Over the coming weeks, I will be performing an analysis of each position group on the Chargers roster. The goal is to break down each group and see how each player faired in 2019. This will help to determine which players should be resigned, which positions need to be upgraded via free agency, or the draft, and potential contract extensions for the many players entering their prime. I am pushing for a goal date of March 6th, prior to the start of free agency. Free agency begins March 11th for negotiating, and players may enter into contracts on March 13th, the start of the new league year. This will provide me a week to look at potential free agents the Chargers should resign, and targets to upgrade their own team.
Of all the position groups Tom Telesco has tried to address in his tenure, he has failed miserably at every position on the offensive line. It has included Free Agents signings of King Dunlap, Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston, Matt Slauson, Kenny Wiggins, Trevor Robinson, Michael Ola, Rich Orhnberger and Orlando Franklin. They have drafted DJ Fluker, Chris Watt, Dan Feeney, Sam Tevi, Forrest Lamp and most recently Trey Pipkins. Not a single one of those players has exactly been great signings. His only notable signings have been Russell Okung and Mike Pouncey, who are above average starters, but still don’t mask the issues. Tom Telesco has a lot of work to do this offseason if the Chargers are to fix their issues on the offensive line.
The Chargers Offensive Line had the 2nd lowest pass blocking rating according to Pro Football Focus, and were tied for the 5th lowest run blocking grade. Their starting line envisioned began with Okung, Feeney, Pouncey, Schofield and Tevi, but after injuries, we saw a much different starting five as the season progressed. With Okung suffering a Pulmonary Embolism, Trent Scott, an un-drafted free agent, started majority of the games at Left Tackle. When Mike Pouncey went on IR for neck surgery, Feeney kicked inside to center and Forrest Lamp,the 2nd round pick from 2017, got one start before landing on IR himself. This lead to Quessenberry starting the rest of the season at Center. Sam Tevi was the noticeable weak spot before the season even started, and was replaced by Trey Pipkins, a 3rd rounder drafted entirely too high by many experts.
Russell Okung isn’t the issue, and will likely be back as the teams starting left tackle next year. He is one of the few signings by Tom Telesco that has actually panned out. At 6’5, 210 pounds, along with a 1st round draft pick pedigree, Okung fits the bill as a Tackle you want protecting the blind side. He only played in 6 games this season, due to a scary medical issue which kept him out the majority of the season. At 32 years old, he isn’t getting any older, and the Chargers will need to address his replacement soon, and I am not so sure Trey Pipkins is the answer. Okung is a very vocal player, leader and is presently running for NFLPA presidency. He opposes a 16-game season, and would likely lobby to shorten the season, as well as the preseason.
Okung is very athletic for his size. He has great footwork and holds his ground on speed and power rushers. Using 2018 as a benchmark, in 628 passing snaps, Okung allowed 4 sacks, 9 hits, 18 hurries and 31 pressures. Those aren’t overly great statistics from your starting left tackle, but looking at what his replacement achieved, you would be grateful to those statistics. Okung is a decent player in the run game. There is a noticeable difference in the teams efficiency in the run game with Okung in the game. The team will need his support next year if they are to improve, but they may need to rework his contract. He is due $15.5 million next year and they could restructure the contract by giving him an extension. Worst case scenario is Okung is not willing to sign an extension and the team cuts him to save $13 million. Unlikely with the need to get better on the offensive line, but it is a possibility.
Sam Tevi was a 6th-round pick in 2017, and he was chosen to be the starting Right Tackle before the season even began. As the incumbent starter at Right Tackle in 2018, when Joe Barksdale left the organization, you would expect the team to have him slid him to Right Tackle when Okung was out with his medical condition. It seems like the coaching staff didn’t feel comfortable with Tevi on Rivers blinds side, and for good reason. In 521 pass-blocking snaps, he was responsible for 8 sacks and 11 hits on Rivers with 21 hurries and 40 pressures. He tied for the 4th most sacks and 3rd most hits in the league as a part time player. In the run game, he hasn’t been very well either. It would be a surprise to see the Bolts bring him back, even as a rotational player for depth next year. Right Tackle is the Bolts number 1 priority going into the offseason.
For as bad as Sam Tevi played on the right side, Trent Scott followed that up with is play on the left side. He allowed 7 sacks and 15 hits in 547 passing snaps, tied for 9th most sacks and leading the league in total hits. Both him and Tevi were by far the worst Tackle tandems in the league. He is of similar pedigree in draft status, though he wasn’t’t even drafted. He should have been a practice squad only player last year, yet found himself in a starting role. He doesn’t have the strength to drive defenders back in the run game, often missing his target from get off. He’s extra bad against speed rushers on the outside. Like Tevi, he should not find himself on this roster next year.
Trey Pipkins was drafted in the 3rd round of last years NFL Draft, leaving many draft experts scratching their heads on the pick. It seems like Tom Telesco and company like Pipkins athletic ability and envision him as their next Left Tackle. I am not out on him. He went to a small school, in Souix Falls, and played against inferior competition. He played majority of his snaps at Left Tackle on the season, and that inferior completion from college really showed up at the NFL Level. Looking back to the East-West Shrine game, he allowed 3 pressures on 16 total snaps. I don’t know what the Chargers see in him, but he is a project that the bolts really took a shot on, especially with Chuma Edago from USC, Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia and Bobby Owens from Oklahoma all still on the board.
Of all the positions the Chargers need to upgrade, Tackle should be the number 1 priority. They desperately need a Right Tackle along with quality depth. Worst case scenario is not addressing the need in Free Agency and drafting a day 2 or 3 pick. There are quite a few free agents the Chargers should consider. Namely, Jack Conklin is the most logical fit and should be Telesco’s number 1 target. I’d pay him what ever he wants. Bryan Bulaga is also a target, but a short term answer. Jason Peters is not a viable option and neither is Andrew Whitworth. Hopefully Telesco revamps the position this offseason.