Sam Schneider | March 5th, 2020
The Los Angeles Chargers lost eleven games in 2019, leading them to earn the sixth overall spot in the 2020 NFL Draft. Nine of those eleven games were by one score. That one score narrative (which had unfortunately plagued Philip Rivers his whole career) came to a head last year and resulted in the franchise deciding to move on and not offer him a new deal. Disgruntled back Melvin Gordon held out for the first three weeks of the season before reporting to the team. He is also headed for a new team. The Chargers’ record was a direct result of neither one of these things. The team also lost tight end, Hunter Henry, for four weeks and the offensive line was completely decimated for much of the year.
The good news is that the Chargers are not entering into a complete rebuild, unlike many others in this draft. They still have wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams (who both topped 1,000 receiving yards in 2019), a dynamic back in Austin Ekeler (over 500 receiving yards and 92 catches out of the backfield), and the aforementioned Henry, who is likely to get franchise tagged while the sides work out a long term deal.
Moreover, the Chargers have the most cap space (over $50 million dollars) that they’ve ever had under general manager Tom Telesco. I expect them to get out and spend in free agency, but let’s play this like they don’t, shall we? There are holes to fill and an abundance of young blood coming into the league. The Chargers have all seven picks, so let’s get to it!
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Round 1, Pick 6: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
With Rivers on his way to a new destination, it’s no secret that Los Angeles is going to take a quarterback in this draft. Regardless of what you hear Anthony Lynn say, Tyrod Taylor is NOT the answer under center. Sure, he could compete with a draftee or even another veteran who comes in via free agency, but if you’re the Chargers and Herbert’s name is staring at you at the sixth pick overall, you take your potential franchise quarterback for years to come.
Herbert is a big dude (6’6, 236) with a big arm and a big personality. He can pull it down and run to escape pressure should the pocket collapse. As far as accuracy, the most intriguing stat for Chargers fans is this: He was measured as throwing an “interceptable pass” (read: up for grabs) just 1.3% of the time. While that is unlikely to carry over completely into the next level, it certainly is a far cry from Rivers, who left fans with one less fingernail on every pass attempt.
Herbert will need to work on his leadership at the next level; by all accounts, he’s a great guy to be around but not known for taking charge. However, that’s why you have veterans like Tyrod on the roster to help him find his voice. The bottom line, this is a can’t miss pick and fans of the team will be giddy with Herbert’s ability to add the extra dynamic with his legs.
Round 2, Pick 37: Justin Madubuike, IDL, Texas A&M
You’ve got one Justin on the offensive side, why not add one to the defense, too? Sylvester Williams and Damion Squire are both free agents. Nose tackle Brendan Mebane is going to be closer to 40 than 30 by the time his contract expires. While I expect the Chargers to address some interior line needs in free agency, they are desperate to add some youth to the middle of a line which was woefully inefficient against the run in 2019. While Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III are outstanding edge rushers, there is little to no push from the interior of the line.
Enter Madubuike, who continued to climb up draft boards with a strong showing at the combine. Coming in at 6’3” and a svelte 293lbs with big hands and dynamic upper-body strength, Madubuike can be expected to beat his opponent and get into the backfield to wreak havoc. While his weight doesn’t lend him to the type of run-stuffing cog in the middle, his physical prowess can’t be denied. He can play at any of the interior positions and checks off a box on the line. The Chargers will still need to add a run stopper in the middle and can address that in free agency or later in the draft.
Round 3, Pick 71: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, ASU
At Arizona State in 2019, Aiyuk caught 65 balls for 1,192 yards and found paydirt eight times. It’s well documented that the 40-times aren’t truly indicative of a player’s explosiveness, so his 4.5 in that category can be a little misleading. No, he’s not a “burner”, but Aiyuk has a freakish six-foot-eight-inch wingspan and leg explosiveness to out jump defenders.
As I documented earlier, Allen and Williams are (when healthy) an outstanding receiving duo. However, the more recent additions via both free agency and the draft have not gifted L.A. a reliable third option to this point. Aiyuk is a player that could make his living over the middle and just as easily go up and get a jump ball. The need at wideout is not a desperate one, but in a class that’s loaded with talent at the position you’ve got to take a talent like Aiyuk if he falls here.
Round 4, Pick 109: Lamar Jackson, CB, Nebraska
Yes, you’re reading that right, but this isn’t the Ravens’ MVP. If you’re the Chargers you’re feeling pretty good about shutdown corner Casey Hayward on one side and Derwin James over the top, but you haven’t seen much production on the other side of the field. Well, much like wide receiver, it is a strong class at cornerback. Considering how rarely that is the case, it only makes sense to hedge your bets and grab a talented defensive back while you can.
Jackson can be susceptible to wideouts that are quick off the line, but with shadow corner, Hayward so often matching up with speedsters like Tyreek Hill, it’s alright to let Jackson fall onto his other strengths. At 6’2” and over 200lbs, Jackson is one of the biggest cornerbacks in the draft and he’s often used that to his advantage in college, being willing to lock guys up within five yards, bully his counterpart on screens and edge rushes, and he’s a grade-A tackler. His size is a huge plus on jump balls and he consistently wraps up ball carriers with very few missed tackles.
Round 5, Pick 151: Darryl Williams, IOL, Mississippi State
I’m sure there are plenty of Chargers fans at this point wondering why it’s taken so long to go offensive line in this draft. Truth be told, the Chargers issue on the line was mostly due to injury. The addition of Trai Turner was a nice start, that said, they need depth inside, especially at center. I fully expect them to go out and make a big fish signing but taking Williams here would be a big help. While he may not be starting caliber at this point, he has the ability to play multiple inside positions and should be ready to be in the rotation by 2021, if injuries don’t dictate sooner.
Round 6, Pick 186: Josiah Coatney, NT, Ole Miss
Here is where the Chargers get that cog up the middle. As I said earlier, Madubuike is more of an inside rusher and Coatney would be a great compliment. He did not spend a lot of time busting through the line in college but was solid against the rush and will get enough push that opposing quarterbacks can’t just step up when they feel outside pressure. This is a great student for Mebane to bring along and could work his way into the rotation by the end of the season.
Round 7, Pick 220: Michael Warren II, RB, Cincinnati
With the departure of Gordon, the Chargers are still in good shape with the duo of Ekeler and Justin Jackson. These elusive backs could use a compliment though, and the seventh round is a great time to get Warren, an absolutely bruising straight-ahead running back who would prefer to run guys over than dance through the line. In games where he is active, he’d be a legitimate threat on short yardage and in the red zone, taking the pressure to score off of Herbert.
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