On the Clock: Chargers nab OG Zion Johnson

LAS VEGAS (News4usonline) – Protecting franchise quarterback Justin Herbert has always been a staple for the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s a mandate to make sure the third-year signal-caller has the optimal wall of protection against the wiles of elite edge rushers in the National Football League.

So what did the Chargers do with their first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft? They drafted an offensive lineman. The selection was not just a pick, but the Chargers appear to have aced the smell test when they went out and nabbed Boston College standout offensive lineman Zion Johnson with the No. 17 selection on Day 1 of the draft.

“He’s really, really impressive,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said after the first round. “He’s smart, tough, really physical, versatile. He played in a pro-style offense. From a physical standpoint, he has big hands, long arms and really good feet.

“He can really anchor in pass protection against the biggest, strongest, best interior players in the league. We just really felt like this guy was a really complete player in both the run game and in the pass game. His intangibles really fit what we’re looking for.”

Johnson, considered one of the Top 10 offensive linemen going into the draft, is excited to be lining up and smacking people around for the Chargers.

April 28, 2022. The Los Angeles Chargers drafted offensive lineman Zion Johnson out of Boston College with the No. 17 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which was held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“It’s awesome,” Johnson said. “You know, I talked a little bit about blocking for Justin Herbert, but that’s awesome to be able to be on a team with a quarterback of that caliber. And then the level of offensive linemen that they already have with Corey Linsley and Rayshawn Slater…just two really good guys who have made Pro Bowls and clearly really talented players. My goal is to come in the locker room and work as hard as I can and do whatever coach wants me to do and just earn my right to be a Charger.”

Johnson spent two years playing for Davidson before going on to star at Boston College. At 6-foot-3 and 312 pounds, Johnson gives the Chargers the power of push at the right guard position. Although he played multiple positions on the offensive line in college, Johnson graded out as the No. 4 guard in the draft.

His biggest attribute is his run-blocking skill, a commodity that is much-needed for a team that struggled with consistency in that category during the 2021 season.

“The run game is an 11-man operation, including quarterback,” remarked Staley. “I think what we did by getting Zion here, it really balances our run game. I think, last year, we were predominantly a left-side running team. In got-to-have-it situations, that’s where we were trending, running the football. 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.”

April 28, 2022. Offensive lineman Zion Johnson fields questions from the media during the 2022 NFL Draft. Johnson starred at Boston College before he was picked by the Los Angeles Chargers with the No. 17 selection in the first round. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“You can help tackles in this league a lot more than you can help inside players,” Staley added. “It’s a lot easier to neutralize an edge rusher than an interior rusher. So, when you have to go block the [Rams DL] Aaron Donalds of the world, the [Chiefs DT] Chris Jones of the world, the [Colts DT] DeForest Buckners of the world, when you have to go block those types of players inside, with the money on the line, you have to have an inside three they can get it done, and we feel like Zion can do that at a really high level.”

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco added more clarity about Johnson being able to help the team.

“I know it’s not the sexiest pick in the world, but he’s tough, he’s durable, he’s smart,” said Telesco. “We have some excellent skill players, both at receiver, tight end, also at running back and with [QB] Justin Herbert, obviously, these guys cannot do their jobs without a rock-solid offensive line. So, as much as this pick is to protect our quarterback, which is a big part of it, this is also to facilitate everybody else. It’s pass-protection, it’s run game. We’re in the second half of the game and we have a lead and we’ve got to run the ball, they know we’re going to run the ball, he’s going to help there.”

When it comes to meshing with his new teammates, Johnson said he’ll fit in fine.

“I think I’ll fit very well,” Johnson said. “Obviously, you know, the team holds winning in high regard, and for me, that’s one of my main things. I want to be on a team where winning is our main goal and I’m willing to do anything to work towards that.”

 Featured Image Caption: April 28, 2022. The Los Angeles Chargers picked offensive lineman Zion Johnson as the 17th selection in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline