The 2020 season came and went and we’ve officially got a good chunk of work for most of the team’s rookies. Heading into another offseason/draft season, I thought I’d take a look back on last year’s draft class and give my thoughts on the group as a whole regarding their impact on the field in their first professional seasons, along with a prediction about their future with the team.
This actually started as a single article where we discussed all six picks for the Chargers, but it quickly became quite lengthy so I decided to split it into two separate pieces. For the first one, we’re going to focus on the team’s Day 3 picks before focusing on the team’s two first-rounders early next week.
Let’s get into it.
RB Joshua Kelley - Round 4, Pick #112
2020 stats (14 games): 111 rushes for 354 yards, two rushing touchdowns, 23 receptions for 148 yards
Kelley was probably the biggest surprise pick of of the Chargers’ class. Prior to his selection, the Bolts had both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson still on the roster. Even with Jackson’s lengthy injury history to begin his professional, I would not have guessed that the Chargers would use a pick as high as the fourth round to select another ball-carrier. Despite them doing just that, I found myself being optimistic about the move, especially once I got the chance to meet Kelley on a post-draft interview for the site.
He started the year well for a player many didn’t expect to see the field all that much early on. Against the Bengals in Week 1, he rushed for 60 yards and scored the Chargers’ first touchdown of the year on a five-yard scamper.
From that point on, Kelley rushed for just 294 yards and a single touchdown through the remaining 15 games. His yards per carry average ended at a paltry 3.20. However, he did catch all 23 of his targets for another 148 yards, so there’s at least one silver-lining to focus on.
Heading into 2021, Kelley will have to prove he can be counted on in a number of situations, not just when he’s receiving handoffs. Kelley was benched during the blowout to the Patriots when he missed a block that led to the first blocked punt of that game. This incident only dug a deeper hole for the rookie out of UCLA who was already dealing with a fumbling issue stemming from earlier in the season. If he cannot progress as a more well-rounded, trust-worthy ball-carrier, while showing he has value on special teams, he may fall out of favor with the team’s new head coach.
#Chargers RB Joshua Kelley is so fun. Smart decision-maker, who anticipates openings. Run patience to allow blockers to do their job, quickly accelerating once he sees daylight. pic.twitter.com/qjlDeK9dON— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) September 14, 2020
WR/KR Joe Reed - Round 5, Pick #151
2020 stats (11 games): Five rushes for 29 yards, one rushing touchdown, 21 kick returns for 435 yards, long of 46 yards, 20.7 kick return average
Reed was selected in the fifth round as the potential fix for the Chargers’ underwhelming production in the return game. He left Virginia as arguably one of the greatest returners of this century after averaging over 28.7 yards per kickoff return and totaling five touchdowns in his four years. Unfortunately, despite recording a season-long 46 yard return in Week 1 against the Bengals, Reed never got much going throughout the rest of the season and was eventually replaced by Nasir Adderley after the Bills game in Week 12. In his place, Adderley rattled off two huge kickoffs in the team’s final five games, including a long of 76 yards.
On offense, Reed didn’t record a single catch, but he did get five rushing opportunities which he turned into 29 yards and his first NFL touchdown. The former Cavalier has a long way to go to become a well-rounded wideout in the NFL, but he’s got plenty of versatility to be used as a gadget player within the Chargers’ offense.
S Alohi Gilman - Round 6, Pick #186
2020 stats (4 games): Seven total tackles
Gilman saw the least amount of playing time as a rookie among the six draft picks. He entered a safety group that already had the likes of Derwin James, Rayshawn Jenksin, and Nasir Adderley, so everyone knew his path to playing time on defense was going to be tough. Despite the loss of James prior to the regular season, the team still felt Gilman needed more time to develop which is why they went out and signed veterans Jahleel Addae and Jaylen Watkins at various points of the season.
Gilman path to seeing the field was always going to be thought special teams. After the team let a number of special team contributors walk in free agency, they needed to find guys to fill those pivotal roles. As you all saw this season, it affected the unit’s performance quite a bit.
Gilman eventually saw the field on defense late in the year. He made his debut against the Patriots playing just one snap in the team’s 45-0 beatdown. The next week, he saw just two snaps. But in the team’s final two games of the season, Gilman registered 68 snaps across both games, including a season-high 46 against the Chiefs when both Addae and Watkins were hobbled by injuries.
As of now, it’s still tough to see Gilman earn significant snaps anytime soon, but his progression as a special teams player could still make a difference on this team. Anthony Lynn and his staff liked what they saw from him towards the end of last season and that could mean he’s on his way to being a contributor on defense sooner rather than later. However, the decision to re-sign or let Rayshawn Jenkins walk in free agency will also impact his future, as well.
WR K.J. Hill - Round 7, Pick #220
2020 stats (12 games): Seven receptions for 73 yards, 83 punt return yards
When the Chargers were able to select Hill in the seventh round of last year’s draft, it wasn’t just seen as a good pick for the Chargers, several draft analysts considered it one of the better steals of the entire event. Hill left Ohio State as the all-time leader in career receptions for the storied program and had himself one of the better performances during last year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl. At the time, it was a surprise that he had fallen so far.
Hill walked into a wide receiver room with plenty of bodies but not many big names. Besides Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the group consisted of former UDFAs in Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, and Jason Moore, along with fellow rookie Joe Reed. Ahead of the season, I would have put money on Hill eventually winning the WR3 job. However, both Guyton and Johnson broke out as legitimate deep threats for the offense and there ended up being no real role for Hill on the offense. His game and skillset is a comparable to a poor man’s Allen. He has a nuance to his route-running and knows how to exploit leverage and the blind spots of defenders, but his pedestrian 4.60 forty-yard time isn’t helping him stand out in the receiver room. There’s a place for his talent, the Chargers just need to figure out where it is and when it should be utilized.
Hill did end up seeing an increase in snaps towards the end of the season with Allen missing the final two games with a lower-body injury, which is also when he was able to garner the majority of his targets on the year.
After the trade of Desmond King to the Titans, he also took over as the team’s punt returner. Hill was just okay in that role and will compete for the job once more under new special teams coordinator Derius Swinton, but I’d go into the this offseason with the mindset that all positions are up for grabs and last year’s stats and performances mean nothing.
In 2021, Hill will likely see another tough path to significant playing time unless the team decides to part with Mike Williams. Williams’ fifth-year option was picked up, but the team is likely not going to want to pay him $15 million next season.