Through 5 games, the Los Angeles Chargers have been adopted by thousands of orphaned fans. They have a hot young quarterback and a hot young head coach. The former yells at his roommates for not bringing carts back to their returns at grocery stores, the latter does press conferences about how sack production is an “illusioned stat”. Very relatable to me, a football nerd who vividly remembers walking up to 10 miles a day retrieving carts from every corner of the earth for minimum wage. Very near and dear to my heart, too, considering I’ve been a Chargers fan essentially since birth.
Imagine my surprise, then, at the Bolts becoming one of the focuses of national attention this year. For most of my life, they’ve oscillated between punchline and irrelevant: a blown lead here, an 8-8 Norv Turner season there. The worst special teams to ever grace a football field, another Philip Rivers child. Now, not only are my favorite team relevant, they’re fun! The best uniforms in the league, 4th down aggressiveness, a healthy Derwin James looking like the positionless nightmare we all knew he could be.
What could this team possibly need?
1.29: Myjai Sanders, EDGE, Cincinnati
Did you know Kyler Fackrell is top 25 in true sack rate so far this season? He’s been pretty good, and he’s 4th in true sack rate amongst players who were drafted after round 2. Some other Fackrell facts: he turns 30 on Thanksgiving and his contract is up after this season. You could argue he’s earned the right to be paid, especially given the Chargers’ extremely favorable cap situation, but I have reservations about how sustainable his production has been thus far.
Sanders has been on NFL radars since at least this time last year thanks to a plus athletic profile and consistent production. While strength is a bit of a concern at the next level, he possesses a full repertoire of pass rush moves and plays with ample effort in the run game. The last few years have shown that betting on traits at EDGE is likely to lead to success, and Sanders has the traits (and polish!) to go much higher than this come the real thing.
For the Chargers, I’d envision Sanders rotating in on pass-rush downs as a rookie. His lack of strength worries me as an NFL run defender, so a redshirt year to build that while getting him reps as a rusher would be an ideal role. Maybe that means the team brings Fackrell back on a reasonable deal to play more of an every-down role, maybe Uchenna Nwosu hits a developmental milestone and becomes that guy. Either way, a future tandem of Joey Bosa and Sanders would have the potential to match or exceed the play of Bosa and since-departed Melvin Ingram.
2.62: Mykael Wright, CB, Oregon
One (assumed) hallmark of the Brandon Staley defense is a dominant corner in the mold of Jalen Ramsey. I say assumed because Staley had Ramsey for the one year he coordinated before coming to the Chargers, so it’s possible that it’s a case of scheming around an all-time great talent rather than a cornerstone of the scheme. Regardless, the Bolts don’t have that top guy yet. Asante Samuel Jr. has been fantastic in stretches, but he’s looked like a rookie. Michael Davis got his extension after a breakout 2020 and has been…fine. Chris Harris Jr. is old and probably not coming back after this season.
Wright is built for the modern era with fluid hips, explosive change of direction, acceleration and speed to keep up with burners over the top. That said, he’s also got the classic DB energy: that fiery, physical, you’re-gonna-notice-me swag. He’s got all the makings of an NFL CB1, even if he’s a bit slender for the position. Wright does have a tendency to get a bit grabby, but it’s one of those things you can live with because of the massive talent and upside.
In LA, Wright would unlock even more versatility on the backend. If he blossoms into the #1 corner, it gives Samuel more opportunity to kick inside, where he still might be best even though he’s performed well on the boundary. Davis can then play #2 on the boundary in those situations. With 3 reliable NFL corners, it would also give Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, and the LB corps more freedom as playmakers rather than cleanup men.
3.93: Travon Walker, IDL, Georgia
If you’ve watched a Chargers game for more than 30 seconds this season, you know the interior defensive line is an issue. Justin Jones has been injured, which has torpedoed an already ugly run defense. Linval Joseph is being asked to carry a huge load for a 33 year old. Jerry Tillery looks like he’s never going to put all of his tools together to become a competent starter. Staley loves clearing out the box to defend the pass because he recognizes that’s the direction the NFL has been heading for nearly a decade, but that philosophy works a lot better when you have a capable defensive line.
Walker is weirdly traitsy for an interior guy. He’s a rare athlete, with plus length and explosiveness to spare thanks to a frame that could easily hold another 10-20 pounds. While he’s a better rusher than run defender at this stage, I feel confident enough about his strength and length that I think he can evolve into an effective all-around pro. With defensive linemen, my personal philosophy is always to bet on traits and hope you can impart technique. Walker has traits to spare but a few technical realignments would likely be in order, making him Exhibit A of this philosophy.
For the Bolts, Walker would likely need to add those 10-20 pounds his frame can accommodate in order to make a full-time move to the inside, where I envision him taking over the Jerry Tillery role. If he stays at his current weight, it could make for some fun multiplicity along the line because he could kick out to EDGE in some looks, but I worry that would come at the expense of some oomph in run defense, as it has with Tillery. His lack of pass rush repertoire would also be masked on the interior, where he might break free while opposing offenses focus their attention to the outside.
