Which draft will give SD a charge?
KELLEN COELHO | CONTRIBUTOR
The first round of the NFL draft is scheduled for this Thursday, April 28 and every NFL fan is holding their breath. Those Toreros who faithfully follow football will anxiously wait for their favorite team to choose an impact starter from the hordes of college players clambering to finally be paid for their efforts.
How a given team fairs in the draft is perhaps the most telling indication of the current status of the franchise. From the businesslike, clandestine operations of the New England Patriots to the teeth-grinding void of sadness that is the Cleveland Browns, the NFL offseason is now a buzz of activity. Each general manager and head coach painstakingly examines grainy game film looking for players that fit their system, dreading the consequences should they select a draft bust.
Somewhere within the spectrum of the Browns and the Patriots is our own local team, the San Diego Chargers. While still sporting the leadership of an elite quarterback in the aging Phillip Rivers, the Chargers have languished in the limbo of mediocrity since the star power of LaDainian Tomlinson left Southern California in 2010. Hamstrung by a below average defense, the Chargers’ playoff hopes have been dashed time and time again as they are smothered by a division that includes the reigning Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos, the surging Oakland Raiders, and the defensive juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs.
One of the most exciting aspects of the NFL draft is its unpredictability. A player may fall for one reason or another, teams may trade up or down haphazardly and shake up the entire draft, or a relatively unknown player will be selected higher than projected. In order to account for these discrepancies, I won’t simply outline who the Chargers should select with each of their eight picks. They may end up with more or less depending on what general manager Tom Telesco decides to do with his draft capital.
Instead, I’ll simply highlight one player in each round (1-7) who the Chargers should strongly consider and would also conceivably be available at the time they pick in each round. I did a little research on the dynamics of the Chargers’ roster and I chose players that I feel would have a tangible impact on the fortunes of our beloved local franchise.
Again, the draft is much more of an art than a science and smarter men than I have failed miserably in player evaluation. My opinion may differ from other draft experts. There will be more than one prospect in each round that would likely be a fit for the Chargers. I’m going to give it my best shot. Who knows?
Maybe Tom Telesco will pick up a copy of The USD Vista and heed my sage advice. The writers on the NFL’s website do a very nice job analyzing the draft needs of each team so I’m also going to include their take on the Chargers’ needs to outline the reasoning for each of my own selections.
Analysis of Needs: The Chargers have needs along the offensive and defensive lines that deserve draft attention this year. For years it was just Antonio Gates, maybe Vincent Jackson and then a slew of guys catching passes from Philip Rivers. Gates doesn’t have much left and Ladarius Green bolted via free agency. Finding another threat at the tight end spot would make sense. Safety Eric Weddle departed, but the Chargers added Dwight Lowery. Is that enough? They could still look to add competition at the other safety spot.
Needs: Defensive Line, Offensive Line, Safety, Tight End
ROUND #1: JALEN RAMSEY – Florida State S/CB
The widespread media consensus is that the Chargers will take tackle Laremy Tunsil in order to alleviate their pass protection woes and help unlock Melvin Gordon’s potential in their offense. However, from my viewpoint, the Chargers have a much greater area of need in their interior line as opposed to their tackles, where they have recently extended veterans in left tackle King Dunlap and right tackle Joe Barksdale.
Jalen Ramsey fills a need by taking departed All-Pro safety Eric Weddle’s spot in the centerfield of the defense. Ramsey is listed as a cornerback, but played safety during his sophomore year for the Florida State University Seminoles’ national championship team where he was a special, tone-setting force. The Chargers’ defensive backfield desperately needs the swagger and confidence that permeates Ramsey’s game, regardless of what position he plays.
ROUND #2: ROBERT NKEMDICHE – Ole Miss DT
Robert Nkemdiche arrived at Ole Miss as the No. 1 high school recruit regardless of position, according to most scouting agencies. What did he do to justify all that hype? Well, as statistics go, not too much. Nkemdiche notched seven sacks and 19 tackles for loss in three years since becoming a starter during his freshman season. So why is he getting buzz as a potential first round pick? The guy is an absolute freak of nature for the position.
When you watch how explosive Nkemdiche’s getoff is, you think he’s a linebacker playing defensive line, even at nearly 300 pounds. So why is he available in the second round? Teams have major concerns regarding his commitment to football, especially after being arrested after jumping out of the fourth story of a building attempting to avoid marijuana charges. This is purely a projection pick. If Nkemdiche plays up to his potential, the Chargers have an All-Pro caliber defensive end in their 3-4 Defense.
ROUND #3: RYAN KELLY – Alabama C
The Chargers haven’t had a true leader at center since Nick Hardwick announced his retirement in Feb. 2015, and their offensive line has suffered for it. Ryan Kelly is the intelligent, unquestioned leader of the star studded machine that is Alabama’s offensive line. He’s the kind of guy that can walk into a pro locker room and command respect based off his toughness and willingness to scrap heads up with opposing nose tackles. Almost reminds you of Nick Hardwick.
ROUND #4: DEION JONES – LSU OLB
The Chargers have one constant in their interior linebacking corps. Every single player is a hard nosed two-down run stopper who is somewhat of a liability against the pass and may or may not have an invisible girlfriend (Mant’i Teo). Deion Jones adds an athletic, rangy presence to the Chargers linebacking group. He’s tough enough to stop the run and can be trusted to guard the middle zone on passing downs.
ROUND #5: TYLER HIGBEE – Western Kentucky TE
This is the part of the draft where teams oftentimes make selections based off upside. Tyler Higbee is not supposed to be in this part of the draft, but may very well fall this far because of pending assault charges. Higbee is a former wide receiver who is explosive with the ball in his hands and is an improving blocker. He’s worth the risk to a tight end needy team.
ROUND #6: D.J. READER – Clemson NT
With former undrafted free agent Ryan Carrethers currently holding the starting position in the middle of the defensive line, the Chargers have room for improvement. In an exceptionally deep defensive line draft, it’s likely that a guy like D.J. Reader will fall through the cracks. This would be the Chargers’ gain as they add a potential starter to push Carrethers.
ROUND #7: SHAWN OAKMAN – Baylor DE
Earlier this year, the intimidating Oakman became a Twitter meme sensation when he trotted out to the coin flip without the lower half of his jersey. He certainly cuts an imposing figure at 6’8’’ and 287 lbs, but can he play pro football? That’s for the San Diego defensive line coach to figure out as he is likely to slip to the later rounds because of some recent legal troubles.