On the Clock: Los Angeles Chargers
The bad news for Los Angeles Chargers fans in 2020 was that they missed the playoffs and had to replace their head coach. The good news, however, is that they found their new franchise quarterback. The transition from Philip Rivers to Justin Herbert went better than expected, as Herbert broke a plethora of rookie passing records to go with winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Still, the Chargers have huge holes that cost them a handful of games last season. Los Angeles became the first team in NFL history to blow leads of 16-plus points in four straight games. Some of this had to do with a defense that was missing Derwin James and Melvin Ingram, but it did not help that the Chargers’ offensive line allowed Herbert to get sacked 32 times, ninth-most in the NFL. New head coach Brandon Staley will be tasked with replacing some key players and turning around this defense like he did with the Rams, along with continuing to develop Herbert. With the 13th pick in the draft, Los Angeles will have several great players to choose from to help get them to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
Here is some quick history. The following is a list of the first-round picks the Chargers have made in the past five years:
2020: Justin Herbert (QB) & Kenneth Murray (LB)
2019: Jerry Tillery (DT)
2018: Derwin James (S)
2017: Mike Williams (WR)
2016: Joey Bosa (DE)
Since 2010, there have only been two drafts in which the Chargers’ starting draft position was not in the top 20 selections.
Currently, the Chargers are ranked ninth in the league in projected cap space with $33,966,398. Regardless, there are still many moves the Chargers can make in order to obtain more cap space. Here is a list of players who could potentially be on the move this offseason for the Chargers due to their cap hit in 2021 (age in parentheses):
Mike Williams (26)
Linval Joseph (32)
Trai Turner (27)
Casey Hayward (31)
Chris Harris Jr. (31)
The Chargers went 7-9 in 2020, but they will have to upgrade their team immensely in order to become a playoff contender in a tough division and an even tougher conference. Here are some possible players the Chargers could take with the 13th overall selection:
Possibility #1: Florida TE Kyle Pitts
2020 stats: 8 games, 43 receptions, 770 yards, 17.9 ypc, 12 TDs
Why: Normally, tight ends don’t go as high as the 13th overall selection. Pitts is not your typical tight end, however. His physical traits are incredible, as he is currently listed at 6-6, 246 pounds. The former Florida Gator showed a propensity to grab any ball thrown near him even if he had a defender draped all over him. Many analysts questioned Pitts’ ability to block entering this season, but he was able to do a solid job in that department in 2020.
One of the Chargers’ big upcoming free agents is tight end Hunter Henry, who has been a Jekyll and Hyde type for most of his career. If the Chargers decide they do not want to continue with Henry for the future and try to shore up some of their bigger weaknesses, Pitts could be a very wise pick with the 13th selection. Not only would Pitts become one of Herbert’s favorite targets, but he would also take a lot of the pressure off star receiver Keenan Allen with his size and speed from the tight end position. This would make the Chargers a lot more balanced on the offensive side of the ball for the foreseeable future.
Possibility #2: Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai
2020 stats: 9 games, 55 total tackles, 25 solo, 15.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 3 FFs
Why: Joseph Ossai is a very high energy and athletic outside linebacker. He can drop back into coverage while also having the speed and athleticism to get after the quarterback on passing downs. Moreover, for an outside linebacker who is only currently listed at 253 pounds, he does a tremendous job of knocking bigger offensive linemen back while also showing some impressive strength in passing situations. He is extremely skilled as a pass rusher, and Texas did him a huge favor by moving him from the WILL linebacker spot to the JACK linebacker for the 2020 season.
Ossai’s versatility should suit the Chargers well, especially heading in a new direction on defense with Staley at the helm. In a new era of smaller and faster defensive ends, Ossai should fit in perfectly. With Melvin Ingram slotted as a free agent this offseason, the Chargers may look to move on from the veteran due to his extensive injury history. Ossai should be garnering more attention, especially as draft season gets closer and closer, and it would not be surprising if Ossai is the first pick of the Brandon Staley era.
Possibility #3: USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker
Career: stats: 25 games, 13 starts
Why: The Chargers’ offensive line, as mentioned earlier, had a very down season to say the least. Even with the addition of veterans Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner, the line was not great, especially when it got hit with the injury bug. It was a revolving door of linemen for the 2020 season, and this makes it a position that needs to have better depth. Despite having a fantastic rookie season, Herbert was hit way too many times for any coach’s liking.
Alijah Vera-Tucker is another player who is gaining a lot of steam early in draft season. He could jump in and immediately start for Los Angeles, especially if they end up letting Trai Turner go. Something that also sticks out about Vera-Tucker is his potential versatility. Even though he played guard at USC for most of his career, Vera-Tucker did play left tackle for the Trojans in his junior season. Seeing that Los Angeles struggled at left tackle as well, Vera-Tucker could be an intriguing addition to this squad in order to keep Herbert upright.
Possibility #4: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
2019 stats: 20 tackles, 14 solo, 4 INTs, 12 PDs, 1 TD
Why: The Chargers will have to decide if they want to re-sign Michael Davis, who had a stellar season in 2020. Even if Davis is re-signed, it is very possible that Chris Harris Jr. or Casey Hayward could be cap casualties or traded to contenders this offseason in order to clear up more cap space. Cornerback wasn’t the biggest issue for Los Angeles last season, but with two of their top three corners from a year ago being over the age of 30, it is very likely that Los Angeles wants to get younger at that position, especially with some of the offenses that reside in the AFC West.
Caleb Farley will have an adjustment period due to not having played competitive football since 2019, but he is a guy with a lot of potential. He is a very fast corner who would certainly help the Chargers do better against speedy receivers like Tyreek Hill, who they have to face twice a year. He has the ability to disrupt receivers due to this long frame. The Chargers have to get more physical in the secondary as there were plenty of games in which they let up down the stretch and allowed teams to come back. Farley would give Staley a solid corner on the outside who can offset some of the electric receivers in the division.
SEE ALSO: On the Clock archive
Sources: Pro-Football-Reference, Spotrac, Over The Cap