Championships are won from the inside out – it’s a tale as old as time. For the Los Angeles Chargers, who want to keep wonderboy/quarterback Justin Herbert upright, the saying rings especially loud and true. He commands an offense littered with high-octane talent from the backfield to the boundary but it’s all for naught without a solid front five. And starting in the offensive trenches is the blueprint for General Manager Tom Telesco, evidenced by his first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft: Boston College’s Zion Johnson.
One of the cleanest prospects in the entire class, the Chargers’ selection of the interior offensive lineman at No. 17 overall was kicked under the rug due to a trade between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans trade for A.J. Brown. While offensive lineman are often overlooked in comparison to the other headlining spots within the offense, adding Johnson to an already stout Los Angeles front five was my favorite overall selection of the entire first evening of picks.
It goes without saying the importance of keeping signal-callers – good or bad — upright within the pocket. Just ask the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV.
After adding offensive tackle Rashawn Slater last spring in the first round and seeing the immediate success he enjoyed as the blindside protectant for Herbert, an addition like Johnson within the guts of the offensive line not only adds longevity for Herbert, but also for a run game that should be able to lighten the load of the third-year quarterback this fall.
Another age-old NFL saying: you either have a franchise signal-caller or you don’t. While teams often tend to allocate assets to the wide receiver room in hopes to make things easier on their young leaders, using first-round picks on interior anchors the last two draft cycles should have Chargers faithful feeling extremely satisfied with the way in which Telesco has built his roster within an absolutely stockpiled AFC West.
An under-recruited talent with just one offer out of HS, it’s difficult to not root for Johnson. After beginning his collegiate career at Davidson in North Carolina, Johnson’s transfer to Boston College allowed him to blossom into one of college football’s most physically dominant and intelligent man-movers this spring. Boston College isn’t necessarily known for annual production of NFL talent but just turn on the tape of the 6-foot-3, 312-pound guard along the Eagles’ front this past year and see an immovable force that allowed just 3.0 sacks in three seasons in Chestnut Hill.
While the ACC had a down year across the board from a competition standpoint, getting live eyes on Johnson at the Senior Bowl – where he took snaps at both guard and center – etched his name in as a Day 1 pick. He’s got clean feet, heavy hands that often jolt and shock defenders at the point of attack and once he gets his paws on you, the rep is over. Add in his electric footwork that allows him to consistently position himself in the opportune spot to stymie opposing pass-rushers and Johnson’s performance ceiling remains one of the highest of any offensive linemen in the class.
Working alongside Corey Linsley this fall, I am extremely intrigued to watch Johnson’s game continue to evolve under the fire of the NFL. An addition towards the long-term future of the Chargers’ offense, like Slater, he’s a cornerstone piece to the Super Bowl puzzle in Los Angeles.