A team from Los Angeles won the Super Bowl last year, just not the one that Charger fans were rooting for. The Chargers did have a good season in 2021, they were just overshadowed by the city-sharing pals the Rams. But the Charger are hoping to keep the Lombardi trophy in the city by being the last team standing this year.
They certainly have put the right pieces together to make a run to the title and are just hoping to get the right breaks this year. The most important position is already in place in the form of quarterback Justin Herbet. The young player is already regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the game and part of the future of the league.
Herbert has done everything Los Angeles could have possibly wanted him to do when they drafted him sixth overall in 2020 but this is the year he enters superstardom. He is a legitimate MVP frontrunner (fourth-best odds at the moment) and will have a very good claim to the award if he leads the Chargers to an AFC West championship.
There is no reason to believe that Herbert won’t light up the league again. He has virtually all his weapons returning and the offensive line has only gotten better since last year. He will also be in just his third season in the NFL so he is the perfect candidate to be the next young quarterback to take a big leap a few years into his career.
Los Angeles has done a fantastic job of surrounding Herbert with one of the best offenses in the league. The offensive line had been a weak spot of the unit but the Chargers have overhauled that position group in recent years.
They brought in tackle Bryan Bulaga and center Corey Linsley in free agency as quality veterans with experience on winning teams. They also drafted tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round last year and he is already looking like one of the best tackles in the game. They added even more reinforcements to the unit by taking guard Zion Johnson in the first round of this year’s draft.
The improvements on the line have created stability in front of Herbert which has been very beneficial to his development. It also helps development to have plenty of offensive weapons around a player, which is also what the Chargers have provided Herbert.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen is the perfect wideout to pair with a promising young quarterback like Herbert. He is an elite route-runner with reliable hands and has been around the game long enough to be a valuable veteran leader. Allen was incredibly productive before Herbert but the things that those two could do together this season should keep defensive coordinators up at night.
the Chargers then have the perfect pairing on the opposite side of Allen in wide receiver Mike Williams, who they resigned this offseason to a fairly hefty contract. Williams is a great fit because he excels at the aspects of the position that aren’t Allen’s strengths. He is a big, physical receiver who can win balls in the air and downfield. Those two form one of the best one-two wide receiver punches in the league due to their complementary nature.
If wide receiver help is needed beyond that duo (as if that is even possible), Los Angeles has some intriguing options. Wide receiver Joshua Palmer and Jalen Guyton have both performed well in limited roles so far, especially as deep threats. They also have Joe Reed, Maurice Ffrench, and DeAndre Carter, who could all be interesting playmakers if needed.
Herbert will also have another weapon at his disposal in tight end Gerald Everett, who is taking over for the departed Jared Cook. Everett is a versatile and athletic tight end that has demonstrated his ability in flashes during his time with the Rams and Seahawks. He won’t have to be an overly productive player this year but if he functions as a reliable option for Herbert then his signing will have been a great move.
For all of the talented pass-catchers that the Chargers have, their most dynamic offensive weapon resides in the backfield. Running back Austin Ekeler started out primarily as a third-down back but has now developed into one of the best all-around backs in the game.
He is a true three-down back that is just as effective on third-and-seven as he is on second-and-three. His play takes a ton of pressure off Herbert because he is an effective check-down option whenever needed. But he also can shoulder the load for stretches where the team wants to run the ball.
There is no question that the Chargers’ offense is going to score a lot of points this year. The concern will be whether the defense can do enough to keep their opponents’ points total to less than their own. They gave up the fourth-most points last year yet still managed to win more games than they lost, so imagine what they will be capable of with a stingier defense.
That may just be the case this year because the Chargers’ defense is going to be a much better unit in 2022. Los Angeles took the same approach to the defense that they did the offensive line, making multiple big moves for impact players.
The most notable name to join the team this year is outside linebacker Khalil Mack. You may have heard of him before if you pay any attention to the best pass-rushers of the past five years. He may be on the downward trend of his career, but Mack can still get to the quarterback better than most players in the league.
Having Mack as your lead pass-rusher is good but having him as your second-best pass-rusher is better, and that is what the Chargers have this year. Mack will be paired with outside linebacker Joey Bosa, who is playing at a level that is unmatched by most of the other players in the league. The 27-year-old’s streak of pass-rush dominance is only just getting started and playing next to Mack is only going to make him better this year.
Mack is certainly the most notable acquisition made by the Chargers this offseason but he may not even be the best. That is because the team also signed cornerback J.C. Jackson, who has been one of the best at the position recently.
Jackson leads the league in interceptions over the past two seasons with a whopping 17 picks. But he is not just a corner that hunts for interceptions, his man coverage skills are alite and he also can contribute in the run game. Jackson was a perfect addition because the Chargers were lacking a true number one corner, which is now clearly not an issue.
Jackson’s arrival takes relives a ton of pressure from corners Asante Samuel Jr. and Michael Davis. They no longer will need to step up and be a number one corner so they can remain in their previous roles that they were effective in. That is incredibly helpful for Samuel, who demonstrated great potential in his rookie year but is probably a couple of years away from being a lead guy at the position.
The Chargers did not have the same problem at safety, where they have superstar Derwin James. There is no denying that James is a top-tier safety in the sport, the only thing that could possibly hold him back is his ability to stay healthy. He played in 15 games last year and made the Pro-Bowl, just like he did as a rookie when he played all 16 games and was also named to the All-Pro first team.
The problem is that he played only five games in 2019 and missed the entire 2020 season. If Los Angeles gets the healthy version of James this year then the secondary could be elite but if he suffers another injury they will need to turn to an unproven group of safeties behind him.
The best non-James safety is Nasir Adderley, who finally started to live up to his potential in 2021. Adderley has emerged as a great option next to James but 2022 could be the year that he improves his game and becomes James’ long-term running mate in the secondary. If the Chargers need help beyond those two players they have two solid options in rookie JT Woods and third-year Alohi Gilman.
Unfortunately, the Chargers weren’t able to add an All-Pro at every level of the defense this year, leaving it to the incumbents to step up. Middle linebacker is a position that could have used some help because the team will need to replace their leading tackler from 2021, linebacker Kyzir White.
That leaves linebackers Kenneth Murray and Drue Tranquil as the most likely ones to replace White’s production. Tranquil was solid in a limited role last year, making seven starts and fourth on the team with 74 tackles, so he should be able to handle the increased snap count.
The question mark is Murray. The former first-round pick has struggled so far in his career, failing to meet the expectations that came with his draft status. This could be a make-or-break year for the third-year player. The Chargers will need to see significant improvement from Murray that suggests he can be a starting linebacker in the league or else they will have to start thinking about moving on from him.
Los Angeles also didn’t add much to the interior defensive line (other than defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day) but they don’t really need to because they have defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. The Chargers’ first-rounder from 2019 had a slow start to his career due to some injury issues but he has become a very solid starter.
They don’t need to have elite players on the inside because the outside linebackers have been very good. Tillery, Joseph-Day, Christian Covington, Morgan Fox, and rookie Otito Ogbonnia are a solid enough group to get the job done on the inside.
Like I have said about all the other AFC West teams, that division is going to be very tough this year. That is going to make it hard for the Chargers to rack up too many wins even though I think they will be the best team out of the four and win the division.
I think the Chargers will emerge with a 12-5 record on their way to the playoffs. Honestly, a 12-5 record in that division is about as impressive as a 14-3 record in most of the other divisions.
What gives the Chargers a leg up on the other three teams in their division is that they have a very favorable schedule. Outside of the divisional foes, the Chargers don’t have too many tough games. They avoid most of the top teams in the league, other than the Rams, and of the difficult games they do have, they are almost all at the end of the season.
With the first half of the season loaded with games against the Jaguars, Texans, Deshaun-Watson-less Browns, Seahawks, and Falcons, Los Angeles should get out to a very hot start that they can ride for the rest of the season. Even if they get three losses from the tough divisional slate, they should win all but two of the rest of their games and comfortably win the division.