The Los Angeles Chargers released their initial 53-man roster for the 2022 season on Tuesday afternoon.
Here are some takeaways from things that stood out:
Four running backs
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Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, and Larry Rountree III all made the roster and fullback Zander Horvath. That made spots in other areas tight, but clearly, the Chargers see something from each of them to determine they’re worth keeping. Kelley has been stellar this offseason and will open as the second back behind Ekeler. Spiller is one of the youngest players in the league, and the preseason ankle injury he suffered should only temporarily prevent him from reaching his sky-high ceiling. Rountree is the puzzling roster retention, as he looked ineffective in preseason action. But the second-year player is an essential special teamer who brings power that the other three backs do not.
Only five wide receivers
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Michael Bandy’s preseason performance led many to believe that the Chargers would at least entertain the thought of keeping six wide receivers, but he was waived early on Tuesday. The numbers were never in Bandy’s favor. Four of the five receivers on the 53 can play the slot, the same area of the field Bandy is limited to because of his size. In addition, keeping three quarterbacks, four running backs, and a fullback meant that offensive roster spots were at a premium. Hopefully, Bandy squeaks through waivers and returns on the practice squad, but it seems equally likely another team claims him due to his route-running savvy.
Could there be a possible waiver claim for a tight end?
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The Chargers kept only three tight ends on the initial roster – Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr., and Tre’ McKitty. That’s a departure from previous years, where Los Angeles kept four tight ends and used the fourth as a special teamer. That could mean that special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken is confident in what he’s getting from Rountree, Horvath, and McKitty. Or, it could mean that Hunter Kampmoyer didn’t do enough to crack the 53. With players like former Packers’ Jace Sternberger and former Rams’ Jacob Harris hitting the waiver wire, maybe Los Angeles elects to claim one to fill their special teams roles.
Betting on youth on the offensive line
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Four of the nine offensive linemen on the initial roster (Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Jamaree Salyer, and Brenden Jaimes) have been drafted in the past two seasons. It’s been part of an overhaul that’s also included the signings of Matt Feiler and Corey Linsley in free agency in pursuit of keeping Justin Herbert upright. Keeping Jaimes over 27-year-old Ryan Hunter signifies that the Chargers think they can develop him and Salyer into a fearsome backup duo at guard. Jaimes has the versatility to become a super-sub offensive lineman, but he didn’t have a great preseason. By keeping him on the 53, Brandon Staley and company have told us that they believe those performances do not indicate his talent.
Breiden Fehoko rewarded
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Fehoko faced an uphill battle to make the roster after the defensive tackle room was reconstructed this offseason. But, playing with nothing to lose and everything to gain, his efforts showed up every day. Building off his strong 2021 campaign, Fehoko racked up tackles for losses, split double teams, and made life for the second-team offensive line difficult. In addition, he looked more technically refined as a pass rusher, showing that he can be a complete player at the position. As a result, Christian Covington, Joe Gaziano, and Andrew Brown got the boot while Fehoko earned a spot.
The importance of special teams
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Six linebackers in a system where linebacker play isn’t as imperative seems like a lot. But when special teams play is important, keeping that many is necessary. Nick Niemann was one of the best special teamers in the league, finishing with 14 tackles on coverage units last season, which tied for fourth-most in the NFL in his rookie season. Amen Ogbongbemiga played the fourth-most special teams snaps for the Chargers in 2021.
Both rookie corners make the cut
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Staley talked about how important it was to add cornerback depth this offseason, which he accomplished with sixth-rounder Ja’Sir Taylor and seventh-rounder Deane Leonard. Both of them played their way to a roster spot. Primarily working in the slot, Taylor showed the quick twitch and reactive athleticism to make plays in coverage and high effort in run support. He also played gunner with the punt team really well. The reason for keeping Leonard is that J.C. Jackson’s recovery after ankle surgery could keep him out of the season’s first two games. The team does not have a lot of depth along the boundary, and that’s what Leonard would supply. While he struggled to get his head around to make plays on the football, he still showed the ability to stay in phase with receivers. His mistakes are correctable, and I believe Leonard could develop into a decent depth piece over time.
The best ability is availability
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After undergoing knee surgery, Webb missed the final nine games of his rookie season in 2021. Fast forward to this summer, after standing out early in camp, Webb did not take a single snap in the preseason due to a calf issue. I thought the Chargers would still ride it out with Webb, despite his struggles to stay on the field because Staley made it seem the team was still high on him, and they believed he could be reliable depth across multiple positions in the secondary. Ultimately, they must’ve felt Webb wouldn’t recover from his injury anytime soon. After letting go of Webb, the team’s safety depth is a little concerning. Alohi Gilman was dealing with his own injury towards the end of camp, and he is slightly limited in terms of position flexibility in this system. Rookie JT Woods flashed diagnosis skills and range, but his tackling is a major concern at the moment. Los Angeles may look into the waiver wire to bring in another guy.