Should the Chargers draft a (Free) Safety Net?

If you have been paying attention to draft analysts and the plethora of mock drafts, you would know the consensus pick at #7 for the Los Angeles Chargers has been Malik Hooker, the rangy safety product out of Ohio State.

The most prominent player comparison for Hooker has been former Baltimore Ravens great, Ed Reed. These are already pretty steep expectations for a prospect with only one year of starting experience at the college level.

If I wasn’t skeptical of him being a top ten pick before, I am now after it was announced Hooker will be kept out of the NFL combine due to a recent surgery. This leaves coaches with a limited amount of film and exposure to Hooker unless he is able to perform during Ohio State’s pro day later this year.

So let's say the Chargers select Hooker at #7 and do not resign free agent safety Jahleel Addae- what is their plan if Hooker injures himself prior to the season? Or what if he fails to live up to the hype?

Lorenzo Jerome, a highly productive free safety prospect out of FCS St. Francis University, can be that contingency plan.

Standing at 5’11" and 202lbs., Jerome started stuffing the stat sheet the second he stepped on campus at SFU. He earned first-team All-Northeast Conference honors in every season of his career. He topped that with second-team and first-team FCS All-American honors his junior and senior years, respectively. In all, Jerome’s career statistics were very impressive:

  • 252 combined tackles
  • 13 tackles for loss
  • 2.5 sacks
  • 18 interceptions
  • 47 pass breakups
  • 2 interceptions return TDs
  • 1 punt return touchdown
  • 1 kick return touchdown

Now, it would be unfair to compare Jerome’s career numbers to Hooker’s, since the latter only started a single year at Ohio State. For comparison purposes, let's only look at this past year’s production:

Malik Hooker 2016 Season

  • 74 combined tackles
  • 5.5 tackles for loss
  • .5 sacks
  • 7 interceptions
  • 3 interception return TDs
  • 4 pass breakups
Lorenzo Jerome 2016 Season
  • 59 combined tackles
  • 5.5 tackles for loss
  • 6 interceptions
  • 11 pass breakups
  • 1 kick return touchdown

Side by side, the statistics are fairly comparable. Hooker appears to be the more productive option as he returned three picks for touchdowns while Jerome had zero. However, there is one statistic that looms large over the rest of Hooker’s 2016 production: 17 missed tackles.

This is the biggest, and maybe only, knock against Hooker’s game. His range mimics that of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and his ball skills are considered elite. Yet, scouts are unable to shake his erratic tackling style that enabled far too many chunk plays for the opponent.

Enter Jerome as an insurance policy. If things shake out on draft day and the Chargers are able to fill some glaring needs in the earlier rounds, Jerome would be an amazing pick with a late-round flyer. He also has the potential to help out in the return game, where he excelled during his last season at St. Francis (14 kick returns for 405 yards and 1 touchdown).

To top it all off, Jerome was consistently one of the better players on the field during two different pre-draft showcases. He displayed his incredible ballhawking skills by picking off four passes across the NFLPA Bowl (where he earned game MVP honors) and the Reese's Senior Bowl.

However, like most players drafted from the FCS level, he will likely go later on day two or day three. Picking Jerome in the fifth or sixth round could pan out in the same fashion as last year's fifth round pick, outside linebacker Jatavis Brown- another small school superstar who was ready and able to make a splash when his number was called.

If Chargers general manager Tom Telesco wants to hit a home-run with another late round gem, he should absolutely swing away at Lorenzo Jerome.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.