In less than a month, the Chargers will take the field at Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex for training camp, and the 2022 active roster will start to take shape. The Chargers enter this season with one of their deepest rosters in recent team history, and the battles for roles and spots will be fierce and tightly contested.
Key roles on both sides of the ball are up for grabs — right tackle, second running back and cornerback, just to name a few. And with the depth added this offseason, the competition at the bottom of the roster will be equally fascinating to watch and follow.
Who steps up in the summer heat to claim a spot? Who is left out? As training camp swiftly approaches, here is my first crack at predicting the Chargers’ 53-man roster.
Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
Who’s out: Brandon Peters
The top of the Chargers’ quarterback depth chart is set. Herbert returns as the starter, and he currently has the fifth-best odds to win MVP, according to BetMGM. I think we are going to see the best season of Herbert’s career so far. Daniel was re-signed as Herbert’s backup. The only real question with this group is whether the Chargers are going to keep Stick on the 53-man. Stick is on the final year of his rookie deal and has made the 53-man in all three of his NFL seasons so far — twice under Anthony Lynn and again last year in Brandon Staley’s first season as head coach. I see Stick making the roster for two reasons.
First, there was intention in keeping Stick on the roster last season. The Chargers did not want to risk cutting him and losing him on waivers. They are grooming Stick to eventually take over as Herbert’s primary backup once Daniel retires. It would not make much sense for them to keep Stick last year only to cut him this year. The risk of losing him on waivers this year is the same as it was in 2021. Second, continuity has been a theme for the offense this offseason, and particularly in the quarterbacks room. Stick, even though he has not made an impact on the field in the regular season, is a part of that equation. Quarterbacks coach Shane Day has cultivated a special culture since he was hired last year. Herbert is on an ideal trajectory right now. They should be trying to keep the infrastructure around Herbert as identical as possible. If it is not broken, do not fix it.
Running backs (4)
Austin Ekeler, Isaiah Spiller, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
Who’s out: Leddie Brown, Kevin Marks Jr.
The Chargers need to find an answer at the second running back spot behind Ekeler. They drafted Spiller in the fourth round thinking he will eventually take over that role. But Rountree and Kelley will be competing for touches, as well. The Chargers kept four running backs on the 53-man last season, and I am going to stick with that number for now until we see how Rountree and Kelley perform in training camp. Spiller is going to be a lock for the roster. Rountree and Kelley are going to have to show improvement and more consistency as special teams coverage players to earn their spots.
Who’s out: Gabe Nabers
The Chargers have been looking for a fullback who can be a key contributor on special teams since Derek Watt walked in free agency in 2020. They thought Nabers could fill that role after they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2020, but after drafting Horvath in the seventh round this spring, it is clear they want an upgrade. I think this spot is Horvath’s to lose. Interestingly, Horvath and Watt have similar profiles. Watt was recruited to Wisconsin as a linebacker before converting to fullback. Horvath was originally going to walk on at Indiana as a linebacker before heading to Purdue as a fullback. Horvath is 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, while Watt is 6-foot-2, 234 pounds. Horvath is slightly stronger and more athletic than Watt from a measurables standpoint. But it is easy to see the vision the Chargers had when they drafted Horvath. If Horvath can prove his worth on special teams, he will be able to carve out a Watt-esque role on this roster.
Wide receivers (5)
Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, Jalen Guyton, DeAndre Carter
Who’s out: Michael Bandy, Jason Moore Jr., Joe Reed, Maurice Ffrench, Trevon Bradford
Allen and Williams are one of the best receiver duos in football. Coaches and teammates have raved about Palmer’s development as he enters Year 2, and I think he will have a firm grasp on the third receiver role by the end of training camp. Guyton is the Chargers’ best deep-field speed option, as he was last season. He should be more of a factor on special teams this season. The Chargers were working Guyton out as a gunner during OTAs and minicamp, and with his straight-line speed, he could be a real difference-maker at that position if he can display some tackling ability. The Chargers signed Carter as their kick and punt returner, but he should get some looks on offense. Reed had ankle surgery in September after a training camp injury last summer and spent the season on the practice squad injured list. He is back and healthy and made some plays during seven-on-seven drills in minicamp. We will see if the 2020 fifth-round pick can push for a roster spot. He certainly would add some speed to a group that is lacking in that area.
Tight ends (3)
Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr., Tre’ McKitty
Who’s out: Stone Smartt, Hunter Kampmoyer, Erik Krommenhoek
The Chargers kept four tight ends on their 53-man roster last season, but McKitty was still working his way back from knee surgery last summer. He was not active until the second half of the season as the Chargers eased him into regular season playing time. I am going with three for now. However, Smartt, an undrafted former quarterback out of Old Dominion, made a ton of plays in spring practices. If the Chargers do end up keeping four tight ends, I think Smartt will earn that final spot. Everett is the top option. Parham is back from that scary concussion he suffered in Week 15 last season and is the No. 2 receiving option. McKitty’s primary role should once again be as a blocker. But he is a really fluid athlete, and I think he will carve out a bigger role in the passing game in his second season.
