Chargers Draft Guide
The 2020 Los Angeles Chargers’ offseason will be defined by massive transitions. The offense will look completely different with quarterback Philip Rivers swapping to an Indianapolis Colts jersey, running back Austin Ekeler will be taking over the lead back role full-time and the offensive line looks better than it has in years. The Chargers also moved on from snap-hog linebacker Thomas Davis and rotational defensive tackle Brandon Mebane—arguably upgrading both positions. The Chargers Draft Guide breaks down what kind of flexibility these moves will allow for tonight.
As with the 2016 Chargers earning the third overall pick, the 2019 Chargers did not feel like a bottom-tier team. In 2019, they had 11 games decided by less than one score. This means that if the Chargers upgrade in enough positions, and learn to close out games, the Chargers can absolutely compete for a playoff spot. Historically, general manager Tom Telesco drafts its needs first and depth later on. This Chargers Draft Guide will breakdown some of these needs and see what the Chargers are expected to do in the upcoming draft.
Many of the upcoming Names to Watch are prospects that the Chargers have met with this offseason (denoted by *).
An Offseason in Review
Chargers fans have to process a new starting quarterback.
The coaching staff made some changes that indicate they need to perform in 2020.
Telesco made critical transactions to prepare for free agency.
Bolts brought in assets at positions of need, allowing the Chargers to be flexible in the draft. (to be updated)
The Chargers lost a few key free agents that will transform the face of the franchise.
Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and 2019 fifth rounder Easton Stick are the only quarterbacks available. While veterans such as Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton are seemingly available, they won’t move the needle for the Chargers. Head coach Anthony Lynn reportedly wants a mobile quarterback, but winning is most important (as exhibited by the push for Tom Brady). They also have to pay their star players in Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Hunter Henry, Keenan Allen and others. It is fully expected that the Chargers draft a cost-controlled quarterback early and allow them to pay for their stars. Based on their visits, they seem to want their quarterback of choice at six or be willing to wait until early day three for a depth option.
Names to Watch
Day One: Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert*, Jordan Love*
Day Two: Jalen Hurts*, Jake Fromm
Day Three: James Morgan*, Anthony Gordon*, Tommy Stevens*
During the offseason, the Chargers invested in their offensive line to make it a strength of the team. From left to right, the expected starting lineup is: Trey Pipkins/Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney/Forrest Lamp, Mike Pouncey/Scott Quessenberry/Dan Feeney, Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga. Left tackle is the clear weak link here relative to the others. Pipkins showed upside but is extremely raw still. The Chargers drafted him knowing that he was a project player. Left guard and center both stand as legitimate competitions already—thus not as high of a priority. Yet, if there is an injury at tackle, the Chargers cannot resort back to Sam Tevi and Trent Scott. As such, the Chargers should be investing in a left tackle in this draft.
Taking a tackle in Round One means that they are giving up on Pipkins after a single year. If they take a tackle on Day Two, they are looking for a legitimate competition and hoping one of them works out. If taking one on Day Three, the Chargers believe in Pipkins for the 2020 season and expect to move on from Tevi and/or Scott prior to the season. The final option is punting the position in the draft and picking up a free agent to act as competition such as former offensive line coach James Campen understudy Greg Robinson, Jason Peters, Chris Clark, Donald Penn or Kelvin Beachum. The Chargers should be drafting someone to compete here. Their visits indicate that they are planning to take at least one offensive tackle at some point during the draft.
Names to Watch
Day One: Andrew Thomas*, Mekhi Becton*
Day Two: Josh Jones*, Isiah Wilson, Ben Bartch, Lucas Niang, Ezra Cleveland, Prince Tega Wanogho
Day Three: Matt Peart, Charlie Heck*, Tremayne Anchrum, Cameron Clark*
In 2019, the leading wide receiver not named Keenan Allen or Mike Williams was Andre Patton with only SIX catches with 506 snaps. That is unacceptable. It also contributed to Ekeler getting so many targets underneath. Once Travis Benjamin went down, the Chargers lost any legitimate deep threats. Rivers would give Williams his 50-50 deep balls, but not because he was particularly open.
Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen needs a legitimate deep threat that he can actually take the lid off a defense. The expectation is that the Chargers use one or two mid to late round picks to improve their receiver depth. Allen played 46% of his snaps in the slot while Williams played 25%. They value versatility at the position so they are likely looking for an outside deep threat that can play inside occasionally. According to their meetings, they seem willing to wait until day three to improve their receiver depth.