4.132: Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina
Jared Cook has been weirdly good for someone that looked near the end of his career last year in New Orleans, but he’s another name I question the continued value of as he continues to inch towards 35. Donald Parham Jr. and Tre’ McKitty are still being brought along pretty slowly; Parham has gotten some red-zone run but hasn’t shown the same chemistry with Justin Herbert as in 2020, while McKitty has been used almost exclusively as a blocker this season. It’s a group in flux, as it was always going to be after letting Hunter Henry walk.
I don’t find it particularly likely that Isaiah will still be around in the fourth round come draft time. (Forgive me.) Between an underwhelming season from Jahleel Billingsley, injuries hampering Cade Otton, and a relatively ho-hum year for Jalen Wydermyer, it’s still within the realm of possibility that Likely ends up as my TE1. He’s built like a modern TE: 6′ 4″, 245 lbs, athleticism to move more like a big wide receiver and less like Jason Witten. As a receiver, he strikes me as one of those guys that does everything well, even if he doesn’t necessarily have that one knockout punch level skill. As a blocker, there’s certainly work to be done, but the modern NFL suggests that perhaps blocking is an overrated trait for a TE, particularly one with the potential to become a matchup nightmare.
This is really a pick I see the Chargers making if they aren’t impressed with the development of Parham or McKitty as every-down receiving threats. Adding Likely would give everyone a pretty clearly defined role: Likely the chain mover, Parham the red-zone threat, McKitty the blocker. That said, they’re all good enough players to mix things up from those assigned seats, which would give the offense even more to work with.
5.171: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina
I really struggle to understand what’s going on in the Chargers RB room. Austin Ekeler is a stud, obviously, but beyond that things enter the Twilight Zone. There’s glass-blown sculpture Justin Jackson, who has a groin injury and is running out of time on his rookie deal. We have the ever-positive Joshua Kelley, who’s one of the best people I’ve met through writing about football, but is someone who has struggled to get on the field this season. Then there’s walking paradox Larry Rountree III. A 23 year old named Larry whose role has been power back and…kick returner? It makes my head hurt.
Naturally, the solution to this is to throw another Day 3 pick at it for the fourth time in five years. Harris is – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – a power back who could help cover up Ekeler’s size deficiencies in short yardage situations. He’s one of the biggest backs in the class (5′ 10″, 220 lbs), with good contact balance to drive for yards and enough in the tank to bounce runs outside if need be. His main deficiencies come in the pass game, where he struggles both as a receiver and protector. That’s inherently going to limit his value, but his chops as a runner are enough to bet on.
Harris would add to the kerfuffle that is the Chargers RB room, but this is under the assumption that Jackson does not return after this season. That gives us a group of Ekeler, Rountree, Kelley, and Harris, which is a lot of thunder to Ekeler’s lightning. Presumably one of them is able to churn out the tough yards when the team needs it, and perhaps competition is all the young veterans need to take the next step. It gives LA a multitude of options to consider, at the very least.
We’re gonna speed things up a bit because these are late round picks.
6.208: Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State
Do I think Haener is actually good? Not really. Am I having fun with the story he’s creating in Fresno? Absolutely. He has the toughness and leadership qualities teams love in career backups. Chase Daniel is a professional bagman and Easton Stick has not progressed enough for me to be confident in him as a #2.
6.215: Myron Cunningham, OT, Arkansas
Cunningham has played guard and both tackle spots between Arkansas, JUCO, and Western Illinois. Born in 1997, he’s on the older side, but he’s largely been underdeveloped until the arrival of Sam Pittman in Fayetteville. You can never have too much depth on the offensive line, especially if 2021 fifth-rounder Brenden Jaimes snags a starting gig next season.
6.216: Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan
Bell falls this far because he tore his ACL in September, but I thought this summer that he could go as high as Day 2 if he continued to build on a breakout 2019 and solid 2020 season. He’s a bit more of an elusive MOF receiver than a field stretcher, but would add good depth with potential to blossom into a starting WR2 or WR3.
6.220: Kolby Harvell-Peel, S, Oklahoma State
Harvell-Peel will likely be limited to a traditional strong safety role in the NFL, but I think he should provide some value on special teams as a strong tackler. Beyond that, maybe he sees the field as a dime backer or strong safety when Derwin James ducks into the box or slot.
7.249: Arron Mosby, EDGE, Fresno State
Mosby entered college as a corner recruit, shifted down to linebacker, and then shifted down again to EDGE, where his athleticism has shined for the Bulldogs defense this season. Another prospect on the older side who still has a lot of developmental room left, Mosby would provide some quality depth and versatility as a 3-4 OLB type player.
7.256: Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Iowa State
Hutchinson gives me shades of tranquilized Mike Williams; a not-that-fast receiver who wins deep because of size and contested catch ability. Obviously he’s a step down from Mike Will, who has been having an incredible season thus far, but Hutchinson is someone I think is worth a pick to avoid the UDFA bidding process. Likely a practice squad candidate as he develops, but has prototypical NFL size.
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