Sam Schneider | May 1st, 2020
The Los Angeles Chargers started free agency like a shock-wave. The right side of the offensive line was fortified and they added key pieces to the defense that made it potentially one of the best in the league in a weaponized division. Coming off a 5-11 season that included three straight losses to close the campaign, that was only the start.
With the departures of Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon in free agency along with a gaping hole in the middle of the defense, there was still work to be done in the 2020 draft. Many fans clamored for a linebacker and a quarterback last weekend and Tom Telesco did not disappoint… even if it may not have been the players that some fans wanted.
Los Angeles started and finished strong and whether the middle of the draft proves beneficial remains to be seen. Regardless, the draft class includes a mix of solid momentum and a few question marks. We will be wading through the picks with grades on each and a final draft grade for a team hoping to impress while opening the 2020 season in a $5 billion complex.
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Round 1, Pick 6: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Tom Telesco basically said that he was going to take Tua Tagovailoa or Herbert here. The Miami Dolphins selected Tagovailoa making this an easy decision. It’s no secret that many in the fan base were hoping for Isaiah Simmons but the lack of 2021 free agent potential, the quarterback of the future had to be the pick. Had they waited, they likely would have missed on Jordan Love, and Jalen Hurts is not the prospect that Herbert is. Tyrod Taylor will start the season under center but Herbert is probably going to take over at some point if the offense is not humming. He has the size (6’6”, 236 lbs), athleticism to escape the pocket, and unquestionable arm strength to remain a starter in the league for years to come. He is an upgraded version of a young Rivers. Some fans may not like the pick, but it is a good one.
Full Scouting Report here.
Round 1, Pick 23: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
After passing on Simmons in favor of a quarterback, Telesco knew they still had an issue in the middle of the field. He dealt picks 37 and 71 to New England to move back into the first and take a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. He instantly becomes a three-down starter. At Oklahoma, Murray was known for his leadership quality as much as his tenacity in the open field. Over three seasons in college, he totaled 325 tackles including 36.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. He has that linebacker “it factor” of a player that opponents game plan to avoid.
Murray’s strength is tracking the ball carrier. He’s likely to be blocked on blitzes reasonably easily and although generally reliable in coverage is unlikely to pick off a ball. That said, he demonstrates excellent wrap-technique when tacking. He is rarely beaten in the open field by wideouts or tight ends. The pick may be slightly early, though many scouts had him as the best linebacker on their board after Simmons.
Full Scouting Report here.
Round 4, Pick 112: Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
After the trade up for Murray, the Chargers had to wait a long time before taking Kelley, the bruising running back from the PAC-12. This was a curious pick as many capable backfield players were being pushed down the board in the draft and they just re-signed Austin Ekeler. Nevertheless, it fills the need for a back that can always be used in short-yardage situations. Kelley is a powerful force in the backfield when lowering his head.
However, he is not going to make anyone miss in the open field. He did work behind a less-than-stellar line in college and was still strong at the line of scrimmage. Bottom line: this is a huge reach as there would be equally talented running backs available much later who also have better blocking skills and Los Angeles had other needs to address.
Round 5, Pick 151: Joe Reed, WR, Virginia
Another swing-and-miss for Telesco here. Reed is an excellent athlete but is unlikely to be much of a contributor at the wide receiver position unless forced into service as an injury replacement. On top of that, the only option for him is in the slot which is where Pro Bowler Keenan Allen spends most of his time. Long story short, Reed will come in handy on special teams. A downhill runner who finished eighth in kickoff returns as a sophomore in 2018. However given the discrepancy in the kicking game between college and the pro-level probably won’t have many opportunities.
Round 6, Pick 186: Alohi Gilman, S, Notre Dame
Los Angeles gets back on track here with great value in Gilman. He is an excellent depth pick at safety even if lacking a bit of athleticism. In college, Gilman had an average range and showed a tendency to overrun the ball carrier as he gained speed rather than cornering them mid-field. His coverage in the secondary leaves a little bit to be desired but he can be coached up, and the presence of Derwin James should do wonders for his development. Despite that, he is a smart player, eager to learn, and should have gone at least one round earlier. Again, it is still a depth pick but good value for the position, even if you’d prefer someone who might contribute this season.
Round 7, Pick 220: K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
This is likely the Chargers’ best pick of the draft with regards to value and positional need outside of Herbert. Hill had 201 receptions at OSU, topping David Boston for the most in school history. The slip to round seven in this draft likely has less to do with perceived talent and more to do with questions of whether he simply benefited from a high-octane offense that moved the ball at will during the majority of his career.
Like Reed (taken two rounds earlier), Hill is destined to be in the slot in the NFL, especially considering his six-foot frame. Unlike Reed, Hill is likely to get a chance to be a part of the offense from the jump with Allen getting more play on the outside. Time will tell if Hill’s pedigree was a result of playing at OSU. For now, this is one of the steals of 2020.
After coughing up two picks for Murray, the Chargers’ next two picks were unimpressive for much more than depth when there were far more glaring needs, specifically on the left side of the offensive line. One never really knows what an organization sees in specific players. That said, in a year where workouts were impossible more and more teams relied on the film and any interviews to make their choices.
Los Angeles started strong and finished with a flourish while adding personnel at multiple positions to a team that had been upgraded before the draft. The defense is solid. It’s up to the offense to keep up in the AFC West and if it sputters they’ll be seeing their number one draft pick earlier than they had expected… which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Overall Grade: C+
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