Philip Rivers screaming or looking generally pissed off at his offensive line has become a common sight in recent years. After spending his early years as a starter spoiled by left tackle Marcus McNeill and center Nick Hardwick in their prime, he has watched his line age and degenerate while right tackle Jeromey Clary‘s play fell off a cliff for a couple years.
Jared Gaither roped the San Diego Chargers into thinking he could shore up Rivers’ blindside with excellent play down the stretch in 2011, got his contract and then went on to resemble the injury-hampered McNeill.
Now the biggest bright spot of recent seasons up front, left guard Louis Vasquez, left for the division champion Denver Broncos. When it comes to offensive lines in the AFC West, it seems the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Just ask Rivers, who played behind the league’s 26th-ranked pass blocking unit in 2010 and 29th-best in 2012, gauged by Pro Football Focus grading.
The new Chargers regime of general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy have a chance to reverse this trend starting with the 11th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, with Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson appearing to be the right combination of fit and value here. It’s likely that top left tackle prospects Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher won’t fall out of the top 10, but many draft experts feel his potential puts his value right up with those two, and then a sharp drop-off thereafter.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder was an all-state quarterback in high school before redshirting as a tight end at Oklahoma. After switching from tight end to right tackle and then to left tackle, Johnson picked up blindside protection quickly in grabbing second-team All-Big 12 honors, right behind Joeckel. His footwork and long arms make him a good antidote for the Chargers’ protection issues.