With the NFL combine set to kick off later this week, it is safe to say we are officially smack dab in the middle of the NFL draft season. The combine is usually where mock drafts eventually start making sense and paint a clearer picture on which positions and players teams will start to focus their attention on. One of the more popular themes in most pre combine mock drafts have had the Los Angeles Chargers selecting a defensive tackle with their first round selection of this years NFL draft. The reasoning is logical, “with the selection of So and So, the Chargers finally fortify the middle of their defensive line...” or “Imagine pairing this defensive tackle prospect up with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa...” Yea yea yea blah blah blah, I have heard this all before the last couple of years from mock draft experts.
The Chargers selecting a defensive tackle in round one has officially become the new cliche’ that replaced the old mantra “The Chargers finally replace Eric Weddle at the safety position and get Gus Bradley his center field free safety to be the Earl Thomas in his defense.” Sorry Bolts fans, I am about to let you all in on a secret; Los Angeles will NOT be drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and here is why:
PREVIOUS DRAFT TRENDS
Chargers GM, Tom Telesco has been with the team for six years now. During his tenure as Los Angeles’ General Manager, it is safe to say he has exhibited certain patterns for his first round selections in each draft he has been a part of.
Lets take a look at all the players he took in the first round since 2013: D.J. Fluker, Jason Verrett, Melvin Gordon, Joey Bosa, Mike Williams, and Derwin James. What do all of these players have in common? All of these players played positions of need for the Chargers at that time. Telesco’s draft strategy in the first round tends to be drafting for need instead of best player available. I am not saying these were bad picks, all I am saying is drafting for need is his first round tendency. Some fans might argue about last years selection of Derwin James and how the strong safety position was not that of need. However, if it wasn’t for the Buffalo Bills trading ahead of the Chargers to select Tremaine Edmunds, then we would be having a much different conversation because the former Virginia Tech linebacker would be entering his second year with the Bolts, furthermore proving my point.
There is also another trend in L.A.’s first round picks. Since 2013, the Chargers have alternated between offensive and defensive players every other year. While that might be coincidental at first, lets take a look at the last two drafts under Telesco and Lynn. Their first draft together had them selecting three offensive players in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. How did they follow that up in 2018? By selecting three defensive players in the first three rounds the following year.
This is not to say that Los Angeles will select three offensive prospects in the first three rounds of this years draft. But it is safe to say that the Chargers have taken heavy measures last year to re shape their defense in Gus Bradley’s mold and will now turn their focus on the offensive side of the ball in round one.
THE VALUE ISN’T THERE
Los Angeles has the 28th pick in this years draft. Most of the penetrating/ disruptive three technique defensive tackles that teams covet will most likely be selected prior to when the Chargers are on the clock. Now if for some magical reason an Ed Oliver, or a Christian Wilkins or even a Rashan Gary is available when L.A. is ready to make their pick, then yes, Telesco and company would rush up to the podium to select one of the aforementioned players listed. However, due to the injury sustained by Mississippi State defensive tackle, Jeffery Simmons, there is one less defensive tackle in this years draft to push the previously mentioned players down the board to the Chargers.
Now a lot of mock drafts have Los Angeles taking former Clemson Tiger defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence with the 28th pick. Once again the logic is there; the Chargers need to find a replacement for Brandon Mebane. However, I find it difficult to believe L.A. would invest a first round pick in a two down, run stuffing, defensive tackle; especially one who was suspended for PEDs. Tom Telesco and the Chargers tend to shy away from controversial players and target high character football players (even to the detriment of the team at times).
Fans can also forget the idea of pairing Bosa and Ingram up with former Notre Dame defensive tackle, Jerry Tillery for the same reasons above. Tillery (one of my draft crushes) is considered by some, to be an inconsistent full time defensive tackle who has had numerous behavioral issues in college (suspended for the Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State for violating team rules and multiple dirty plays against USC where he intentionally shoved an injured Trojan player in the head and then stepped on another player’s foot on purpose). Once again, I doubt the Chargers would invest in a defensive tackle that could be limited to only first and second down who also has somewhat of a pass.
BARGAINS TO BE HAD IN FREE AGENCY
The 2019 NFL draft is deep at the interior defensive line position. That is great for teams looking to generate pressure up the middle, a trend that has spread like wildfire over the last couple of years. But do you know who that is bad for? The free agents that will be looking for a team during a time when teams will opt to draft younger, cheaper options instead of the high priced veterans. Tom Telesco, “The Coupon God” will find a bunch of options to replace the giant whole the Chargers have in the middle of their defensive line. The list of interior defensive line free agents consist of Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ndamukong Suh, Danny Shelton, and Malcom Brown. That is also not to mention players that are on the verge of becoming cap causalities like Malik Jackson or Marcell Dareus. So even though the 2019 NFL Draft is loaded with high quality interior defensive lineman; it is free agency that will prove to be the better bargain/move for the Chargers to fulfill their defensive tackle needs.
Tom Telesco and the Chargers will be selecting a tackle with the 28th selection of this years draft. However, that tackle will be that of an offensive nature, not a defensive one. With the Chargers looking to free agency to address their need in the middle of the defensive line, I believe Anthony Lynn will look to build upon an improving offensive line that deteriorated towards the end of last season. Now which offensive tackle will they target? That I do not know yet. I guess we all just have to be out on the lookout for the post combine and pro day rumor mills for that answer!