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Chargers could capitalize on deep cornerback class

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Florida v Missouri

On Sunday, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler released his pre-combine rankings for this year’s cornerback class. Like everyone else, he has Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah as his #1 CB and the rest of the notable names falling in line behind him. However, the spots that come after Okudah have been one of the more murky groups to pick through as there are a handful of top-flight cornerbacks that will all likely go within the first three rounds of the draft.

Some names that litter the consensus top-5 cornerback group include Florida’s CJ Henderson, TCU’s super athlete Jeff Gladney, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, and LSU’s Kristian Fulton.

I’ve made it well-known this offseason that I believe the Chargers need to invest an early pick in a corner due to the current make-up of their cornerback room. They’ve only got three true outside corners on the team at this very moment. Those guys are veteran and former second-round pick Casey Hayward and two former undrafted free agents in Michael Davis and Brandon Facyson. Former fifth-round pick and All-Pro Desmond King has the slot locked-down and Jaylen Watkins is another guy who can play the slot while also filling in as a third safety when needed in certain personnel packages, though neither offer any real chance at playing on the outside.

When you take a step back and get a good look at the entire position group, you come to realize this isn’t how an elite secondary is usually built. They’re close, but they need one more piece to take things to another level. With Derwin James at strong safety and last year’s second-round pick Nasir Adderley getting another shot to start at the other safety spot, the Chargers are one solid corner away from being a truly formidable group.

There’s a minimal chance that the Chargers are put into a situation where Okudah is the best player available at #6 so I don’t expect him to be that final piece of the secondary. I believe if the team is going to get one of these high-upside cornerbacks, it’ll be at pick 37 at the top of the second round. But the team also needs an offensive tackle, right? Well, this scenario also banks on the team being able to sign a guy in free agency, like a Jack Conklin from Tennessee. That may seem like too much of a “splash” move in free agency than what we’re used to seeing from Tom Telesco, but the team is coming off an abysmal 5-11 season and I think this forces the front office to shell-out more cash than normal to make sure it doesn’t happen again. After all, why extend Lynn for a single year if you aren’t going “all-in” for him?

The biggest fit for this Chargers team is far and away Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver, Stefon. Gus Bradley has always preferred sizable corners in his zone-heavy scheme. Davis and Facyson are both 6-foot-2 and are, again, the only other two outside CBs besides Hayward. In 2018, they had Jeff Richards, another 6-foot-2 corner. This offseason, they signed 6-foot-1 Quenton Meeks to a Reserve/Future contract.

Diggs stands at an impressive 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds which would immediately make him the largest cornerback on the team. He played in a fairly-heavy zone scheme in Tuscaloosa and is one of the more physical defensive backs in the entire draft. His prowess from the offensive side of the ball - he arrived at Alabama as a wide receiver - will help establish himself as a member of the self-proclaimed “Jack Boys” due to his ball-skills and understanding of opposing offensive schemes.

If the Chargers want to take a shot at another super athletic player from TCU, then Jeff Gladney is a name they could consider at the top of the second, as well. He was a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs and actually finished with more passes defended (43) than career starts (42) in college.

My favorite thing about Gladney is his attitude and persona on the field. He’s only 5-foot-10 but he plays like a giant, especially when he’s up against receivers that are 6-foot-3 and above. Just check out the video below when he shadowed Baylor’s Denzel Mims. Mims was just measured at the combine at 6-foot-2 and 7/8 and weighed 207 pounds. Gladney is almost 25 pounds less at 183.

A final option that may even be available when the Chargers pick in the third round is former Mississippi State Bulldog Cameron Dantzler. He’s another tall defender at 6-foot-2 but lacks ideal mass at 183 pounds. He was coached by 14-year NFL veteran Terrell Buckley and attributes a lot of his success to him after only playing cornerback sparingly in high school.

The 4-2-5 defensive scheme that Dantzler played in at MSU is also very similar to what the Chargers do the majority of the time. They love getting as many defensive backs in there as they can and that type of continuity would be good for someone that’s a bit under-experienced like Dantzler.

It’s a bummer that the defensive backs have to wait until the final day of the combine to go out there and show scouts what they can do. I just hope the Chargers are thorough enough and keep a handful of scouts there until the very last player walks off the field on Sunday.