Positional Reviews

San Diego Chargers Positional Review: Offensive Tackle

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The offensive line was atrocious this season, to say the least. Not only did this unit block (or not) for the NFL’s No. 31-ranked rushing attack, it also allowed 40 sacks — the second-most in Philip Rivers’ career.

Looking specifically at the offensive tackle position, the starters did not perform terribly — at least not all season — and would have performed much better had starting left tackle King Dunlap appeared in more than seven games.

While Dunlap will be back healthy next season, the Chargers have practically no depth at the position, as Joe Barksdale and Chris Hairston are scheduled to hit free agency. The Chargers have to make tackle a priority this offseason, upgrading both the talent and depth from a year ago. Otherwise, Rivers may have another long season in 2016.

Positional Strength: D

OTs currently signed through 2016: Two

King Dunlap: C+

After signing a four-year, $28 million deal last offseason, the 6’9″ Dunlap was supposed to be the franchise left tackle to protect Rivers’ blindside for the rest of his career. However, Dunlap’s season was essentially wasted, missing most of 11 games with a concussion and an ankle injury.

Dunlap’s injury history has to be a concern going forward. He has only played a full season once in his career.

Also, while Dunlap only appeared in 317 offensive snaps in 2015, he still allowed four sacks, the most since his time with the Eagles.

The good news is Dunlap performed fairly well prior to being injured. According to Pro Football Focus, Dunlap boasted a decent 78.9 average overall player grade over the first three weeks of the season, along with an even better 84.5 average pass-blocking grade.

Also, Dunlap has had experience playing both tackle positions, giving the Chargers the added bonus of flexibility depending on how they address the position in the offseason.

Tyreek Burwell: D

An undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati, Burwell earned a spot on the 53-man roster after the preseason. While he didn’t play much, appearing on just 82 snaps, he still allowed three sacks.

Burwell performed slightly better as a run blocker, ending the season with a 49.8 PFF run-blocking rating, higher than Hairston and guards D.J. Fluker and Orlando Franklin.

At 6’5″ and 305 pounds, Burwell does not have great size and needs time to develop. If the Chargers succeed in upgrading the position, expect Burwell to compete for a spot on the practice squad.

Unrestricted Free Agents: Three

RT Joe Barksdale: B-

Brought in late last offseason for some additional depth, no one expected Barksdale would become the Chargers’ most consistent lineman. Barksdale was the only linemen to start all 16 games and played 1,101 total snaps, second-most on the team.

While his health may be his best attribute, Barksdale still performed above expectations. He earned a 79.0 or higher overall player rating from PFF in 13 games and ended the season as the team’s only tackle with a grade above 50.0.

On the other hand, Barksdale allowed eight sacks, and considering this is the second year in a row Barksdale has allowed eight sacks, this is concerning.

Still, if he’s not too pricey, Barksdale should absolutely be re-signed. Even if he does not end up starting again at right tackle, Barksdale can come in and play at either tackle spot, and perhaps guard, at a serviceable level. On a line routinely decimated by injury, health is a quality that cannot be underestimated, especially when only two tackles are under contract for 2016.

LT Chris Hairston: C

Playing left tackle and right tackle last season, Hairston proved he has the versatility the Chargers like in their backup linemen. However, if Hairston has to start 11 games again next season, the Chargers may be better off looking somewhere else for depth.

Getting extended playing time in place of Dunlap, Hairston had an incredibly up-and-down year. For stretches last season, Hairston was a solid replacement, earning PFF player ratings in the 70s from Week 6 to 7 and again in Week 12.

However, against the league’s better pass rushers, Hairston left a lot to be desired. In Week 13 against  Von Miller and the Broncos, Hairston and Franklin combined to allow 14 pressures and two sacks, according to PFF. And again in Week 14 against Kansas City, Hairston allowed four pressures and a sack on his own. Overall, Hairston was responsible for giving up six sacks — the most in his five-year career -and was penalized six times.

As a backup, Hairston is an OK option in small doses. However, if Dunlap misses significant time again next season, Hairston should not be considered a viable option as a starter.

With the Chargers firing O-line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who was Hairston’s coach with the Bills, I don’t expect Hairston to be back.

T Jeff Linkenbach: D-

Linkenbach, an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati in 2010, has some starting experience, starting 36 games at either right tackle and left guard in his career, but appeared in just one game last season with the Bolts.

While Tom Telesco loves his ex-Colts, it’s doubtful Linkenbach has a future with the Chargers. Allowing 16.5 sacks in 36 career starts doesn’t help.

Free Agent Targets

With 2015 free agent signees Dunlap and Franklin combining for a $13.5 million cap hit next season and the Chargers expecting to select a tackle high in the draft, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bolts did not target any big-time free agents along the offensive line. That said, if the Bolts opt to sign a high profile free agent, there are some good ones available.

RT Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals

Our very own Michael Lombardo recently went into detail regarding the prospect of signing veteran run blocker Andre Smith, who the Bengals will likely allow to hit free agency.

