The San Diego Chargers finished the 2016 season with a disappointing 5-11 record, giving the Los Angeles Chargers the 7th pick in the 2017 draft. After landing Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa with the number 3 pick last year, the Chargers will look to utilise their high pick on another potential blue-chip player.
Why are they picking in the top ten again you ask? Conservative coaching, late game collapses, and injuries collectively contributed to a heart-breaking last year at the Qualcomm Stadium. Mike McCoy’s decision to try and sit on the ball with fourth quarter leads against New Orleans, Oakland, Kansas, and Tampa Bay ultimately cost his him his job. However, the players are far from exempt from criticism: Philip Rivers threw four picks against Miami, Melvin Gordon fumbled late on against New Orleans, and the defence too often vanished in the fourth quarter.
Considering it was the mental execution that often failed the Chargers, it is not surprising that Anthony Lynn was brought in at Head Coach to replace Mike McCoy. Lynn’s rapid ascension through the staff ranks appears more down to his leadership and his ability to communicate with players, rather than his X’s and O’s. On offence, Lynn will look to supplement a Ken Wisenhunt’s offence that finished 9th in points scored, despite losing Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, and Stevie Johnson over the course of the season.
On the other side of the ball new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has stated he will be switching to the zone based 4-3 that was highly successful in Seattle. The Chargers’ brass will be hoping that Bradley’s group will continue the turnovers, the Chargers finished with a league leading 18 interceptions, whilst cutting down on the points allowed: the defence surrendered the most points against it since 2003.
Areas of need:
The Chargers not only need to draft and develop players that can help them win, they specifically need players who match up well in the competitive AFC West. Before conquering the playoffs, the Chargers desperately need to improve their standings within their division: they finished 1-5 against the AFC West in 2016, a slight improvement on the 0-6 record of 2015. The Chargers have needs all along the O-Line, as well as at OLB, Safety and a nickel corner to pair with Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. Although the Chargers need to stick to a policy of best player available and look to land themselves a blue chip player who can be a solid future contributor for the franchise. Five players the Chargers could target are:
Malik Hooker is a 6ft 1, 205lbs ball-hawking free safety in the mould of Ed Reed. The former Buckeye intercepted seven passes in his first year as a starter, displaying a veteran understanding of reading the quarterback’s eyes. Hooker was said to have been so impressive during practice during 2015 that he played a role in both the then starters, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, deciding to enter the 2016 draft.
Hooker is undoubtedly special when it comes to tracking down the ball, and is dangerous once he has the ball in hand, returning three picks for touchdowns in 2016. However, in exchange for the turnovers Hooker will give up the occasional big play when he guesses wrong. This issue should be correctable over time given Hooker has currently only played one full year as a starter, and didn’t prioritise football over basketball until College. Likewise, Hooker’s tackling technique needs to improve: he missed 17 tackles in 2016. This again should be correctable.
Drafting Hooker would fill the playmaking void in the backend of the Chargers defence that Eric Weddle previously provided. Additionally, Hooker’s elite range would allow Gus Bradley to deploy one safety deep in the middle of the field, freeing up the strong safety to disrupt intermediate routes whilst playing cover 2 & 3.
Reuben Foster’s stock may have taken a bit of a dip following his recent dismissal from the combine. I have no doubt that during team visits he will be arguing that his feisty play on the field is not representative of his behaviour off it. Once reassured of his off the field behaviour, prospective draftees can concentrate on Foster’s game tape which illustrates why he is the unanimous number one linebacker in the draft. A hard-hitting linebacker who possesses the coverage skills needed today to thrive as a three-down player is a rarity coming of out of college. While Foster’s 2016 stat line may not be immediately repeatable in the NFL: 115 combined tackles, 5 sacks, and two pass deflections, it certainly displays his range and versatility.
Foster’s play is reminiscent of Vontaze Burfict with better coverage skills. Like Burfict, Foster’s aggression can lead to over-pursuit and poor technique in the tackle. Just as with Burfict though, Foster also has the chance to energize an entire defence with his vocal and aggressive style. Placing Foster as the SAM linebacker alongside Perryman and Brown would give the Chargers an energetic frenzied linebacker core that should be able to stop the run and prevent the pass in equal measure.
Ryan Ramcyzk is the latest Badger O-lineman set to be drafted in a lineage that since 2007 includes Joe Thomas, Kevin Zeitler, Travis Frederick, and Ricky Wagner to name a few. The Wisconsin stamp of approval belies Ramcyzk’s unusual path of going from Division III to an All-American selection in the space of three years. Despite only having one-year of starting experience at FBS level Ramcyk’s film displayed the requisite tools wanted from a potential franchise left tackle. Ramcyzk fires out of his stance in the ground game, with the athleticism to get to the second level if need be. In pass protection, he initiates solid first contact and has the footballing IQ to deal with stunts and complex blitzes. Ramczyk more than held his own against future NFL draftees Taco Charlton & Sam Hubbard, which should alleviate some of the concerns of having only played in the FBS for a year. Some have suggested that Ramcyzk needs to add more bulk to deal with the core strength most possess in the NFL, something his 6ft 6in frame should be capable of.
In drafting Ramcyzk with the 7th pick the Chargers would be drafting their blindside protector of the future. With new addition Russell Okung entrenched there for now, Ramcyzk could refine his trade on the right (as Lane Johnson is doing with the Eagles), whilst quickly learning on the job against the likes of Von Miller and Khalil Mack.
Humphrey is an elite athlete with the size and speed needed for corners in today’s NFL. Measuring 6ft, 197lbs and clocked at 4.41 in the combine, he has quick twitch hips – finishing in the top five in the 3-cone drill at the combine and has a successful track and field past. At cornerback Humphrey is aggressive in press coverage but also comfortable sitting in a zone, reading the quarterback. His technique certainly needs refining, especially at tracking the deep ball, but at 20yrs old that is something you can live with. Despite only being 20, Humphrey has strong blood lines as his father played six seasons in the NFL.
If the Chargers to do take Humphrey at 7, higher than most expect him to go, it will be because of how well he fits what Gus Bradley wants from his corners. For all Richard Sherman, and to a lesser extent Jalen Ramsey, are valued because of their coverage skills, they are both aggressive in run support and not afraid to tackle, a must in Bradley’s defence. Humphrey’s aggression resulted in three forced fumbles and three tackles for a loss in 2016. Additionally, Humphrey’s length and speed on the outside would complement Verrett and Hayward who can both play in the nickel.
Watson is far from perfect as an NFL prospect but when the lights are brightest, his star shines. Against Alabama in the two Conference Championship Games, he totaled eight touchdowns and one interception. A true dual-threat, he racked up nearly 2,000 rushing yards, and scored 26 rushing touchdowns over his 3 years at Clemson.
He needs to add bulk to his frame, read through his progressions and learn a pro-style offence after time spent in the Clemson offence. Reminiscent of last year’s number one pick in playing style, and Russel Wilson for his rushing style and intangibles.
The Chargers need a succession plan to Philip Rivers and this may be the year to do so. This years class offers a bevy of developmental quarterbacks, and enough depth in the secondary to pick up a starter on day two. Chargers GM Tom Telesco has even stated that they won’t rule out a QB at 7. It has been a while since a team spent a high pick on a QB with an entrenched starter, however, this could be the year it all changes… The Chargers, Cardinals and Saints all need future replacements for their aging star Quarterbacks.