The Los Angeles Chargers headed into the 2018 NFL Draft as arguably the team to beat in the AFC West. Post draft, they’re even better.
We covered the Chargers in our pre-draft series exploring their strengths and their needs heading into last month’s amateur entry draft. And by the way the draft went down, it appears the Chargers effectively addressed almost all of those pressing needs for 2018. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn appear to have had a solid draft, which could present a stiff challenge for the Oakland Raiders.
Miracles do happen from time to time. For the Chargers, it happened when Florida State defensive back Derwin James was still on the board when Los Angeles selected at 17th. As a potential top five prospect, James checks all the boxes for what the Chargers desperately needed at safety. They were one of the worst defenses against the run and James could be the hard hitting run stopper they’ve lacked at the position. James also plays well versus the pass. If James is able to transition his game to the NFL, the Chargers will have cashed in on a Top 10 guy thanks to the quarterback rush of 2018.
Defense, Defense, Defense
The Chargers were bent on improving their sluggish defensive from the get-go. Yes, they have elite level edge rushers in defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Both Bosa and Ingram had double-digit sacks last season. Linebacker Denzel Perryman also had a solid year. But with a soft interior line, the Chargers were not able to stop the run.
After James fell into their lap, the Chargers selected Southern Cal linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. Nwosa (Nu-wosa) has the prototypical size (6-foot-3, 251 pounds) of a guy coming off the edge. But he is raw at the position. The Chargers believe he has far more upside than many scouts were giving him credit for.
Next, the Chargers went interior line when they selected defensive tackle Justin Jones from North Carolina State. Jones is a versatile player who can play defensive end or tackle. There was no question that the Bolts needed help on the inside, however there were better graded defensive tackles on the board at the time. It seems clear that the versatility factor weighed heavily into their decision to take Jones instead.
With their 4th pick in the draft, the Chargers selected West Virginia linebacker Kyzir White. White was another steal at the 119th overall pick. Linebacker is really just a working title for White who is really more of a hybrid type player. He trades size for speed and could provide solid pass coverage as a will linebacker, nickel back, or even a big nickel safety. Versatility and speed are his strengths.
Chargers Flip to Offense to Finish Draft
The Chargers ended their 2018 selections turning to the offensive side of the ball. They nabbed UCLA guar Scott Quessenberry as their fifth selection. This was another versatile pick as Quessenberry can play center as well. With their 6th pick, Los Angeles selected Texas Tech wide receiver Dylan Cantrell. Cantrell has size, speed, and good hands. The Bolts needed help at wide receiver and it appears they got a good one in Cantrell
In the seventh round the LA finished their draft selecting Northwestern running back Justin Jackson. Jackson was a work horse for the Wildcats and a four year starter. Should he make their roster, he could be a valuable relief valve for running back Melvin Gordon.
We can’t know for sure if any of these prospects will pan out in the NFL. However, on paper, the Chargers truly improved their already solid team. One key future roster issue they did not address, and chose to kick the can down the field, was at quarterback. Philip Rivers may still be effective, but he’s aging and a succession plan is a must in Los Angeles.
What’s most abundantly clear is this: LA is the team the Oakland Raiders will need to beat if they have an AFC West crown in their future.