Draft analysts, fans, and those actually working in the team’s war room spend countless hours around the clock, and year-round, in order to be as well-prepared for the NFL Draft as humanly possible.
The beautiful, and mind-numbingly frustrating, thing is that regardless of the amount of tape you watch, the sleepless nights you hustle through, and the foundation of support you’ve built for this or that prospect to be a proven winner, you just never know how the dominoes are going to fall when the lights come on and Roger Goodell starts reading off the next batch of NFL superstars.
In March of 2019, after current Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf tore up the NFL combine by running a 4.33 forty at 228 pounds, you would have been called a madman if someone heard you say he was going in the second round.
Physical specimen with consistent production at that position are not a yearly thing. They don’t come around often and you’re lucky if you’re even in a spot to take him in the first place. However, all 32 teams passed on Metcalf at least once in last year’s draft before Seattle finally took him with the 64th-overall pick. He was the ninth receiver taken behind guys like Hollywood Brown, N’Keal Harry, Deebo Samuel, and his own Ole Miss teammate, A.J. Brown.
Metcalf would go on to be one of the best rookie wideouts in the league and prove many of his doubters wrong. He recorded exactly 900 yards receiving on 58 catches and seven touchdowns en route to helping the Seahawks make the playoffs.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some players are taken much higher than expected and it completely baffles everyone involved. Most recently. we can recall the Raiders selecting Clellin Ferrell with the 4th-overall pick and the Giants soon after making Daniel Jones their future with the 6th-overall selection.
Outside of the three and a half sacks against the Chargers, Ferrell only managed ONE other sack during his rookie campaign. His teammate, defensive end Maxx Crosby, eclipsed the 10-sack threshold while being the team’s 4th-round pick, over 102 picks later in the draft.
So heading into this draft with the Chargers, let us remember: It’s better to prepare for the worst and expect the best than to prepare for the best while expecting the worst.
In that spirit, here are some prospects I believe could be the “unexpected”, or darkhorse, selection for the Chargers when they’re on the clock in April.
CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
Most who know the Chargers would say that their top-3 needs in the NFL Draft this year are quarterback, offensive line, and cornerback. Some would argue the order of importance in this group with most of them keeping CB in the third spot behind QB and OL. But depending on how this board falls, could Okudah at six be the best option at the time?
Imagine, the first five picks are som combination of Burrow, Tua, Herbert, Young, and one of the top offensive tackles. Would the top-raked CB in the entire draft be worth it, especially at a position of extreme importance in Bradley’s Cover 3 scheme?
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound defender was as much of a lock-down corner that you could ask for over the last two seasons, allowing just a single touchdown on a staggering 610 coverage snaps. In 2019, he finished with 34 total tackles, one tackle-for-loss, three interceptions, nine passes defended, and a forced fumble.
Jeff Okudah in 2018 & 2019— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 17, 2020
610 Coverage snaps
1 TD allowed pic.twitter.com/DI2XPGGCkX
Okudah is a sticky man coverage corner who has garnered comparisons to former first-round pick Jalen Ramsey, both due to size (6-1 208) and play style. Okudah thrives in taking away one half of the field while intimidating opposing passers with his elite athletic ability.
I think if the Chargers want to play it as safe as possible with their first-round pick, Okudah is exactly the type pf player to help them accomplish that. He’s as close to a sure-fire prospect there is in this entire draft and adding one more impactful piece to the defense already full of them isn’t ever a bad idea.
DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
If there if one player who deserves to go in the top-5 but won’t due to the general importance of the position he plays, it’s Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina.
First off, dudes that are 315 pounds are not supposed to be as rocked-up as he is, even at 6-foot-5. Just from looking at him, you can tell he is uber athletic and they don’t make him like that too often. Just take a look at this staggering rep from the Senior Bowl this past week. That first step and overall quickness is ELITE.
oh my god, javon kinlaw pic.twitter.com/O5K389DdOd— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 21, 2020
One of the biggest knocks against Kinlaw is always going to be his production in college. For someone who performed the way he did in Mobile, you’d expect to see a more dominating stat line than he had. In 2019, Kinlaw finished with 35 total tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss, six sacks, with two passes defended and two fumble recoveries.
This one probably seems like the least likely on this list, but it all comes down to how the board falls and if the team believes Kinlaw could have the biggest impact among the remaining players at six. Would it be a little redundant after the team just selected Jerry Tillery in the first round of last year’s draft? Probably. But the Chargers continue to need help fortifying the middle of the defensive line and Tillery was pretty darn close to being considered a one-year bust after grading out as the worst player at his position in the entire NFL this past season.
QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Like Josh Allen when he was coming out of the Univeristy of Wyoming just two years ago, everyone and their mother are going to be torn on how to view Love as a prospect. In 2018, Love burst onto the scene with a 32-6 touchdown to interception ratio while he threw for 3,567 yards. But during that offseason, he lost his entire starting offensive line, his starting running back, and top receiver to graduation and the draft. He followed all that up with a senior campaign that saw him throw just 20 touchdowns with 17 interceptions, the most in the FBS.
So, which season holds the most weight? Which one do you base your opinion off of? The answer is obviously a combination of both but the key will be diving into that 2019 film and truly deciphering whether or not his major regression stemmed from the supporting cast around him or if he was really just a flash in the pan.
Love is the high-upside “toolsy” guy in this year’s class. At a commanding 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, it’s easy to see why scouts can’t help but give him the double-take. If you take the physical trait checklist and start marking them off, you’ll see he is an easy eval.
Arm strength? Check.
Physical composition? Check.
The dude simply looks the part, and then some.
It would certainly be one of the most suprising moves of the draft should the Chargers draft love over Herbert or, God forbid, Tua should he fall for some reason. The Chargers desperately need to invest in a quarterback with some mobility, that’s for sure, but it makes you wonder if the team could be hypnotized by the slightest bit of athleticism after watching Rivers hit the fetal position ever other broken play this past season. With a guy like Love, it’s not completely out of the question.