Great awareness when knifing through zone coverage – good at timing his cuts as the defenders mellow out to provide an open look.

Weaknesses: Not a burner. He won’t simply torch a defensive back on a straight-line release. Would have liked to see Bell use his frame more to better protect the catch point. Press skills and initial hand-fighting need improvement to shed arm strikes more effectively. Struggles to lock in his block during run support. Could work on selling his routes with his entire body, not just in his hips.

Final Word: A productive receiver that earned targets through a variety of ways at Purdue, Bell is physical in every aspect of his game and will do everything in his power to work back to the ball. His mechanical route running, field vision, and real-time processing will translate well to the NFL. While the versatility he enjoyed as a member of the Boilermakers likely will diminish at the next level, Bell projects as a player that can grow into a permanent role at the X position.

Fit Likelihood: Medium

Grade: Early 2nd

Film Highlights

Bell using every element of the field to lose his defender vertical against Minnesota in 2020.

Bell showcasing his technicality as a route runner on a Sluggo against Iowa.

Poll: What should Chargers do with WR Mike Williams?

Should the Chargers keep Mike Williams around long-term, have him play on a “prove-it” deal, or let him test free agency?

The Chargers have some tough decisions to make this offseason regarding whether or not they will be keeping some of their in-house players that are expected to hit the free agency market.

Among the crop is wide receiver Mike Williams.

Williams is coming off arguably his most productive seasons to date, setting career highs with 76 receptions and 1,146 receiving yards. In addition, he added nine touchdown catches in 2021.

Williams recently had a salary of $15.68 million for his fifth-year option and should command north of that, whether that be getting franchise tagged or a long-term commitment.

Should the Chargers tag Williams, it will cost them $19.13 million, according to Over The Cap. The price might be steep, but it would give the team some flexibility to delay a long-term extension until 2023, spend elsewhere and ultimately play the safe route if he doesn’t pan out,

If they want to extend him now, it will likely be around $16-17 million per year. Pro Football Focus projects a four-year, $68 million (17 per year) deal.

You can make an argument for that being too much money for a receiver who may have had a productive season but still had spurts of inconsistency in the middle of it, dealt with dropped passes, and still draws injury concerns.

However, the argument for Williams staying is keeping continuity between him and Justin Herbert, the ascend in his new role, his big-play ability, and he is well-liked as a person among the organization.

With that, we want to hear what you think Los Angeles should do with Williams: Keep him around long-term, have him play on a “prove-it” deal, or let him test free agency.

Vote in the poll below.

[crowdsignal poll=11027135]

5 defensive tackles Chargers could target in free agency

With a glaring need along the defensive line, here are five pending free agents the Chargers could target.

We are still less than a couple of months until the free agency frenzy begins, but as the anticipation continues to build up, I will start listing potential targets for the Chargers at key positions of need.

First up, interior defensive linemen.

Akiem Hicks, Bears

Hicks, who is familiar with Brandon Staley during his time with Chicago when he was the outside linebacker coach, can contribute as a run-stuffer and pass rusher. He has over 50 quarterback pressures in three seasons, with his most recent in 2020. He has dealt with some injuries throughout his lengthy career, but it hasn’t hindered him enough to keep him from producing when he is on the field. He played over 800 snaps in each season in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020.

Sebastian Joseph-Day, Rams

Hicks isn’t the only interior defender that Staley is familiar with. When Staley oversaw the Rams’ top-ranked defense, Joseph-Day had a career-high 33 run stops, two passes defended, and a forced fumble. He was on his way to surpassing those, but an unfortunate torn pectoral sustained in Week 7 kept him out. Still, winning with speed, power and violent hands, Joseph-Day can win one-on-one matchups and eat-up blockers to let his fellow teammates roam freely that the Chargers could greatly benefit from.

Folorunso Fatukasi, Jets

Fatukasi was disruptive against the run at UConn, and he has carried that over to the NFL over the last three years. This past season, he finished tied for third among defensive tackles in run stop win rate at 43%, according to ESPN. While not notorious for rushing the passer, he has shown flashes, posting 16 pressures and five quarterback hits on 282 pass-rush snaps. Further, he has consistently stayed healthy, logging defensive snaps of 507 in 2020 and 558 in 2021.

B.J. Hill, Bengals

If the Chargers re-sign Justin Jones, there could be a reunion between him and Hill as the two were previously teammates at North Carolina State. Despite being overshadowed by Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams during his time with the Giants, Hill still consistently produced, both against the run and generating pressure. Now with Cincinnati, his presence has been known in the middle of the defensive line. Hill amassed 29 pressures, six sacks, and 25 run stops on the season.

