The Los Angeles Chargers' 2021 season ended in bitter disappointment. They looked like Super Bowl contenders early in the year, but gradually faded down the stretch. A last-second overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in the final game ended their playoff hopes in heartbreaking fashion.
LA didn't take the disappointment lightly and bolstered its roster over the offseason. New faces such as J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack make an already strong team even more formidable. With the improvements made, the Chargers are now one of the favorites for Super Bowl 57.
The new influx of talent has some first-stringers looking over their shoulders. In particular, these two starters should be very wary about their role going forward.
Chargers first-stringers in danger of losing starting jobs in 2022
2. Storm Norton
The Chargers' offensive line was among the better ones in the league last season. Pro Football Focus ranked their line as the 1oth-best in the NFL, and the left side of the line was especially strong. Left tackle Rashawn Slater and center Corey Linsley both earned grades over 80, and left guard Matt Feiler finished above 75.
By comparison, the right side of the line was a bit weaker. Right guard Michael Schofield III finished with a middling grade of 67.8, but the Chargers drafted Zion Johnson in the third round to replace him. On the other hand, their right tackle, Norton, finished with a paltry 60.2 and is still a starter heading into this season.
To be fair, LA didn't intend to start Norton so soon. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga spent most of the season on injured reserve, and the Chargers thrust Norton into the starting role in his absence. Given the context, Norton did as well as he could in the role.
However, LA is now counting on him to be the full-time starter after releasing Bulaga. The third-year lineman out of Toledo will have greater pressure on his shoulders this season, and any slip could lead to a benching.
The depth chart already lists Norton as a 1A, with Trey Pipkins III as the 1B. If he doesn't show clear improvement early on, he may find himself as a backup quickly.
1. Jerry Tillery
The Chargers' defense was a bit of a mixed bag last season. They were solid against the pass, but allowed 138.9 rushing yards per game, third-most in the league. They saw the hole in the defense and addressed it this offseason by adding Mack.
Mack and Joey Bosa make up arguably the best edge-rushing duo in the league when healthy. However, the bigger concern is on the interior of the defensive line. New additions Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day are solid picks for starters, but then there's Tillery. The former first-round pick from Notre Dame hasn't been as advertised, with just 9.5 sacks in his first three seasons.
Even head coach Brandon Staley has his doubts about Tillery. While he called Johnson and Joseph-Day as “proven NFL players” he said that Tillery has yet to earn that title:
“He’s going to fit into that competition with those guys who have to earn a role,” Staley said in a press conference. “Those guys will have to duke it out to establish themselves. Sebastian (Joseph-Day) and Austin (Johnson) are proven NFL players. Khalil Mack is a proven NFL player. Derwin James is a proven NFL player. Then there’s a bunch of guys that are trying to prove themselves, to earn their way in the league, and I would put him (Tillery) in that category.”
Due to his underperformance so far, the Chargers declined Tillery's fifth-year option this offseason. If he wants to remain a starter in the NFL, he'll have to prove it with a strong performance this season. If he doesn't take the next step, he'll find himself on the bench in short time.