Chargers Draft Buzz: Michael Davis On The Outside Looking In?
The Athletic’s Daniel Popper appeared on the NFL Stock Exchange Podcast on Tuesday morning. Along with Trevor Sikkema and Connor Rodgers, they dissected Popper’s views of the Chargers’ upcoming draft and how they might be looking to address their various needs. We’ll be discussing a few of those here and how his takeaways could affect the draft which is just two weeks away.
No Longer High On Cornerback Michael Davis?
The Chargers regime expressed a large amount of faith in the former undrafted free agent cornerback last offseason when they signed him to a three-year, $25 million contract. It was a contract that I felt was deserved. Davis was the team’s best cornerback in 2020 and popped in games while taking on assignments that showed off his versatility against Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, and Darren Waller. Unfortunately, that play did not translate over to Brandon Staley’s scheme. To be fair, he did struggle with a hamstring injury and Staley’s scheme is very difficult on cornerbacks. They are tasked with so many different things on a game-to-game basis, which is the opposite of Gus Bradley’s vanilla cover three scheme.
Despite his elite physical traits and promising play in 2020, Staley was constantly lowering expectations for Davis and emphasizing his steep learning curve. We saw flashes of that play early on in the season, particularly as Staley used Davis in matchups against Travis Kelce and Waller. Then the hamstring injury happened in week eight against the Patriots. He returned in week 11 against the Steelers and everything that he put out on tape on a weekly basis after that point was underwhelming at best. He only came down with one interception last season and had a passer rating of 87.1 when targeted which was his highest output since his rookie season.The Chargers and Staley consider themselves “a DB factory” and a team that will “always be looking at cornerbacks” so seeing them aggressively upgrading the cornerback room this offseason is not a surprise. We knew they would be making a move in free agency, and they wound up getting the best one on the market in J.C. Jackson. They remain high on former second-round pick Asante Samuel Jr., even if they might be moving him to the slot in nickel packages – I expect Samuel to be the starter alongside Jackson in base packages. So the money spent on Jackson and draft capital spent on Samuel tells us that Davis was naturally going to be bumped down the cornerback pecking order this year, but Popper seems to think that Davis’ fall might not be done just yet.
In the scenario played out on the show, Popper had the Chargers taking Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie in a reporter mock draft – and even took him over Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. I still think that the offensive line will be the priority in the first round, but if the board falls a certain way we could see cornerback moved up to second on that list. McDuffie, Clemson’s Andrew Booth, and Florida’s Kaiir Elam could all be in play at 17 overall – or in a trade-down scenario if the Chargers are able to move around the board. I wouldn’t rule out LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. as a target for them either after seeing their entire defensive brain trust show up as his pro day last week.
In terms of the third round and beyond, Penn State’s Tariq Castro-Fields, Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant, and Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt are all players I am fond of that could be possible fits for Staley’s scheme and eventual Davis replacements. Davis would likely keep his role as a starter in this scenario, for now. It will be important for them to be proactive in that regard because the team can save $7.4 million by cutting Davis next offseason.
Matt Feiler, The Right Tackle?
The obvious elephant in the room for the Chargers as we head into the draft is the right tackle position after they cycled through Bryan Bulaga, Storm Norton, and Trey Pipkins last season. It is clear to me that they do not view Norton or Pipkins as starting-caliber players, and they obviously cut Bulaga. I assumed/hoped that they would be signing a veteran to hold down that fort IE Morgan Moses, or Billy Turner, and they still could albeit to a lesser extent: Dennis Kelly, Daryl Williams, and David Quessenberry (yes, Scott’s brother) are all still available. It appears that the Chargers’ attention has shifted to the draft though.
That being said, I’ve always thought of Cross as a long shot for them at 17. I think his draft range sits between six (Panthers) and 13 (Texans), although some reputable reporters (Bruce Feldman) believe he will fall as far as the second round. If the Chargers were able to land Cross I would be absolutely thrilled, and I would be equally as upset if they elected to pass on him in favor of Penning, whose range is much trickier. Penning has all the athletic traits and nastiness in the world, but he struggled against FCS competition and is a walking penalty. He could go as high as six overall or fall to the late 20s and I wouldn’t be surprised.
If both players are off the board, I agree with Popper and do expect the Chargers to go in another direction and the value seems to be pointing towards one of the aforementioned cornerbacks or a wide receiver such as Chris Olave out of Ohio State. In this scenario, Popper seems to expect Matt Feiler to be the team’s solution at right tackle. Feiler played right tackle for the Steelers in 2018 and 2019 before shifting over the left guard in 2020, where he obviously played wonderfully for the Chargers in 2021. Over the last four seasons, Feiler has proven to be about the same caliber of player at either position with a nearly identical pressure tally and pass-blocking efficiency rating. Current offensive line assistant coach Shaun Sarrett was also on that Steelers coaching staff so I would understand it from the Chargers side of things if Feiler were the solution, and possibly has been all along.
The good news is that Feiler’s versatility gives the Chargers draft flexibility. They aren’t pigeonholed into drafting a right tackle like they were last year when they were able to select Rashawn Slater, 13th overall. They had to come away from the first round of the draft with a left tackle. If Slater was gone, they likely would have selected Christian Darrisaw.
This year, if one of the right tackles is available to them, then they’ll make that pick. If not, they can kick Feiler to right tackle and pivot to figuring out the guard positions next. They could select Boston College’s Zion Johnson (#1 on my personal board) at 17 overall, or wait to draft Oklahoma’s Marquis Hayes, Florida’s Jean Delance, Tennessee’s Cade Mays, or Georgia’s Jamaree Salyer. Bringing back veteran Oday Aboushi to hold down one of the guard spots would be a necessary move if this scenario pans out. Last year’s 5th round pick Brenden Jaimes, and one of the rookies could then battle it out for the other spot.
Clearly, the secondary and the offensive line groups will be the focus for the Chargers come draft time. Let me know what you guys think of the scenarios laid out by Popper on the Stock Exchange podcast!