D.J. Jones, 49ers

En route to San Francisco’s playoff run, Jones has been a staple that has flown under the radar after he was re-signed on a one-year prove-it deal. The definition of a no-nonsense-penetrator, Jones has lived in opposing backfields. He will make the majority of his money as a run defender, as he had 40 stops on the season. However, he added to his pass-rush repertoire, with 16 pressures in 2021, marking a career-high.

Chargers interview Giants’ Anthony Blevins for special teams coordinator position

The Chargers are hard at work searching for their new special teams coordinator.

The Chargers are hard at work searching for their new special teams coordinator after parting ways with Derius Swinton II.

After interviewing Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey earlier this past week, they turned to his assistant, Anthony Blevins, to discuss the opening, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.

Along with special teams, Blevins worked as New York’s assistant linebackers coach this past season. Before that, he spent the 2020 season as the assistant defensive backs coach.

Prior to joining the Giants, Blevins spent five years as a coaching assistant/special teams with the Cardinals.

Chargers fix right tackle issue in Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft

The Chargers get their right tackle of the future in Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft.

The Chargers invested in the offensive line last offseason. While that paid off, they have a question mark over the right tackle position, given the uncertainty of Bryan Bulaga’s future with the team.

That is why Los Angeles could look to address the position early on in the draft if none of the free agents on the market appeal to them.

In NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft, he sees the Bolts solidifying the spot with Central Michigan OT Bernhard Raimann.

I’m higher on Raimann than most evaluators, but I believe in his play strength (his hands and core strength jump off the screen) and instincts. He starts Day 1 at right tackle and would team with 2021 first-rounder Rashawn Slater to give the Chargers excellent bookends to protect Justin Herbert.

Raimann, the Austrian-born tackle, played wide receiver in high school and enrolled at Central Michigan as a tight end. He moved to left tackle before his junior season because Central Michigan didn’t have one. He flourished in that role, allowing ten pressures this past season.

While age might be a concern because he will be 25 years old in his rookie season, Raimann is an athletic and balanced big man with strong hands, and mental and physical toughness that has been profoundly tested to come in and contribute right away.

Why DT Akiem Hicks should be top-priority, free agent for Chargers

Acquiring Akiem Hicks would go a long way to improving the Chargers’ defensive line.

The Chargers finished 30th in run defense, and the issues fell on the defensive line personnel and its inability to hold its own in that department on a consistent basis.

For that reason, the team will make the point to upgrade the unit this offseason. Slated to have $70 million after cuts are made, Los Angeles should be aggressive in free agency, and one of its targets should be Akiem Hicks.

Hicks, 31, has a previous connection with head coach Brandon Staley. The two spent time together with the Bears when Staley was the outside linebackers coach from 2017-18.

At 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds, Hicks is a solid all-around interior defender who plays with tremendous leverage, power, and lateral movements to get into the backfield and the strength to stand his own against double teams.

Hicks clears the guard with a two-hand swipe to rip move and shows excellent movement skills to turn the corner and flatten to the quarterback for the sack.

Hick starts with the long-arms and converts that to power to bull rush the guard all the way into Kirk Cousins.

Hicks gets extended, shows good lateral movement, controls his man while displaying eye discipline to find flow in the backfield. Once Dalvin Cook gets vertical, Hicks violently sheds the guard and makes the tackle for no gain.

While stopping the run is the primary focus, affecting the quarterback from the interior is just as crucial, and Hicks has over 50 pressures in three seasons, with his most recent coming in 2020.

Hicks has dealt with some injuries throughout his lengthy career, but it hasn’t hindered him enough to keep him from producing when he is on the field. He played over 800 snaps in each season in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020.

Hicks, the 10-year veteran, has 387 total tackles, 73 tackles for loss, 40.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles throughout his career.

Having a player who can rush the passer just as well as he defends the run and a veteran presence in the defensive line room, like Hicks, will go a long way to improving the group next season.

GM Tom Telesco assesses Chargers’ defensive struggles

The lack of defensive talent and depth hurt the Chargers down the stretch this past season.

After turning the Rams into the NFL’s best defense in just one season, there were expectations that Brandon Staley would have similar results with the Chargers. However, that ended up not being the case.

Los Angeles ended up having one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The team finished 29th in points allowed (27.0), last on third-down (49.54%), 30th against the run (138.9 YPG), and 26th in the red zone (64.18%).

