Los Angeles Chargers 2021 NFL Draft Grade
The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books! The Los Angeles Chargers did a fantastic job re-tooling their already talented roster. General Manager Tom Telesco landed two day-one starters, two new pass-catchers, and some quality depth pieces. Who was selected and how will these prospects contribute next season? Let’s take a look.
Best Pick – Round 1, Pick 13: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Chargers fans did not have to wait long for the NFL Draft to get exciting. Dubbed by many analysts as the top tackle in this class, Slater is a premier talent at the team’s biggest position of need. He is an outstanding athlete for his size (6-foot-4, 305-lbs) and with his freakish strength, he was projected to be long gone by the time the Bolts came up to make their pick.
Luckily for Los Angeles, an early run on quarterbacks and wide receivers pushed Slater down the draft board. The pairing at 13 is really a dream come true for the Chargers who have already invested a lot into revamping the offensive line. They signed center Corey Linsley and guards Oday Aboushi and Matt Feiler this free agency. Last year’s starter at right tackle, Bryan Bulaga, returns, leaving left tackle as the one vacancy yet to be addressed. With Slater manning the spot, the Chargers future at left tackle seems extremely bright.
Brewery-X Sleeper X-Factor Pick – Round 3, Pick 77: Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee
One of the stronger position groups, from a talent standpoint, in this year’s NFL draft was the wide receiver class. The Chargers current receiver corps of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jaylen Guyton, and Tyron Johnson is already a gifted group. Still, adding a developmental wideout with some speed in the latter rounds seemed to make sense.
To the surprise of many, Los Angeles went receiver with the 77th pick, bringing in Josh Palmer. Not necessarily the speed demon many fans were expecting, Palmer is a big, strong possession receiver who excels in contested catch situations. He could really thrive in this Los Angeles offense as a rookie with Allen coaching him up on his route-running and Williams offering his jump-ball expertise.
Considering that Palmer will have quarterback Justin Herbert throwing him the ball behind that beefed-up offensive line, I expect to see the former Volunteer establish himself as the team’s WR3. Expect to see Palmer picking up first downs and developing into a solid red-zone threat.
Biggest Reach/Head Scratcher – Round 3, Pick 97: Tre McKitty, TE, Georgia
Now I’m not hating the player or even the position selected here. Hunter Henry leaving in free agency left a vacancy at tight end. However, the front office already went out and signed Jared Cook while second-year Pro, Donald Parham, is set for a breakout year. I thought a third-round selection for a player who will most likely enter the season as the team’s TE3 was a little too rich. Especially given the quality defensive players still available at that time in the draft.
Even though this is my Biggest Head Scratcher pick, drafting McKitty could be considered a successful move when it’s all said and done. One underrated part of HH’s game that will be sorely missed in 2021 is the tight end’s ability to run block. Due to some coaching changes and limited roles as a receiver in college, McKitty was primarily used as a blocking tight end. Given his physical traits, McKitty will be able to contribute in the run game and on special teams early on in his career. He possesses athletic upside as a receiving threat as well. If that potential can be tapped into, McKitty will be worth the high draft pick.
Garrison Brothers Biggest Need Filled – Round 2, Pick 47: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
After hitting a home run with their first-round pick, the Bolts came back strong again in the second as another generational talent fell into their laps. With the 47th pick, the Chargers selected Samuel Jr. who will help fix a secondary that struggled mightily in pass defense last season.
The decision to release Casey Hayward in free agency left a hole at outside cornerback opposite Michael Davis. With that being the one starting position yet to be addressed up to this point, the Samuel Jr. pick fills the biggest need. Samuel Jr. is one of the most mesmerizing corners in the draft, with elite ball skills and exciting athletic upside.
Samuel Jr. will take over as the team’s starting outside corner, allowing Chris Harris Jr. to bump down to his more comfortable position in the slot. Samuel Jr. is going to be a lockdown corner in man coverage who will break up plenty of passes next season.
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Round 4, Pick 118: Chris Rumph, DE, Duke
Rumph is an interesting prospect as he is projected as an outside linebacker at the next level but played primarily defensive end at Duke. At 6-foot-3, 244-lbs, Rumph simply does not have the prototypical size of an NFL defensive end. His strengths as a pass rusher lie in his superhuman athleticism and non-stop motor. Rumph is a player who never gives up on a play, totaling 33 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks during his collegiate career.
Defensive guru Brandon Staley is the perfect coach to fully unlock the potential of an athletic player like Rumph who lacks the positional fundamentals. Rumph will be an instant special teams contributor who will develop into a successful rotational pass-rusher.
Round 5, Pick 185: Brenden Jaimes, OL, Nebraska
In the fifth round, the Chargers decided to double-dip into the draft’s talented offensive line class by selecting Brenden Jaimes. Jaimes is not a prospect who will wow you with athleticism. Instead, he relies on his fundamentals and high football IQ to quickly get into blocks. He has great vision plus he offers position versatility, with his ability to play guard and tackle. For a team like the Chargers, who have battled so many injuries over the past couple of seasons, a prospect like Jaimes who can play multiple positions is extremely valuable.
Jaimes won’t crack the starting lineup this season but will serve as the team’s backup guard, or tackle if necessary.
Round 6, Pick 185: Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa
With the first pick of the sixth-round, Los Angeles selected former Iowa Hawkeye Nick Niemann. Niemann joins a Charger linebacker room that already features Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, and Kyzir White. Niemann is a sure open-field tackler and is a disruptive force against the run game. Having a thumper like Niemann in the middle of the defense is a great compliment to the group.
His effort alone will make him a valuable asset on punt and kickoff coverage. Plus, there is potential that he could log some snaps as an inside linebacker in short-yardage situations.
Round 6, Pick 198: Larry Rountree III, RB, Missouri
This pick is my runner-up for “Biggest Head Scratcher.” The current running back committee of Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Joshua Kelley is a very versatile group with all three able to make an impact in both the run and pass offense.
One type of player that the group is missing is the bigger, physical back. Someone who can barrel forward and pick up the tough yards in short-yardage situations. Rountree played with a lot of physicality during his time at Missouri, but it’s his size that’s concerning. At 5-foot-10, 210-lbs he doesn’t completely fit the bill of the bruising running back the team needs. If he hopes to see some playing time this season, he will have to have an outstanding training camp.
Round 7, Pick 241: Mark Webb, S, Georgia
With the team’s ninth and final pick, the Chargers selected safety Mark Webb out of Georgia. He is a bigger defensive back (6-foot-1, 210-lbs) who has spent time at safety and at corner in college. Webb’s subpar athleticism will make him a liability as a free safety but he is a strong, physical defender who is better when he lines up closer to the line of scrimmage.
His playstyle would best be utilized as a backup strong safety or as a hybrid linebacker (think Adrian Phillips).
Tom Telesco just put the finishing touches on the most successful offseason he has had as the general manager of the Chargers. Slater and Samuel Jr. give the Bolts two players with All-Pro potential at the team’s two biggest areas of need. TT also added some intriguing backups who will bring an influx of needed talent to the special teams units.
Overall Grade – B+
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