Pro Bowler Rashawn Slater leader of promising 2021 Los Angeles Chargers rookie class

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Chargers got their hopes up, and that might have been the hardest pill to swallow in 2021. After an overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in the season finale, they were out of the playoffs for a third straight season. It was a stunning finish to what had seemed to be such a promising season.

While it didn't end the way they wanted it to, the Chargers had quite a few good moments in 2021 and their rookie class had a lot to do with that success. Their insertion, along with a banner second year for quarterback Justin Herbert in his first season under coach Brandon Staley, gives the 9-8 Chargers some hope entering 2022.

So now what? Back to the drawing board. Back to the draft and free agency to continue to build toward that playoff breakthrough. But before we do that, let's take a look at last year's draft haul, one that netted the Chargers a Pro Bowl left tackle who could be Herbert's blindside protector for the next decade.

OT Rashawn Slater (Northwestern)

Draft slot: First round, No. 13 overall

The knock on Slater playing tackle was his arm length (33 inches) and 6-foot-4, 315-pound size, as many scouts saw him as a guard. But what he did on the field this past season put all that to rest. He played in 1,116 snaps as a rookie (good for 10th among tackles), committing only six penalties and allowing only four sacks in 16 games (he missed the Week 15 game against the Kansas City Chiefs due to COVID-19).

He was considered a dominating left tackle and protected Herbert well, earning a 83.6 grade from Pro Football Focus and registering a 90.4% pass block win rate en route to being named second-team All-Pro and making the Pro Bowl. He played college ball at Northwestern but sat out the 2020 season because of COVID concerns. He is as tough as they come and the reason defenses tried to attack the Chargers at right tackle instead of left. He also was voted by the team as the offensive rookie of the year.

CB Asante Samuel Jr. (Florida State)

Draft slot: Second round, No. 47 overall

While not quite as big (5-10, 180) as his famous father, Asante Samuel (5-10, 185) -- who played cornerback in the NFL for 11 seasons for the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons -- Samuel Jr. has potential to be every bit as fierce. He missed five games due to two separate concussions, but played 693 snaps in the 12 games he did play. Samuel registered 43 tackles (33 solo), two interceptions, one of which he returned for 26 yards, and 11 passes defensed. With veteran Chris Harris Jr. set to be a free agent, Samuel could be in line for even more playing time in 2022.

WR Joshua Palmer (Tennessee)

Draft slot: Third round, No. 77 overall

Palmer was mostly a reserve as a rookie, but he stepped up big when Keenan Allen missed the Week 14 win over the New York Giants due to COVID-19. Palmer scored his second career touchdown that week, a 12-yarder from Herbert on a third-and-8. He was targeted a team-high seven times and caught five passes for 66 yards and the touchdown. Said Herbert: "He worked harder than anyone. With Keenan down he's one of those guys we trust in." Palmer ended the season with 33 receptions for 353 yards and four touchdowns.

TE Tre' McKitty (Georgia)

Draft slot: Third round, No. 97 overall

McKitty had a quiet rookie season, catching six of eight targets for 45 yards in 11 games while playing 237 snaps, mostly as a blocker. Considered a surprise but a valuable surprise, one that could see more playing time in 2022 as starting tight end Jared Cook is set to be a free agent.

OLB Chris Rumph II (Duke)

Draft slot: Fourth round, No. 118 overall

Rumph's father, Chris Rumph, was recently hired as the Minnesota Vikings' defensive line coach after serving as the Chicago Bears' D-line coach this past season. As for Rumph II, he played mostly a special teams role as a rookie, registering 19 tackles (8 solo) and a sack. He's a loud linebacker, echoing others who have stepped up to be leaders such as Joey Bosa, who has been known to tell him, "Chris, just shut up for a second." Rumph has worked with players such as Bears' All-Pro pass-rusher Khalil Mack in the past.

OT Brenden Jaimes (Nebraska)

Draft slot: Fifth round, No. 159 overall

Jaimes was active for 11 games but only played five offensive snaps and 49 on special teams as he continues to develop.

LB Nick Niemann (Iowa)

Draft slot: Sixth round, No. 185 overall

Niemann was a constant on special teams while also playing 66 snaps on defense, the majority of those coming in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens (six tackles), Week 14 against the Giants (one interception) and Week 17 against the Denver Broncos (21 snaps). Niemann finished with 15 tackles and the interception.

RB Larry Rountree III (Missouri)

Draft slot: Sixth round, No. 198 overall

Rountree carried the ball 36 times for 87 yards (2.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown, highlighted by a 31-yard performance against the Raiders in Week 4. He played 107 offensive snaps and another 123 on special teams.

S Mark Webb Jr. (Georgia)

Draft slot: Seventh round, No. 241 overall

Webb was active in seven games, playing six snaps on defense and 68 on special teams. He compiled three tackles.