“It just didn’t come along as quickly enough, on defense, as I thought it would,” Tom Telesco said. “We had a lot of stretches this year that the players that are out there did some pretty good things, but we weren’t consistent enough by any means.”

Last offseason’s primary focus was to bring in pieces to put around Justin Herbert. That paid off as the Chargers possessed a top-5 offense. However, neglecting the defensive side of the ball with the exception of Asante Samuel Jr. and Kyler Fackrell ended up hurting them.

Despite having cornerstone pieces with Derwin James, Joey Bosa and Kyzir White, the starters weren’t consistent and the team was forced to rely on its depth down the stretch due to COVID-19 and injuries, which ended up being exploited in games that should have been gimmes, like against the Texans.

The Chargers enter this offseason with five defensive starters set to hit the free agency market – White, Uchenna Nwosu, Chris Harris Jr., Linval Joseph and Justin Jones.

With Telesco’s philosophy being drafting, developing and signing their own, White, Nwosu and Jones all earned the right to be brought back. Only time will tell if the coaches and front office view it that way.

One thing is certain and that’s Telesco and company must use a good chunk of their salary cap space and draft picks to bring in instant contributors along the defensive line, a starting cornerback, and depth at the second and third levels to turn things around next season.

“Some of it is alignment, assignment, and technique. Some of it is personnel, and some of it is just being in the first year of the defense.”

Chargers GM Tom Telesco evaluates Brandon Staley’s first season as head coach

What Tom Telesco had to say about the Chargers with Brandon Staley at the helm in his first season.

In Brandon Staley’s first season as head coach, the Chargers finished with a 9-8 record and came up just short of making the playoffs.

Despite not achieving the ultimate goal of playing beyond the regular season, general manager Tom Telesco felt that it was still a success with Staley at the helm.

“I think he handled things very well this year,” Telesco said. You guys can tell that he has a great connection with our team and our players. And he has definitely brought an identity to this football team. So I think the future is bright with where we are, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

There’s one thing we learned about Staley in his first season as the man in charge: he is an aggressive decision-maker.

Not afraid to go for it on fourth down, Staley favored the analytics and quarterback Justin Herbert to get the job done in those situations. Of the 34 the Chargers attempted, 22 of them were successful.

While some of his decisions paid off, like in wins over the Chiefs (Week 3), Raiders (Week 4), Browns (Week 5), Eagles (Week 9), and Bengals (Week 13), some of them resulted in failures, like against Kansas City in Week 15 and Las Vegas in the season finale.

“I love the identity we play with,” Telesco said when asked about Staley’s aggression on fourth down. “I support him 100%. I’m a big believer in using data to make decisions, as is he… I know on the outside everyone may not agree but it’s who we are and how we are going to play moving forward.”

“All of these decisions, even though they’re made in real-time, there’s research involved in it prior to the game.”

Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. would be welcomed addition to Chargers

Clemson CB Andrew Booth could be atop the Chargers’ draft come April.

It takes a certain type of athlete with the right mentality to play the cornerback position. 

Playing cornerback is an exhaustive job. Cornerbacks need to be incessantly attentive to the slightest movements and change in direction from the wide receiver lined up across from them. They need to be fluid enough to process that action while backpedaling at high speeds, while also quick enough to erupt out of that motion and propel themselves toward the ball. On top of that, the player needs to armor himself with the necessary mental fortitude to rebound after a lapse in coverage and continue to attack each play with the same steeliness and precision as before.

Those that can perform all of the taxing elements of the cornerback position at a high level typically are not afraid to broadcast their superiority. The position group is known for housing the most vocal and self-assured players in football. Once they step foot on the field, they believe there is no better talent in the world that can challenge them.

Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. represents that generalization to the maximum. A 6’0” boundary man, Booth brings his swagger with him at all times as he goes toe-to-toe with his opponent. There seems to be no off button to his flow of energy – Booth is eternally amped up and displays a ravenous demeanor to shroud his assignment into obscurity. When the defense delivers a stop or a turnover, Booth breaks into ecstatic applause and radiates contagious enthusiasm. If he gives up a catch or manages to allow a ball carrier to slip his grasp, Booth is noticeably hard on himself and he desires perfection on every snap.

A former five-star prospect who was a unanimous top 50 recruit nationally, Booth earned his stripes in Clemson’s depth behind a talent-laden secondary that included future Atlanta Falcons first-round pick AJ Terrell. By the end of his sophomore year, he had garnered a reputation as one of the flashiest players in the country with sensational plays on the ball both defending the pass and the run. Booth closed out his final year playing for the Tigers as a First Team All-ACC selection alongside teammate Mario Goodrich. He recorded 75 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and five interceptions in 35 games.

