2022 NFL draft: Three picks Chargers will consider in Round 1
He arrived as the projected starting left tackle, a polished technician who still had to answer questions about his size and the fact he hadn’t played the previous season.
Rashawn Slater then spent his rookie year never coming close to not being the Chargers’ starting left tackle, playing every offensive snap in his 16 games (he missed one week on the COVID list) and earning Pro Bowl recognition.
Still, looking back, general manager Tom Telesco said drafting Slater a year ago guaranteed nothing, despite the glowing results that followed.
“Even with Rashawn, it wasn’t like he was a slam-dunk guy,” said Telesco, who took Slater at No. 13. “There are no slam-dunk players in the draft.”
Maybe not, but Telesco has scored consecutive highlight jams with Slater and quarterback Justin Herbert as his top picks the last two Aprils.
On Thursday, he and the Chargers will go for three in a row when they are scheduled to select 17th overall.
The franchise’s most recent No. 17 pick came in 2018, when safety Derwin James Jr. slid to the Chargers and since has sandwiched two Pro Bowl seasons around two years marred by injury.
Telesco enters the 2022 draft with 10 picks, but only four come in the first five rounds. After selecting 17th, the Chargers aren’t scheduled to be up again until No. 79, in Round 3.
That gap could be tightened by trading back in the first round, something Telesco acknowledged as a possibility. This year, however, the sense is that trading back is something a lot of teams are open to discussing.
The Chargers have six standard picks and four compensatory selections. In March, they included their 2022 second-rounder in a package to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack from Chicago.
However Thursday unfolds, Telesco promised he and his staff will be ready.
“You do so much preparation that, once draft day comes, really nothing should surprise you,” he said. “Now, something could surprise us if a player goes before us that we didn’t anticipate. But, as far as how it should affect us, it really shouldn’t because we’ve already talked [it] out.”
If they don’t trade back, the direction the Chargers pick will be determined by what happens over the first 16 selections. When their choice does arrive, their best pick might be obvious based solely on who remains available.
The Chargers’ clearest positional options seem to be offensive tackle, wide receiver and cornerback. Then again, they could use a defensive lineman, an edge rusher and a guard.
Their situation will fluctuate with every pick that comes before No. 17, the Chargers’ decision-makers having to remain flexible while relying on the abundant scenarios they’ve envisioned.
“The last two, three weeks of it is just preparation of what could happen and how you could attack it,” Telesco said. “…We certainly aren’t going to force anything.”
While recognizing the uncertainty still involved in the process, here’s a quick look at three players who for weeks have been linked to the Chargers at No. 17:
Trevor Penning, offensive tackle, Northern Iowa: Large (he’s over 6 feet 7 and 330 pounds) and athletic, Penning generally is ranked as the fourth-best tackle prospect in this class, the three ahead of him possibly top-10 picks.
He isn’t nearly as refined as Slater was last year, but Penning produces an eye-popping scouting report given his room to improve coming from a smaller school. His issues are said to be fixable with proper NFL coaching.
Penning also possesses an attitude that has been described as “nasty” too many times to count.
“That’s how football needs to be played,” he said at the scouting combine. “You can’t go out there and be Mr. Nice Guy.”
Chris Olave, wide receiver, Ohio State: The Chargers already have two $20-million-per-season receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. But Olave — as with Alabama’s Jameson Williams — is in play because he’s a deep threat.
Jalen Guyton offers the Chargers speed on the outside but hasn’t produced with enough consistency. Olave, a former track star, could be the one to further exploit Herbert’s long-ball skills.
A smooth route runner and ball tracker, Olave is recognized for his ability to create separation, Pro Football Network reporting that he “demonstrates a stellar ability to blast past defensive backs at the line of scrimmage.”
The knocks on Olave are a lack of physicality and an inability to break tackles.
Trent McDuffie, cornerback, Washington: Praised for both his physical and mental traits, McDuffie also possesses the sort of versatility Chargers coach Brandon Staley cherishes.
A product of St. John Bosco High, at 5-11, 193 pounds he isn’t the biggest cornerback available. But McDuffie distinguished himself in college as a more-than-willing tackler.
Most evaluators have him behind Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner and Louisiana State’s Derek Stingley Jr. at the position. Still, all three project as NFL starters at a time when locking up the league’s top receivers never has been more of an emphasis.
Penning, Olave or McDuffie could be a Charger by the end of the first round. Or each could be gone by the time the Chargers have a chance to make their choice.
Everything depends on how the first round develops.
“It’s just like a game day,” Telesco said. “If you’ve practiced and prepared well enough, you shouldn’t have any pressure … just go out and execute.”