The Los Angeles Chargers entered the 2018 Draft with a clear plan. To build their already stout defense and add depth to their Philip Rivers-led offense in the later rounds.
General manager Tom Telesco’s plan makes perfect sense. Los Angeles featured a strong defense last season. While it may not have been at the elite level of Jacksonville or Philadelphia, the Chargers won a handful of games on the strength of their defense alone.
Offensively, the Chargers have the weapons to succeed. Melvin Gordon is a solid running back who was top ten in both yards and touchdowns last season. Rivers has continued to be stellar, and has an offensive line in front of him which allowed the fewest sacks in 2017. It’s impossible to forget about Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry on the outside as well.
Still, there were a handful of problems on both sides of the ball that were directly addressed through the 2018 NFL Draft. The Chargers lack interior offensive line depth and need another body in the running back room. Defensively, the Chargers are desperate for improved safety play and some toughness at the second level.
Right off the bat, many pundits felt the Chargers had the biggest steal of the first round when they selected Derwin James (FSU) 17th overall. With a top-tier pass rush and now arguably the best secondary in the NFL, James could be the final piece to a historic unit.
Los Angeles followed James with three more thumpers. Clearly, the Chargers front office wanted to stockpile defensive talent.
In the second round, Los Angeles picked linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (USC) an outside linebacker who has shown an ability to rush the passer. It may have been a head scratcher for some, but Nwosu displayed solid ball skills and could battle with Kyle Emanuel for snaps at outside linebacker.
With Corey Liuget suspended for the first quarter of the season, the Bolts needed a reliable defensive tackle. N.C. State’s Justin Jones should provide attitude in the run game and help the Chargers improve upon 31st ranked run defense. Again, improving against the run was the reason for nabbing Jones. The massive 6-foot-3, 309 pound tackle will fill gaps and allow the second level to attack running backs.
The final defensive pick for the Bolts was Kyzir White (WVU). A linebacker-safety hybrid, he appears to be a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s system. More often than not, Bradley will place a safety at the linebacker spot to help slow down opposing passing attacks.
If the trend continues in 2018, White may be able to see a bunch of snaps in that role. Fellow safety Adrian Phillips improved drastically in 2017, but White’s hard-hitting style may allow the rookie to garner the bulk of the playing time at some point.
In the first four rounds Los Angeles added the final pieces to an already strong defensive unit. They improved upon the league’s best secondary, and addressed the holes along the front seven.
Only time will tell if the players will develop into reliable contributors, but the way the Bolts attacked the first four rounds of the NFL Draft was fantastic. Los Angeles built on its strengths and it should allow for Bradley to work with the best group since his days with the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom.”
The final three picks for the Chargers focused on the offensive side of the ball. Last season there were plenty of positives. Hunter Henry continued to develop, Rivers threw 28 touchdowns and put together another 4000 yard season. The offensive line kept the veteran QB upright and a healthy Keenan Allen played like a blue-chip wideout.
Still, the team lacks depth in key areas. The offensive line seems to be solid on paper, but one injury could ruin the dream scenario. Rivers is surrounded by weapons but there is room to fill out the backend of the roster.
The backend of the Draft was dedicated to rounding out the offense.
In the fifth round Los Angeles selected life-long Chargers fan Scott Quessenberry out of UCLA. Quessenberry has the versatility to play both center and guard for the Bolts. With Forrest Lamp looking to return from a torn ACL, and free-agent Mike Pouncey in the fold, Quessenberry will likely be the primary backup come week one.
In the sixth round, the Chargers drafted an athletic freak out of Texas Tech, Dylan Cantrell. The 2018 receiving depth chart may appear deep, but it could look drastically different in just a year from now.
For one, Tyrell Williams has only one year left on his deal and the Chargers can get out from under Travis Benjamin’s contract as well last season. The second-year player Mike Williams is also a mystery, as he only caught 11 passes for 95 yards in his rookie campaign.
Adding Cantrell to the mix could allow for the Chargers to have a cheaper option long-term and create more depth if an injury were to occur. Wide receiver may have been far down the list in terms of need, but Cantrell could be another big-bodied target throughout the year.
The final pick for the Charges was Northwestern running back Justin Jackson. Behind Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, the Chargers had next to no production at running back in 2017. Allowing for a young developmental piece to have a few snaps should benefit the offense.
Clearly, the final few rounds for the Chargers was to create depth on offense. They want to avoid entering panic mode like in years past so they took some low-ceiling, high-floor players late in the Draft.
In a few years, more can be told about this Draft class as a whole. For now, it is clear Los Angeles entered with a plan and stuck with it throughout the entirety. With a focus on creating an elite defense and a deep offense, the Chargers are poised for success in 2018.