The Chargers have been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this season. Brandon Staley is in his first year as head coach, and so far, the team is exceeding expectations. They are competing for the AFC West title and have two big wins over the Las Vegas Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. Justin Herbert is following up his historic rookie year with an MVP-caliber season. It’s still early in his career, but he is already beginning to throw his name into that “elite quarterback” discussion. He has been magnificent in orchestrating the offense and distributing the ball.
Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler have been one of the top offensive trios in the NFL this season. The Chargers star players have been performing like stars. The defensive end is where the Chargers’ issues lie. Opponents have run wild on the Chargers to the tune of 162.5 rushing yards per game. In their last two games combined, the defense has allowed 417 rushing yards. You can’t be considered a true contender with that type of defensive performance. The AFC is loaded this season. The Chargers have to make a move to improve their defense if they hope to compete for a Super Bowl.
The Chargers’ Current Status
Current Record: 4-2
Division Standings: Second in the AFC West
In the Playoff Picture: Yes
Buyers or Sellers: Buyers
Current NFL Draft Slot: 22nd Overall
Potential Trade #1: 2022 seventh-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Marlon Mack
The Chargers have no depth at running back behind Ekeler. Justin Jackson and Larry Rountree have not shown much when given the opportunity. The team would be in trouble if Ekeler were to go down with an injury. Marlon Mack gives the team an insurance policy, and he can handle some of the carries between the tackles to preserve the health of Ekeler. Mack is in a contract year and has fallen behind on the Colts’ depth chart. Moving him for a late-round pick benefits the Colts. Mack was a 1,000-yard rusher just two seasons ago, so he is a capable player. Ekeler and Mack could be used as a tandem at running back, making the Chargers’ offense even more lethal.
Mack has been in several trade rumors, so he will most likely be dealt with at the trade deadline. He has a smooth running style and could serve as an every-down back if called upon. He is in a contract year, so the Chargers will not be tied to him next season if he does not perform well. Most teams are using running back tandems, and with Ekeler dealing with injuries the last two seasons, the Chargers would be smart to follow the trend.
Potential Trade #2: 2022 sixth-round pick to the New York Giants for Austin Johnson
Stopping the run is something the Chargers have not been able to do this season. Defensive tackle Justin Jones suffered an injury in Week 1 and the team has struggled since. They have given up 975 rushing yards this season and ball-carriers are averaging 5.4 yards per carry against them. Both rank dead last in the NFL. Their defensive tackles have been bad against the run this season. Austin Johnson is not a big name, but he has quietly been one of the best-run stuffers in the NFL this season.
Johnson is on a one-year deal with the Giants, and with the Giants sitting at 2-5, they are most likely going to be sellers at the trade deadline. Johnson will not fix all of the Chargers’ issues, but he will help. He will take Jerry Tillery’s part in the rotation behind Jones and Linval Joseph. Tillery has been one of the NFL’s worst run-stopping defensive linemen. Johnson will be a big upgrade over him. This would be a dramatic improvement for a cheap price.
Potential Trade #3: 2022 fourth and sixth-round picks to the Chicago Bears for Akiem Hicks
If the Chargers choose to be aggressive at the trade deadline, then Akiem Hicks should be on their radar. Brandon Staley worked with the Bears for two seasons while Hicks was on the roster, so the two have familiarity with one another, and Hicks knows the system. Hicks would give the team tremendous depth at the position, and he has proven to be one of the top run defenders in the NFL throughout his career. This trade makes sense for the Bears because they are starting a rookie quarterback and building for the future.
Hicks and Joseph would be one of the top run-stopping fronts in the entire conference. The Chargers have over $10 million in cap space, so Hicks’s $6 million in salary would fit under the cap. He is in the last year of his contract, and at 32 years old, his best days are behind him. The trade is a little risky, but Hicks is what the defense is missing.
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