The 2022 NFL Draft begins TONIGHT! Excitement can be felt in the air as the 32 teams prepare to add key pieces and complete their roster heading into the 2022 NFL season. While many questions are still unanswered, one thing is for sure: the upcoming weekend is set to shake up the NFL landscape.
The Los Angeles Chargers are up next on the queue in our series of mock drafts entering the event. Last winter, the Chargers suffered a bitter conclusion to their campaign, missing out on a postseason berth in a thrilling overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Yet, the 9-8 ballclub posted substantial improvements and was a pleasant surprise on many fronts.
But that was far from all – a busy offseason featuring several star-studded additions set a high bar for LA in 2022. Assets such as cornerback J.C. Jackson and edge-rusher Khalil Mack led the impressive list of newcomers. The expectations are now as high as the Chargers returning to the playoffs for the first time in four years, or even reaching their first conference championship game since 2007.
However, there are many roster issues still seeking a response. That is inevitably going to have to come via this week’s draft. Here is how Los Angeles could utilize the three picks it possesses on the first two days of the event.
1.17 (17 Overall)
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Throughout the last few weeks, experts have increasingly linked Trevor Penning with the Chargers’ 17th overall pick, and for good reasons.
Despite the stability showcased by Los Angeles’s offensive line last year, it now comes up as one of the team’s biggest pre-draft needs. The unit allowed just 31 sacks, sixth-fewest in the NFL, in 2021 but the right side of the line is now a concern. Storm Norton, last season’s starter at right tackle, had quite the underwhelming year, posting a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of merely 60.4 and conceding nine sacks, tied for second-most in the league. Furthermore, he is in the last year of his $1.5 million contract so the Chargers don’t feel any "obligation" to play him. Therefore, this spot is open for improvement.
Few players in this draft class are said to be more suitable for that role than the star of Northern Iowa, Trevor Penning. Penning wasn’t just dominant in his fourth season with the Panthers – he achieved historical feats, at least according to PFF. According to the outlet, "his 99.9 run-blocking grade is the highest we’ve ever charter". Moreover, the UNI left tackle’s overall grade for 2021 ended up at 97.3.
Still, even people outside of PFF recognized his tremendous performance. In 2021, Penning was also invited to the Senior Bowl, where he competed alongside some of the best players from the FBS. This month, multiple NFL teams have already held meetings with him, including the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins, among others.
Evaluators league-wide clearly think very highly of the Clear Lake native and his ceiling. At the same time, the fact that his accolades came predominantly against FCS competition can make him a considerable risk. Yet, while that is not the norm, there are a few well-known examples of successful FCS prospects, such as Cooper Kupp and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Above all, considering how big a problem the position currently is for the Chargers, as well as there being no other notable assets at that position in the range of that selection, and of course Penning’s favorable reputation, the risk is well worth it.
3.15 (79 Overall)
Ed Ingram, G, LSU
Bad news, Chargers fans – the problems regarding the right side of the O-Line won’t disappear by fixing the right tackle post. Brenden Jaimes, the lone option at right guard at the moment, is not a candidate who brings confidence to the ones expecting Justin Herbert‘s high-quality pass protection to show up again come September. The 2021 fifth-round selection is understandably inexperienced, having been present on just five offensive snaps last year.
This does the organization no favors and neither does its absence from the second round of the event. Los Angeles won’t be on the clock again until the middle of Day Two as their second-round pick is now Chicago’s possession by virtue of the Khalil Mack trade.
When the team is back in action with Pick 79, there will be numerous options in the RG department. There are also other challenges for the Chargers in the immediate future, like defensive tackle, cornerback, and safety. Yet, a decision at right guard seems hard to delay.
Therefore, at No.79, it could be down to three prospects – Ed Ingram, Lecitus Smith, and Cameron Jurgens. All three players have overall PFF grades over 70.0. However, Jurgens would probably be a bit out-of-position, having played exclusively as a center in each of his last three years with Nebraska.
Between Ingram and Smith, the former had both the higher rating and the better traditional key performance indicators. The LSU lineman combined a 73.0 grade with just two sacks, one QB hit, and eight hurries. Meanwhile, Lecitus Smith’s figures were slightly less satisfying. Lastly, Ed Ingram started mainly on the left side of the interior with the Tigers but moving offensive linemen along the whole line after drafting them, even from guard to tackle and vice-versa, is so common that the topic needs no discussing.
All in all, Ingram’s performance indicates he can be, at worst, average to above-average transitioning to the professional game. That is beyond decent for a third-round pick, although issues may arise if he has to start at RG from Day One.
4.17 (123 Overall)
Matthew Butler, DT, Tennessee
While the offensive line is a strength that LA is looking to retain, the front line of the defense is a whole different topic. Of particular concern was the dominance of opposing running factions – the Chargers were the fifth-worst team in the league in that department.
During the 2021 season, the line was a complete and utter mess. Jerry Tillery, Justin Jones, and Linval Joseph all started more than ten games. Tillery was a huge disappointment, posting a PFF grade around 45.0. Joseph and Jones, with figures in the 60.0 range, were less underwhelming but neither lineman is with the team anymore – the latter joined the Bears while the former is still looking for a job.
Meanwhile, Tillery stays, pursuing a bounce-back campaign, joined by newcomer Austin Johnson, who started 17 games with the Giants last year. However, Breiden Fehoko, who is currently projected to get the third spot in the 3-4 scheme, has just one career start over a two-season NFL tenure. He is not a reliable asset and LA could look for something more helpful late on Friday night.
Enter Matthew Butler. The Tennessee defensive tackle enjoyed a tremendous final campaign in Knoxville. His farewell accomplishments included career-highs in PFF grade, 76.7, and sacks, 5.0. In addition, he also registered 8.5 tackles for loss. It is apparent that he excelled in both run defense and pass-rush, though the former will be much more useful to Los Angeles in their mission to more effectively contain the run.
More importantly, these numbers are much better than just about anyone else available at that point in the draft and address one of the team’s utmost needs. Considering other needs, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco could also use this selection on a cornerback or a safety. However, the running defense is a more urgent issue and Butler is a great upgrade to the group.
4-Round Chargers Mock Draft Recap
Given that the Los Angeles Chargers still have roster holes and needs, the aforementioned three picks across the inaugural two nights of 2022 NFL Draft action should be used, first and foremost, to address those. This is precisely what is attempted in this mock draft simulation, with Penning, Ingram, and Butler resembling additions to positions where the current options aren’t preferable. Therefore, all three players could fight for a starting job as early as this year’s preseason in July and August.
Furthermore, these selections also leave a few additional needs, albeit secondary ones, without an adequate answer. Were this a full, seven-round mock draft, it would continue with selections at cornerback, safety, and wide receiver (not in that particular order), with all three units rumored to be targets at an even earlier stage, depending on whom you ask.