Joshua Kelley working up depth chart: Where Chargers' 53-man roster stands

Los Angeles Chargers running back Joshua Kelley (25) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams safety Jake Gervase.
Chargers running back Joshua Kelley is tackled by Rams safety Jake Gervase in the first half of the Chargers' preseason loss Saturday night at SoFi Stadium. (John McCoy / Associated Press)

Like all NFL teams, the Chargers are facing a Tuesday deadline for cutting their roster from 90 players to 85.

The next trim — from 85 to 80 — is due Aug. 23. A week after that, teams must reach the 53-man limit.

Now, slightly less than one month from the Chargers' opening against Las Vegas on Sept. 11, let’s project where the 53-man roster could end up, keeping in mind that NFL rosters are fluid and will change throughout the season:

Quarterbacks: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick

The Chargers have one of the league’s best in Herbert, who is entering his third year after maybe the best two-season start in NFL history. No player has thrown for more yards or touchdowns through his first two years in the league.

Daniel was re-signed in March to remain as Herbert’s backup. Now 35, he is going into his 13th season.

In talking to his teammates, Stick has to be one of the most popular third-string quarterbacks in the league. Everyone around the Chargers raves about his intelligence and what he brings to the team.

Stick was active for only one game last season and did not play. He and Daniel are engaged in what appears to be a more legitimate competition to be No. 2 to open this season.

Running backs: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Larry Rountree III

The real questions here are who will begin the season as Ekeler’s primary backup and can he hold the job for the whole season.

Kelley looks stronger and more explosive entering his third year and started the Chargers’ preseason opener Saturday night. He also has talked about being more committed to excelling on special teams.

A fourth-round draft choice in the spring, Spiller is the leading candidate of the three among Chargers fans. There is a genuine swell of support for the rookie out of Texas A&M.

Fullbacks: Zander Horvath

A rookie, Horvath is battling Gabe Nabers for this spot. Nabers was active for 10 games last season, playing mostly special teams. He was on the field for only 46 offensive snaps.

Horvath looks to be the more versatile of the two, having played tailback at Purdue.

In the preseason opener, Horvath played 10 special teams snaps and Nabers nine. Special teams ability very well could be what decides this competition.

Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer can't haul in a pass during the first half of Saturday's game.
Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer can't haul in a pass during the first half of Saturday's game. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Wide receivers: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, Jalen Guyton, DeAndre Carter

Many observers are projecting a breakout 2022 season for Palmer, who finished his rookie year strong. He was targeted by Herbert a season-high nine times in the dramatic finale at Las Vegas.

Carter was signed to be the team’s kick returner but also has been used plenty on offense during training camp, both catching passes and taking handoffs on jet sweeps.

Michael Bandy and Joe Reed starred in the Chargers’ preseason opener, and coach Brandon Staley raved about both. Neither, however, has a clear path to a roster spot at this point.

Tight ends: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr., Tre’ McKitty

These three are clearly atop the depth chart. Right now, though, Parham and McKitty are dealing with injuries, with Parham appearing to be farther from returning.

If Parham is unable to start the season, Hunter Kampmoyer is next in line. A former teammate of Herbert’s at Oregon, Kampmoyer made his NFL debut last season, playing three snaps against Denver in Week 17.

Before the exhibition Saturday, Nabers warmed up with the tight ends because of the injury absences at the position.

Offensive linemen: Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Zion Johnson, Trey Pipkins III, Storm Norton, Will Clapp, Jamaree Salyer, Brenden Jaimes

The right tackle battle between Pipkins and Norton is the truest for a starting spot in this camp. The expectation as of today is that Pipkins will win the job, leaving Norton as the swing tackle.

The Chargers have one more year invested in Pipkins and used a third-round pick on him in 2019. Norton was signed as a free agent in 2020 after spending time in the XFL.

Salyer, a rookie out of Georgia, has been playing extensively with the second team, ahead of Jaimes, who was a fifth-round pick in 2021.

Taken in the sixth round, Salyer possesses versatility, having started at three different spots along the offensive front for the Bulldogs. He also benefited from practicing daily against some of the finest defensive players in college football.

Defensive linemen: Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Jerry Tillery, Morgan Fox, Christian Covington, Otito Ogbonnia

After not appearing in the 2021 preseason, Tillery started the game Saturday and played 12 snaps, suggesting that his status is more in doubt this summer.

Following last season, Staley talked about Tillery still finding his way in the NFL after he characterized Tillery as being more of an established player a year earlier.

Though it seems more likely that he’ll make the final roster, Tillery not surviving the cut to 53 remains a possibility. That would allow the Chargers to keep Breiden Fehoko without exposing him to waivers.

Joe Gaziano is another player the Chargers likely will have to risk losing if they attempt to put him on the practice squad.

Edge rushers: Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph II, Kyle Van Noy

Because of injuries at linebacker, Van Noy has been playing inside almost exclusively since training camp opened. The Chargers eventually figure to line up the veteran on the edge, too.

Rumph was one of the players Staley highlighted Saturday after he had a sack and a second tackle for loss against the Rams. He looks to have cemented a spot in the Chargers’ edge rotation.

Emeke Egbule is facing another battle to make an impact, which has been his reality since the Chargers drafted him in the sixth round in 2019. A year ago, he was activated from the practice squad three times.

Linebackers: Drue Tranquill, Troy Reeder, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Nick Niemann

Kenneth Murray Jr. still appears to be a ways from returning from offseason ankle surgery. The expectation is that he won’t be ready for the start of the regular season.

Tranquill, Ogbongbemiga and Niemann also have been dealing with injuries of late, although all three look to be close to returning. Tranquill has been solid-plus when healthy, and Ogbongbemiga and Niemann have shown potential.

All four of these inside linebackers have played special teams in the past and likely will continue to do so. In Staley’s system, this is a position that begs for versatility and an ability to play in the kicking game.

Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. follows a play against the Denver Broncos in January.
Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. follows a play against the Denver Broncos in January. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Cornerbacks: J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., Bryce Callahan, Michael Davis, Ja’Sir Taylor, Kemon Hall, Deane Leonard

The Chargers bolstered their secondary in a significant way in the offseason, signing veterans Jackson and Callahan and drafting Taylor and Leonard. Staley often has expressed his love of stockpiling defensive backs.

Having more talented players means additional options in devising various defensive packages and also boosts the talent and depth on special teams, something the Chargers also have committed to under Staley.

Samuel and Davis have been sharing time of late on the outside opposite Jackson, a 2021 Pro Bowl player with New England. Davis also has been playing closer to the line of scrimmage in certain passing situations.

Safeties: Derwin James Jr., Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman, JT Woods

The only real lingering off-field issue for the Chargers is James’ hold-in, the team’s defensive quarterback awaiting a contract extension before practicing. James has been present all camp and, by every account, is otherwise ready to go.

Woods, a rookie selected in the third round out of Baylor, has had some growing pains in his transition to the NFL. Staley talked Saturday about Woods continuing to have to improve as a tackler.

Adderley is among the players Staley has praised the most since the end of last season. Entering his fourth year, Adderley still has only one career interception in 34 games.

Specialists: Dustin Hopkins, JK Scott, Josh Harris

The Chargers signed Harris after he made the Pro Bowl with Atlanta last season, his 10th in the NFL. He already has been identified by at least one teammate as one of the Chargers’ leaders.

Scott was signed after a year in which he punted in only one game, for Jacksonville. Before that, he played three seasons with Green Bay.

Hopkins spent 11 games with the Chargers in 2021, making 18 of 20 field goals and 30 of 32 extra points.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.