Offensive line (9)
Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Zion Johnson, Trey Pipkins III, Storm Norton, Jamaree Salyer, Brenden Jaimes, Will Clapp
Who’s out: Zack Bailey, Ryan Hunter, Andrew Trainer, Isaac Weaver, Foster Sarell
Right tackle is the only position on the Chargers’ offensive line that is not set heading into training camp. Slater starts at left tackle. Feiler starts at left guard. Linsley at center. And Johnson, the rookie first-round pick, at right guard. Pipkins and Norton will be competing for the starting right tackle job. Norton is the incumbent, but I think Pipkins will win this job in camp. As I wrote last week, Pipkins spent this offseason working with offensive line coach Duke Manyweather, alongside Slater, and he is eager to show the Chargers coaching staff how much he has improved.
Whichever player loses this battle will serve as the swing tackle. The offensive line depth the Chargers have is really impressive. Salyer played all five positions at Georgia and can really back up anywhere, though he will be playing primarily guard in the early stages of his career. Jaimes was a tackle in college who will be interior depth. Jaimes also worked some at center last season. The Chargers signed Clapp in April. He previously played for new offensive line coach Brenden Nugent with the Saints. Clapp should be Linsley’s backup at center, but he has also played both guard spots in his career. The Chargers have the flexible pieces to weather injuries up front, and that has not been the case in recent seasons.
Defensive line (6)
Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox, Christian Covington, Otito Ogbonnia, Jerry Tillery
Who’s out: Breiden Fehoko, Forrest Merrill, Andrew Brown, Joe Gaziano
The first five names on this list are, in my opinion, locks to make the roster. The Chargers could hypothetically only keep five defensive linemen on the 53-man, as they did last season. But I get the feeling that Staley is going to want to be deep at this position in 2022, considering the issues in run defense last season. If the Chargers do keep six interior defensive linemen, Tillery will be battling with Fehoko, Merrill and Gaziano for a roster spot. I think those three players are all more consistent run defenders than Tillery, especially Fehoko. Tillery brings more as a pass rusher. But he has a lot of overlap in skill set with Fox, who specialized as an interior pass rusher while playing for Staley on the Rams in 2020. There is a realistic scenario in which the Chargers look for a more stout run defender in this sixth spot — perhaps Fehoko — and look to trade Tillery for draft compensation toward the end of camp, if Tillery continues to struggle as a run defender. The Chargers did not pick up Tillery’s 2023 fifth-year option in May, so he is on the final year of his deal. I am keeping him on the 53-man until I see him on the field and also see how the Chargers rotate their defensive linemen in specific packages.
Edge defenders (4)
Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph II, Kyle Van Noy
Who’s out: Emeke Egbule, Jamal Davis II, Ty Shelby
As long they can stay healthy, Bosa and Mack will cause fits for opposing offensive linemen this season. Van Noy should be the third player in the edge rusher rotation, but his positional flexibility adds some intrigue to the group. Van Noy played edge rusher and inside linebacker during the spring and should see time at both positions in 2022. I am expecting big things from Rumph in his second season. He flashed as a rookie and added some strength and weight this offseason. He should be a key rotational piece. The Chargers are really excited about Davis, who they signed from the CFL in January. He could push for a roster spot if he performs in camp.
Inside linebackers (5)
Drue Tranquill, Kenneth Murray Jr., Troy Reeder, Nick Niemann, Amen Ogbongbemiga
Who’s out: Cole Christiansen, Damon Lloyd, Tyreek Maddox-Williams
Even with Van Noy’s inside linebacker flexibility, I think the Chargers will keep five inside linebackers for special teams purposes. Reeder, Niemann and Ogbongbemiga should all be important contributors on the coverage units. Murray is still working his way back from ankle surgery and is unlikely to be full speed for the start of camp. Reeder will have a role on the defense because of his experience playing in Staley’s scheme. The linebacker rotation on defense, at least initially, will include Tranquill, Reeder and Van Noy.
Defensive backs (10)
Derwin James Jr., J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., Nasir Adderley, Bryce Callahan, Michael Davis, JT Woods, Alohi Gilman, Mark Webb Jr., Ja’Sir Taylor
Who’s out: Tevaughn Campbell, Kemon Hall, Ben DeLuca, Deane Leonard, Brandon Sebastian, Skyler Thomas, Raheem Layne
The back end of the DB depth chart will be an intense competition during camp. James and Adderley are the starters at safety. Jackson and Samuel will enter training camp as the starters at outside corner, with Callahan playing in the slot. That could change if Davis plays well. The other option is Davis and Jackson on the outside with Samuel in the slot. Woods will begin his Chargers career by playing as a deep-field safety when James moves around, either to the slot or closer to the line of scrimmage as the Money — or dime backer — player in dime packages. But Woods will need to earn that role in a competition with Gilman. Right now, I have Taylor making the roster as the fifth cornerback. He can play in the slot and outside, has some return juice and should also get some looks as a gunner. But this spot is really wide open. Leonard had a really good spring and had a number of pass breakups as an outside corner. Hall has a year of experience in the scheme and played over 300 special teams snaps for the Chargers last season. And Campbell, too, played a ton of football for Staley in 2021. We will see who comes out on top. Webb is in the mix as a safety with slot and dime backer flexibility.
K Dustin Hopkins, P J.K. Scott, LS Josh Harris
Who’s out: K James McCourt
This group is set. The only addition for camp could be former USC punter Ben Griffiths, who was at minicamp earlier this month as a tryout player. Griffiths is 30 years old and played eight seasons of Australian Rules Football before joining the Trojans.
(Top photo of Keenan Allen: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)