Smith would be an absolute upgrade to the right tackle position as a run blocker, and while his 12.5 sacks allowed in the past 38 games are concerning, he only allowed three sacks in 2015 and has never allowed a sack in his four postseason starts.

Compared to other unrestricted free agent right tackles that may be available, such Cleveland’s Mitchell Schwartz (10 sacks allowed in 2015) and the Chargers’ own Barksdale, four sacks is something the Bolts can probably live with.

Smith, who has been earning an average of $6 million a year, won’t come cheap, but the Bolts have plenty of salary cap space to work with if they decide to lock down the right tackle position in free agency.

T/G Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore Ravens

While the Ravens had the NFL’s No. 26 rushing attack, averaging only 3.9 yards per attempt, tackle/guard Kelechi Osemele had an incredibly solid year.

Starting at left tackle over the last four games of the season, the former guard was an incredible road grader, earning a PFF run-blocking grade in excess of 90.0 in every game after Week 8. He also gradually improved as a pass blocker and ended the season giving up only 2.5 sacks.

Osemele doesn’t have as much experience at tackle as he does at guard, but at 6’5″ and 330 lbs., he certainly has the size to play outside. Also, at only 26, Osemele still has his best football ahead of him. Either way, Osemele would likely provide an upgrade at nearly every offensive line position and give coach Mike McCoy a versatile lineman for his “best five” approach.

Now, as Baltimore’s best unrestricted free agent, Osemele may not get a chance to hit the open market, especially depending on what the Ravens decide to do with veteran tackle Eugene Monroe. And even if he is cut loose, the four-year vet out of Iowa State will be in high demand. If the Chargers want Osemele, they will likely have to dole out some serious cash, but it might be worth it.

Draft Targets

With practically no depth and Dunlap’s questionable health, the Chargers absolutely need to spend a high pick on the offensive tackle position to try to anchor a line that used 12 different players in 2015.  With the third overall pick, the Chargers are in a position to really upgrade the line, but still may miss out on the best talent in the draft, Laremy Tunsil.

LT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss

Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil is debatably the best prospect in the entire draft and would be the Opening Day starter for the Bolts.

Tunsil, who allowed only two sacks in college, is quick out of his stance and consistently locks down opposing rushers. He is also a good run blocker, especially at the second level.

While Tunsil isn’t the largest tackle at 6’5″ and 305 pounds, he plays with exceptional tenacity and power for his size. He also has great athleticism for a tackle, as evidenced by his 2-yard catch-and-run in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Of course, there are some negatives as well. Tunsil has never played a full season in his college career, missing time with various ailments. He was also arrested in June 2015, and subsequently served a seven-game suspension for receiving “impermissible extra benefits.” While the charges were dropped, the Chargers generally shy away from any form of character concerns — a mistake in this case. The Florida native may have  some growing up to do, but at 22, he has plenty of time to do so.

If Tunsil is there a No. 3, it shouldn’t take the Bolts more than a second to make the pick. However, he may not be. It would not be surprising if the Titans, who have drafted O-linemen in the first round in two of the last three drafts, used the first overall pick on Tunsil.

T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame

If Tunsil is gone and the Bolts don’t want to go defense at No. 3, Stanley would be the next best tackle available. Stanley, who would be a slight reach with the third overall pick, could have possibly been the first tackle taken in the 2015 draft had he declared and is still a solid prospect

Stanley doesn’t look as fluid or dominant as Tunsil, but has the strength to push defenders off the line of scrimmage in the running game. Also, at 6’6″ and 315 pounds, Stanley is a bit bigger than Tunsil, but still looks athletic is pass protection and is able to move with faster pass rushers.

Starting at both left and right tackle in college, Stanley has the versatility to play both positions, and would be a solid starter for the Chargers at right tackle, at least until he developed his technique a bit more.

Stanley isn’t a bad prospect, and has good upside, but is a noticeable drop-off from Tunsil. The Chargers may be better off picking a defensive stud (Joey Bosa?) or trading down rather than picking Stanley at three. But if Telesco feels he absolutely needs to grab an offensive lineman, Stanley could very well be it.

LT Jason Spriggs, Indiana

Weighing in at only 301 lbs., the 6’7″ Spriggs does not have ideal size for an NFL tackle, but has plenty of upside to make him an intriguing prospect in the second round.

A former tight end, Spriggs may be the most athletic tackle prospect in the draft, moving incredibly well out of his stance and in space downfield. A solid pass protector, Spriggs only allowed four sacks in two years starting at left tackle for the Hoosiers. In 2015, Spriggs used his speed and quickness to impressively mirror defensive end and potential first overall pick Joey Bosa — no small feat.

While Spriggs was productive in college, his weight and the spread offense he worked in at Indiana may make the transition to NFL difficult. Also, Telesco seems to be only interested in massive tackles.

Still, the Chargers’ bulktastic O-line has not proven to be very effective, and if Spriggs can bulk up a bit, the Bolts could certainly use an influx in athleticism.

About Trenton Villanueva

A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec.

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