By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com
In the first NFL Draft of the post-COVID 19 era, the Los Angeles Chargers hosted a special draft day experience for their fans who came to SoFi stadium to experience the NFL draft with them. Warming the crowd up before the draft would be, Long Beach native and noted NFL fan, Snoop Dogg. Snoop would rock the house while giving the fans in attendance a 20 minutes concert.
Offensive tackle, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, a safety who will the Chargers draft has been the question Chargers fans and their front office have been pondering since the season ended in January. Based on last season, the one obvious need is an offensive guard or tackle to improve their protection and run game consistency. They also need to identify a running back that will offer some production in “must-have” situations and a defensive back to add depth to their defensive secondary.
With the 17th pick in the draft, the chances of them getting the best guy in the draft is slim. However, Bolts fans will remind you that they drafted all-pro safety Derwin James with the 17th pick of the 2018 draft. As the draft progressed and their pick grew near, it appeared as if the player they targeted would be available. Whether, it was the offensive lineman or the defensive lineman, the players they coveted during their draft preparation.
Last season they picked the eventual AFC Pro Bowl starting Rashawn Slater. In consecutive drafts, the Chargers selected an offensive lineman with their first-round draft pick. As they drafted the 6’3” 312-pound guard Zion Johnson, who attended Boston College, was their first pick in the NFL draft this season.
Johnson, the Bowie, Md. native, earned third-team All-ACC honors in 2020 and garnered second-team recognition in his first season at Boston College in 2019. Johnson started 49-of-58 career college games at Boston College (2019-21) and Davidson (2017-18). Johnson was named first-team All-Pioneer Football League in his final season at Davidson.
“It’s something where one day you might be on, one day you’re off, and it takes a lot of consistency to become better. I think it’s the same thing for offensive linemen. You have to work consistently on your technique and become a better player,” Johnson said about how playing golf makes him a better player. “But honestly, it’s just working through that and just continuing to become the best player you can be,” Johnson added.
“I think, from high school, I wanted to prove people wrong. That wasn’t the main reason I played the game,” Johnson told the media when asked about his college recruiting process during his media availability press conference after being drafted. “Just throughout my process, whether it is at Davidson or B.C., similar things have happened where I’ve had to overcome adversity. I think that just has really helped me today to understand that, if you want to achieve something, it’s not always going to be easy, but as long as you work and you put in the necessary work, it can be an achievable goal.”
Because he is a self-proclaimed “late bloomer,” he was not highly recruited coming out of high school. As he discussed, Johnson showed tremendous resolve throughout his college career, and I was curious to hear from GM Tom Telesco what factor the resiliency Johnson displayed played in their decision-making.
“It does. You like to see prospects that have had to handle tough situations,” Telesco exclaimed. “Davidson recruited him, but that’s not particularly high level… Then he goes to Boston College, and you’ve got to earn it all over again against better people, and he did it there. Then he went to the Senior Bowl, and he had to earn it all over there again, and he did it there,” Telesco added.
“Early in the process,” head coach Brandon Staley said when asked when Johnson hit their radar. “You could tell in the interview process that this guy was sharp, that he had full command of the fundamentals, the scheme. A very smart guy, a tough guy, and a complete player. We felt like, athletically, physical. I keep coming back to that word, ‘complete player,’ that’s what made him attractive for us,” an enthusiastic Staley said about his second first-round draft since taking over as coach for the Chargers.
“I think what we did by getting Zion here, it balances our run game. Last year, we were predominantly a left-side running team,” Staley said when asked if Zion’s presence will address their run game in “got-to-have-it” situations. “What Zion does is he gives you a two-way go. I think the other thing that he does at a high level, which is the most important thing, is he can pass protect inside,” Staley added.
The last offensive lineman they drafted became an all-pro in his first year. That alone tells us that this Staley regime can evaluate talent, or they can adequately coach up their players; either way, this is a good landing spot for Johnson. Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler will welcome his skillset, and he has pro bowlers to learn from, which should minimize his ramp-up time.
Improving their ability to control the line of scrimmage is something Staley committed to doing last season. The acquisition of Johnson should bolster their already formidable offensive line. Share your thoughts on the Charger’s draft, and if Johnson can follow in Slater’s footsteps, you can reach out to me using Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or email me at email@example.com. I also encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics or angles you would like to discuss about this version of the Los Angeles Chargers.
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