Booth is a player that is noticeably long-limbed on tape, with his arms dangling past his knees as he sets up before each play in a low and compact stance. He is able to leverage that outstanding length in coverage, using his reach at the line to jam effectively and posing as a hassle for receivers to wipe away down the route stem. But where Booth’s length is most noticeable is when the ball is put up in his direction. When combined with his blue-chip athleticism, Booth’s traits have produced a number of stupefying interceptions and pass breakups.

Exceptional at tracking the ball and timing his leaps to contest the catch point, Booth possesses ungodly body control that allows him to contort himself mid-air and extend his reach in front of the receiver. Booth is ultra-physical and always goes up aggressive with the idea he has as much right to the ball as the man he is guarding. Booth is no stranger to winning these bouts, frequently taking steps to position himself advantageously to make a play.

Against Miami in 2020, Booth showcased his dynamic playmaking ability with a jaw-dropping pass breakup. Miami decided to test Booth’s vertical stoutness in man coverage with a sideline go route. Booth’s eyes stayed locked to the quarterback as he watched the throw the entire way, letting his peripheral vision and great sense of awareness blanket the receiver. When the throw arrived, Booth sprung into the air and rotated 180 degrees while traveling backward in a feat of acrobatic insanity. The ball glanced harmlessly off the palm of his outstretched hand as Booth tumbled back to the ground, hardly regaining his balance as he burst into celebration.

What also helps Booth create a new highlight reel practically every game is the unquestionable truth that he can flat out move. Booth has spider-like agility that gives the impression that he glides around the field. His hips are loose and fluid, allowing him to be hyper-reactive to the developments of the receiver’s route. Booth’s quick, active feet are responsible for his explosive burst that rapidly closes the distance between him and his assignment. He has the range and athletic makeup to be successful in any type of coverage on multiple levels of the field.

Take this interception against Pitt in 2020, for example. Booth is playing the right side of the field in Cover 3 cloud, a coverage where he along with two other defensive backs each are responsible for a deep third of the field while an underneath corner and linebacker manage the flats. This alignment allowed Booth to read the quarterback, probable 2022 first-round selection Kenny Pickett, ultimately tracking his eyes to the middle of the field as Pitt attempted to execute a flea-flicker. Booth cleanly broke out of his bail and came across the field to float for the ball.

In his junior season, Booth made significant strides to rely less on his athletic gifts and incorporate play recognition and twitch into his game. That emphasis resulted in him being a force not only as a run defender but an overall disruptor, routinely beating blocks with his downhill speed and thwarting screen passes instantaneously. Booth backs up his instincts with a textbook tackling form and internal desire to punish the ground game without yielding a single yard.

On 3rd-and-4 in the fourth quarter of Clemson’s opening matchup against Georgia this season, the Bulldogs attempted to move the chains with a simple swing pass design. Booth saw the running back motion out of the backfield and began his transformation into a heat-seeking missile. Booth came screaming downfield past the receiver that was supposed to block him and upended the running back, effectively blowing up the play. Of course, Booth wasted no time exhibiting the trademark flair of the position as he soaked in the response from the crowd.

With just one full season as a starter under his belt, there are definitely areas Booth will need to tidy up to become a reliable and trustworthy cornerback capable of holding his own against the best in the NFL. At times, he will get too greedy staring down the pass, which leads to larger cushions of space he is unable to evaporate in time to prevent the catch on routes that break inwards or back to the quarterback. His long speed from the moment he decides to turn and run seems to demand a lot from him. There are also moments on film where Booth becomes a lunger and antsy to provide contact in both press and off coverage when it is not particularly needed. That restlessness can force him into recovery mode if he is not accurate with his strike.

Overall, Booth is an animated prospect at the cornerback position whose high-octane personality, excellent length, and seamless movements skills will permit him the opportunity to flourish in either an outside or inside role at the next level. Booth brings unteachable ball skills as well as a keen understanding of angles and trajectories when tracking the pass to manufacture turnovers. He is relentless from snap to whistle in order to get the defense off the field as soon as possible.

Booth’s freakish athleticism and fluidity have propelled him into first-round consideration, as well as the conversation for the top cornerback in the draft, and he would be a welcome addition to a Chargers squad looking to invest in nimble cover men alongside Asante Samuel Jr.