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Which linebacker prospects best fit the Chargers defense?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers took a massive hit this past week with the season-ending loss of linebacker Denzel Perryman. The fourth-year middle linebacker left early during the team’s 20-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders and did not return. Following an MRI scan, the team confirmed that Perryman would miss the remainder of the season following an LCL injury that requires surgery.

While the loss of Perryman shouldn’t hurt the Bolts’ chances of making a run at the playoffs, it does cause some concern for the team moving forward. The former second-round pick out of Miami has yet to play a full NFL season and is in a contract year. With the season half-way over and Perryman expected to miss some time to recover, the team could either sign him to a small deal or move on from their former leader up the middle altogether.

Defense as a whole is a significant need heading into the next April’s NFL Draft. With holes on the defensive line, cornerback and now linebacker, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco will be put to the test to find the best players available each round to keep the Chargers on a winning track.

For Blooming Bolts, we like to keep it fresh and give you new players every week to watch. Week 12 of College Football, however, is usually a tune-up game before rivalry week begins, meaning most games are barely watchable past half-time. With the news of Perryman’s injury, this week we’ve decided to focus on finding a potential linebacker to either join or replace the former Hurricane standout next season.

Let’s take a look at several different linebacker prospects the team could target on every day of the draft come April.

Round 1: Alabama LB Mack Wilson

Perryman is an ideal MIKE linebacker in today’s 4-3. With the ability to play against the run but also flank out in zone coverage, he could be best suited to a small, one-year prove it contract should he return healthy. Before being placed on the injured reserved, Kyzir White did a fabulous job as the team’s WILL backer.

The SAM backer role, however, could be up for grabs next season. Rookie Uchenna Nwosu will be given the rest of the season to show improvement, but if he’s unable to show improvement, the team could elect to add some competition to the position.

Alabama’s Mack Wilson is about to become the next great NFL linebacker hailing from Tuscaloosa in April. An aggressive playing style, Wilson has one speed and uses his motor to go non-stop every play. In two seasons with the Crimson Tide as a starter, Wilson has collected back to back 40+ tackle seasons along with the ability to be a consistent linebacker in coverage.

Perhaps the long-term option up the middle, Wilson would be able to contribute against the pass rush and in coverage for the Chargers defense. With his speed and athletic traits, Wilson could become a Myles Jack clone for Gus Bradley out in LA.

Round 1: LSU LB Devin White

This could get repetitive, but as mentioned above, a Perryman reunion isn’t that far out of reach. The team does like him, and coach Anthony Lynn has stated multiple times that his leadership skills are vital to keeping the Chargers near the top of every NFL defensive category. Pricing will, however, decipher if the long-time middle backer returns for the future.

Should Perryman walk towards the free agent market, Wilson should be the top option at replacing him. If he’s off the board, White might be the best constellation prize of all-time. A thumper for the Bayou Bengal defense, White has the speed and tackling ability to play multiple positions for the Chargers defense. A consistent wrap-up tackler, White is on pace for back to back 100+ tackle seasons and could be the front-runner for the Dick Butkus Award come December.

What’s even more impressive about White’s skills is his ability in coverage. Known for his quick speed and smooth transitions, the linebacker can play in both man and zone coverage. With one interception and seven career pass deflections, White could do it all. If he’s even close to falling towards the Charger, Telseco needs to package a deal together to grab this linebacker and find stability at the position.

Round 2: Michigan LB Devin Bush

Say the Bolts elect to keep Perryman on a one-year deal. That will fill up the MIKE position fine. Say Kyzir White comes back a bit slow and can no longer play consistently in coverage. A move to the SAM spot will probably fix that woe for the time being. The WILL linebacker role will need a starter that can play in coverage and also be an able tackler against the run.

Bush might be a bit of a reach at the moment, but he fits the Bolts linebacker position perfectly. A smaller framed player but strong tackler, Bush excels against the run and makes clean tackles in the open field. Great speed off the edge, the junior linebacker does a solid job closing the gap on the edge to and forces running backs to work back into the play.

His frame might come into question at the next level, however. At only 5-11, Bush could be limited to a hybrid role such as Carolina’s Shaq Thompson. In coverage, the Wolverine does a decent job defending the pass but has good speed to cover running backs out of the backfield. If the Chargers elect to go linebacker on the first day of the draft, Bush should be at least in consideration.

Round 2: Clemson LB Kendall Joseph

Ok so Perryman is likely out, and the team needs a leader. Finding a veteran presence might be essential to keep the defense in a positive direction. If the Bolts elect to fix their defensive line during the first-round, Joseph could be a nice addition as the team’s addition up the middle.

A three-year starter for the Tigers defense, Joesph has been the leader for Brent Venables squad for quite some time. The definition of a play-maker, the senior standout has made 264 tackles along with 22 tackles for losses throughout three seasons. A leader in the locker room and commander on the field, Joesph and his football IQ are NFL ready contributors that could help the Chargers defense now.

There are a few knicks towards Joesph’s status. His age will come into question as will his durability at the next level. Struggling to handle solo blocks, Joesph offers little up the middle as a pass rusher. His frame also could limit him as not a consistent three-down backer. Overall, however, Joesph’s versatility in coverage and high tackling stats make him a solid fit and contributor for the Chargers defense.

Round 3: Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher

Say White and Nwosu figure out their roles on the outside by the end of the season. Perryman would be free to leave in free agency, and Telesco would be set on the edge with his linebackers. With defensive line and offensive tackle major needs as well, the Chargers could use their third-round selection on a middle linebacker for the future. This class does have quality starters on the first two days of the draft that could contribute to any defense.

Perryman is a top notched tackling machine so Fisher would fit the bill at replacing him. A physical linebacker and leader for the Wildcats defense, Fisher is a perfect linebacker for today’s NFL. Quick to the ball, Fisher flies across the field and is always found somewhere in the pile fighting for a chance to wreak havoc against the run. A turnover machine, the redshirt sophomore has collected six forced fumbles and an interception with two seasons under his belt.

What might make Fisher a perfect fit in Los Angeles is his coverage ability. Similar to Perryman, the Wildcat defender excels in zone coverage and has the speed to fly up and break passes up in crucial moments. Although he may not declare due to his eligibility Fisher fits everything the Chargers could use in a MIKE backer.