The 2019 NFL draft is important for every team, but for the Chargers, it could make or break their season. This is a team that wants to go from a playoff team to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Taking it one step further, Los Angeles could realistically miss the playoffs if it doesn’t capitalize on this draft class. If the Chargers play their cards right, the sky is the limit.
I have done countless mock drafts, and in almost all of them, I have failed to address every need. That being said, there are scenarios where the Chargers could luck into really filling out this roster.
This mock is going to be in some ways a best-case scenario, where the biggest needs are addressed. Some of these players might be gone, but they are not out of the realm of possibilities.
ROUND 1 – PICK 28: Oklahoma OT Cody Ford
Previously, I had the team taking Jerry Tillery with this pick, and he would be worthy. The reason I am going offensive tackle in this mock draft is because of the depth at defensive tackle. After the first round, the rest of the offensive tackles in this class have major question marks.
With this selection, the Chargers get an instant upgrade to a struggling offensive line. Ford would immediately be the starting right tackle with the potential to grow into an above-average left tackle.
When watching Ford, I saw an extremely fluid player that is much more athletic than a man his size should be. He excelled in pass protection, mirroring defenders and using exceptional strength to incapacitate defenders. He allowed just one sack in 14 games last year.
When he gets his hands on you, its game over.
Ford is also very physical in the running game, using his powerful frame and good angles to create holes. He is the total package.
He only played one season at tackle, and some teams see him as more a guard at the next level. If he is passed on by others in the first, the Chargers might finally solve their right tackle issue.
ROUND 2 – PICK 60: Virginia S Juan Thornhill
Another option for this pick could be defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones. Unfortunately, he’s a little too one-dimensional and lacks enough in the run-stopping department to justify this pick.
Some of the things that excite me about Thornhill are his understanding of zone coverages and his ability to read and process. He has really good route anticipation, and always seems to be in the right place. I think that he would fit best as playing the deep third in Gus Bradley’s heavy Cover 3 scheme.
Some of the knocks on him are a lack of explosiveness and not being physical in run defense. These are both true to some extent, his willingness to tackle and high football IQ make up for some of it.
The pick makes sense because Chargers have needs at safety and corner, both positions Thornhill has played well. He would not be the sexiest pick, but he could be a difference maker if used correctly.
ROUND 3 – Pick 90: Western Illinois DT Khalen Saunders
The Chargers could go several different directions with this pick, depending on who they select prior. Since I have filled needs at safety and tackle, I like the value here for Saunders.
The Western Illinois defensive tackle has been one of the most talked about players going into the draft process. I can understand why. He possesses a very rare combination of size and speed, with flashes of absolute dominance on the interior. Has the look of a player that could improve run-defense in a rotational role, with pass-rush upside.
Saunders is an extremely raw prospect that needs heavy coaching in the technique. Far often in college relied too heavily on his athleticism and strength to get the job done. Not a perfect fit for every system, but should be effective in the Chargers one-gap scheme.
Saunders is interesting because he could legitimately go anywhere in rounds 2-4. I think a late third round pick is fitting for the risk involved, especially if the team decides to double-dip at his position.
ROUND 4 – Pick 130: Miami DT Gerald Willis III
Willis is one of the major question marks in this draft due to his red flags. He has had his fair share of off-the-field concerns, as well as transferring and sitting out a season. These are also the reasons that he might be available this late in the draft.
On the field, he is a handful to deal with. Willis ended the 2018 season with an eye-popping 18 tackles for loss, and four sacks. He has a very good first step and is quick to penetrate the gap and disrupt plays in the backfield. Willis shows all the tools necessary to play 3-technique, especially if he can become more consistent.
One of the biggest concerns is leverage. Too often on tape Willis stands up straight right after the snap and lets offensive lineman into his frame. He needs to do much better at getting his arms extended at first contact to be able to shed blockers better than he did in college.
Willis is absolutely a risky pick, but the talent is undeniable. If the Chargers are able to coach this man, he could become an invaluable piece to this defense.
The Chargers have their work cut out for them in the draft, and they won’t get every player they want. It’s impossible to know how this draft is going to play out, but they should absolutely improve. If they are able to bring in some of these guys, they will be adding a lot of talent to a team already loaded with it.