The Chargers have been no strangers to investing in their offensive line through the NFL Draft.
In 2021, they selected Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 overall pick out of Northwestern to serve as Justin Herbert’s blindside protector. Last year, they did the same thing, returning to the offensive line to select Zion Johnson out of Boston College with the No. 17 overall pick to bolster the right guard spot.
Johnson made all 17 starts this season, but he wasn’t the only first-year player on the offensive line to make significant plays for the Chargers as a rookie.
Jamaree Salyer, the team’s sixth-round pick out of Georgia, was forced into left tackle after initially being considered an interior player at the professional level. After spending training camp almost exclusively between the two guard positions, Salyer returned to her college roots and came in at left tackle, making 14 starts in place of Slater, who suffered a torn biceps injury on Sept. 25. .
As the Chargers’ 2022 season came to a close, general manager Tom Telesco expressed his pleasure in the performance of his young offensive line, particularly the play of Johnson and Salyer.
“Zion, really happy with him. He’s had his ups and downs like a rookie offensive lineman is going to have,” Telesco said of Johnson. “I know when we recruited him, I said, ‘You can’t expect him to step in like Rashawn Slater did.’ What Rashawn did is really rare, but Zion gives us an edge and inner toughness.
“If he makes a mistake, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. I just think he has a very high ceiling. He’s very mature. A lot of those things that we thought about when we recruited him, you don’t know until you see him at this level, and see him there. outside, he fought for us. I’m very proud of how he played, and I think he has a long way to go.”
Johnson played 1,187 offensive snaps, allowing five sacks and seven quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus metics.
Salyer, being called up in Week 4 to take over the starting role at left tackle, surpassed any previous notions that led to his being a Day 3 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Salyer didn’t commit his first sack until the seventh. start he made, keeping Herbert upright in the pocket for the first month and a half facing raging pass-rushers.
“He saved us this year,” Telesco said of Salyer. “I wish I could say that I was smart enough to say that we would draft him to play guard, but he could go play left tackle if Rashawn gets hurt. and play very good football. That was not the case.
“He played tackle in college. That’s the only benefit when you draft a tackle in college that you really see as a guard, you always know, ‘Hey look. We could put him in there if we had to,’ because he has experience doing it.”
In all, Salyer logged 989 offensive snaps, allowing five sacks and 10 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus statistics.
With Slater returning to his position on the left side next season after recovering from biceps surgery, Salyer’s impact was so frequent that Telesco said he earned the right to a starting job in 2023. However, the state of the position that Salyer occupies is to be determined.
“He played some really efficient football for us in a critical position,” Telesco said. “As we move into next year, despite how well Jamaree played, I’m pretty comfortable that Rashawn Slater will be our left tackle, but we’ll figure out what the best role for Jamaree is.
“Do we see him at guard or tackle next year? I don’t know yet, to be honest with you. I’m not sure.”
One possible scenario is to push Salyer over an offensive line spot to left guard, replacing Matt Feiler, who is coming off an up-and-down season. The Chargers can exit the final year of Feiler’s contract with a dead salary cap of $2 million while saving $6.5 million.
Meanwhile, right tackle is also a possibility for Salyer, as Trey Pipkins becomes an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year in March. Pipkins performed well in his first full season as a starter, so perhaps the plan could be to re-sign him to remain at right tackle and put Salyer at left guard.
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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more charger coverage.