Names to Watch
Day One: Henry Ruggs. Unlikely, but Mike Williams wasn’t expected at seventh overall.
Day Two: Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman, KJ Hamler, Jalen Reagor, Chase Claypool
Day Three: Van Jefferson, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Tyler Johnson, Juwan Johnson*, Keith Gavin*, Jeff Thomas, Malcolm Perry*, Joe Reed*, Binjimin Victor*.
*There are far more options, but the depth at receiver in this draft is an entire article in itself.
Casey Hayward and Chris Harris each have 2 years left on their deals. Dez King and Michael Davis both have one year. The Chargers should be picking up a prospect that allows for long-term stability at the position. They already have one of the best cornerback rooms in the NFL, so they could afford to take a developmental prospect. If they choose a corner, it will be one to compete with Michael Davis as the primary corner opposite of Hayward. As with receiver, a day three prospect seems likely.
Names to Watch
Day One: Jeff Okudah. This pick would transform a good secondary into elite status which can lead to wins in 2020 and beyond. If the Chargers opt to draft Best Player Available, Okudah is the guy.
Day Two: Jaylon Johnson (if he slides due to injury), Noah Igbinoghene, Cameron Dantzler*, Damon Arnette
Day Three: Lamar Jackson, Harrison Hand, Keith Washington*, Isaiah Rodgers*, Parnell Motley*, Luq Barcoo*
After moving on from Davis, the projected starting lineup is some combination of Drue Tranquill, Denzel Perryman, Kyzir White and Uchenna Nwosu. Thumper Perryman is on his last year, Nwosu seems to be transitioning to EDGE and the staff don’t seem to trust White to stay healthy. As such, Tranquill seems to be the only certainty, which doesn’t even account for possible regression after a strong first season. The Chargers are expected to add some competition and depth at linebacker. According to their visits, it seems like they are more likely to way for late in the draft to pick up that depth.
Names to Watch
Day One: Isaiah Simmons (labelling this jack-of-all trades as a linebacker is a disservice to his versatility; but, it would be where would mainly fit in with the Bolts)
Day Two: Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen (who are both unlikely to fall this far, but not options at pick six), Logan Wilson*, Malik Harrison
Day Three: Evan Weaver*, Akeen Davis-Gaither, Justin Strnad, David Woodward, Cameron Gill*, Chris Orr*
Running Back / Fullback
As of the draft, the only running backs on the depth chart are former undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler and seventh rounder Justin Jackson. They have not re-signed Troymaine Pope or Detrez Newson yet, indicating that they plan to still add to the depth chart. The Chargers shouldn’t invest heaving considering they just gave Ekeler $15 million guaranteed. However, they could use a bigger back in short yardage situations. Fullback Derek Watt also defected to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Ekeler doesn’t need a fullback. The Chargers are figured to add a bruising running back later in the draft and a couple fullbacks in the undrafted free agent frenzy. A late favourite is fullback Mikey Daniel, who can play fullback and in short yardage situations (a-la Mike Tolbert).
Names to Watch
Day One: Not an option
Day Two: Jonathon Taylor, JK Dobbins, Cam Akers, Zack Moss*
Day Three: Darrynton Evans, AJ Dillon, Mike Warren, Reggie Corbin*, Darius Anderson, Mikey Daniel (FB)*, Sewo Olonilua*
Hunter Henry signed his franchise tag. The Chargers have the money to extend him, but will they? They may be seeing if he can stay healthy for another year. Tight ends infamously take time to develop and the Chargers have Virgil Green (a blocker) as the only legitimate depth. When Henry has been injured over the past couple of years, Charger tight ends receive one of the lowest positional target shares in the league. They signed former XFL star and behemoth Donald Parham Jr, but they cannot rely on him as the heir apparent without seeing him in game action. This is a poor draft for tight ends, but they may take one late. They haven’t met with any tight ends, so they may be banking on a Henry extension or to target the position next year.
Names to Watch
Day One: Not an option
Day Two: Adam Trautman, Cole Kmet, Harrison Bryant, Albert Okwuegbunam
Day Three: Thaddeus Moss, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Bryant, Cheyenne O’Grady
Ingram is in the last year of his contract; Bosa is expected to command a lot of money; and Nwosu is being groomed as a pass-rusher. While it isn’t a 2020 need, it may be a strong need in the near future. The Chargers will be looking to improve their depth as you can never have enough pass rushers. As with cornerback, they may have the luxury of taking a high upside player here.
