We haven’t even hit training camp for the 2021 season just yet but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that plenty of analysts and fans alike are already looking towards the 2022 NFL Draft. NFL writer Brent Sobleski just dropped another way-too-early mock for this coming April and he’s got the Chargers addressing edge rusher in an attempt to find a future replacement to now-free agent Melvin Ingram.
With the 17th pick, the Bolts selected Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto, a 6’3, 235-pound defender who wins with athleticism and a slippery play style.
“Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto is the best pure pass-rusher in college football, but he won’t be for everybody due to his size,” says Sobleski.
“Bonitto finished first in pass-rush grade (93.6), pass-rush win rate (28 pressure) and pressure rate generated (25.7 percent) last season, per Pro Football Focus. All three numbers rank among the top five overall since the site started to record college football stats. His 8.5 sacks last season tied for eighth in the shortened campaign as well.”
Nik Bonitto: no. 4⃣ on the PFFCollege50— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 7, 2021
Highest-graded pass-rusher in the country last season (93.6) pic.twitter.com/ovvH9k6Bh1
At his size, Bonitto is going to be somewhat limited to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He’ll likely have to put some weight on when he gets to the league anyway, but there won’t be many better fits for him than Brandon Staley’s defense.
“The Los Angeles Chargers shouldn’t have any issue with Bonitto’s physical profile. He can fill the role played by Leonard Floyd last season when Brandon Staley served as the Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator. Staley now brings his scheme to the AFC West. Bonitto paired with Joey Bosa will terrorize opposing quarterbacks.”
As a redshirt sophomore in 2020, Bonitto recorded 33 total tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He also batted down a pair of passes.
Unlike Floyd, Bonitto has a little bit of coverage skills in his arsenal. On the play below, Bonitto is able to drop into man coverage on the running back who runs a speed out. The idea is that the route is too quick to have a defender undercut it, but that’s what Bonitto does for the game-winning takeaway.
This isn’t the first early mock we’ve seen this offseason that has had the Chargers taking an edge rusher. That tells us that many in the media are not sold on the potential of Uchenna Nwosu to step in and replace Melvin Ingram now that the latter is a free agent. In a rotational role, Nwosu was second on the team in 2020 with 4.5 sacks. He did that while losing starting snaps to both Isaac Rochell and Jerry Tillery. It also didn’t help when he was doing it as a 4-3 end instead of his more natural position as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Besides dropping into coverage more often, Nwosu’s responsibilities in the team’s new system will remain fairly unchanged. The only difference now is that he’s the expected starter which means we’ll all finally get to see if the fourth-year defender is able to become the impact player we all expect him to be.