Names to Watch
Day One: Not an option at six without a crazy drop from Chase Young (not happening)
Day Two: Yetur Gross-Matos, Terrell Lewis, Julian Okwara
Day Three: Curtis Weaver, McTelvin Agim*, Joe Gaziano* Bryce Huff*, Kendall Coleman*, Michael Danna, Derrek Tuszka*
Interior Offensive Line
As discussed in the left tackle section, the Chargers are in a surprisingly good spot with their interior offensive line depth. It is not a priority position, but they have done some homework in case value falls. Furthermore, Mike Pouncey is still an injury wildcard and Forrest Lamp remains an enigma. Campen will be extremely influential in any decisions made along the offensive line.
Names to Watch
Day One: Not an option, unless they move a top offensive tackle inside (poor value)
Day Two: Lloyd Cushenberry, Robert Hunt, Tyler Biadasz
Day Three: Dallas Warmack*, Tyler Higby*, Kevin Dotson*, Darryl Williams
Interior Defensive Line
With the addition of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, 2019 first rounder Jerry Tillery and 2018 third rounder Justin Jones and 2019 seventh rounder Cortex Broughton, the depth on the interior defensive line is adequate. Damion Square, arguably one of the best interior defensive linemen for the 2019 Bolts, is still available and may be signed after the draft. Yet, they may opt for more competition if the value is there when they pick in the middle rounds.
Names to Watch:
Day One: Derrick Brown
Day Two: Leki Fotu*, Neville Gallimore*
Day Three: Azul Kamara*
In a previous article that analyzed lost free agents, the Chargers lost most of their special teams contributors this offseason. Dez King is a good punt returner, but he may be bulking up to prepare for his new role on the defense. This team needs special teams contributors and returners. While they likely won’t draft any specialists this year, the ability to have strong contributions on special teams will be critical for late round picks and undrafted free agents trying to make the Chargers’ 53-man roster. It is difficult to bring up names to watch here, but top end kick returner Joe Reed matches their receiver need as well.
When Everything Goes Right
This is an odd statement for Chargers fans, but day dreaming is a fun exercise. In an ideal world, the Miami Dolphins over think their picks and allow Tua to fall to the Chargers at six. While the Dolphins can outbid the Chargers if they want to, they have more needs than the Chargers do. As such, the they may decide to stay at five and pick a less risky foundational player. Of course, Tua needs to stay healthy as a Charger for everything to truly go right.
The next best option is to rely on an elite pass defense and draft Okudah. In Day Two, the Chargers get strong competition at left tackle and a receiver to clear space and actually be a receiving threat. In Day Three, the Chargers pick up depth at corner, EDGE, linebacker and tight end. They may also improve their odds of hitting on critical depth with a second receiver, a running back or depth along the lines. This blueprint leads to the Chargers building for long-term success, but it does bank on Tua’s health.
When Everything Goes Wrong
Dolphins outplay Telesco and leave the Chargers choosing to reach on Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. The team tends to be conservative in nature, so Herbert seems like a realistic pick. However, if Herbert leads the team to continued mediocrity then it may have been best to see how Taylor would have quarterbacked the team and waited until the 2021 NFL Draft.
If the Bolts pick a running back at the top of the second round, they are receiving no value for the pick no matter who the running back is. They have far greater needs. Also, if they invest heavily in a safety, there will be an embarrassment of riches at the position and they won’t all be able to see the field. This plan leaves the Chargers without a realistic plan to compete any time soon by getting poor value early in the draft. If this happens and the Chargers don’t win this season, it may have been Telesco and Lynn’s final draft at the helm of the Chargers.
If Tua is taken, what should the Chargers do? Should they trade up?
If Tua is gone, the Chargers need to make the pass defense elite with Okudah. If not, they should be trading down and getting additional depth to hit on more of their needs. The overall value to the team is limited if they go any other direction (unless Herbert turns out to be a big hit or the top left tackle is transcendent). Outside of trading up two spots for running back Melvin Gordon, Telesco has not traded up in an NFL draft. However, there are always exceptions. Tua has the best chance at quarterbacking the Chargers to the promise land, and the Chargers should absolutely do what they need to do to get Tua if he is their guy.
Recent smokescreens indicate that the Dolphins are all over the place in terms of what they want to do. If that possible indecision allows the Chargers to move up to three to get Tua, then so be it. However, there are reports of the Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons all wanting to trade up, so the Detroit Lions are unlikely to move the pick for a below-market deal. If they do, they will likely have to part with at least their 2020 first and second round picks. They will likely have to add 2021 early draft capital to make it possible as well.