NFL1000: Los Angeles Chargers 2017 NFL Draft Preview

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2017

NFL1000: Los Angeles Chargers 2017 NFL Draft Preview

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Change came for the 2017 Chargers in many ways. 

    Not only is the franchise moving back to Los Angeles from San Diegoyes, the AFL Chargers spent their first season, 1960, in L.A.but after two straight losing campaigns, the Chargers moved on from head coach Mike McCoy and several players.

    This year's Chargers will take the field without left tackle King Dunlap, right guard D.J. Fluker, running back Danny Woodhead, linebacker Manti Te'o, cornerback Brandon Flowers and receiver Stevie Johnson. Their biggest free-agency splash was replacing Dunlap with former Seahawks and Broncos left tackle Russell Okung, a quicker player than Dunlap, but one who has his own recent blocking issues. 

    The Chargers still revolve around quarterback Philip Rivers, but most of their talent is at edge-rusher, where Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa and franchised linebacker Melvin Ingram should benefit greatly from new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's flexible four-man fronts.

    To make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Chargers must reinforce their roster at multiple positionsalong the offensive line, the interior defensive line and with linebackers who can make plays at second-level depth in a 4-3 defense. A playmaking receiver would help, though they have promising developmental players at the position in Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman. Some depth behind halfback Melvin Gordon would also be nice. 

    New head coach Anthony Lynn takes a two-fold challenge into 2017define his team in a market that doesn't seem to appreciate the NFL as much as other cities do, and do so with a patchwork roster in many regards. Getting back to .500 would be an estimable first-year goal.


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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The NFL1000 team of scouts graded a series of important attributes for every player in their positional review. Using a scale starting at zero and going up to anywhere from five to 50 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts graded each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years. Our evaluators had specific positional assignments based on their proven fields of expertise.

    Each corresponding position slide was written by the assigned scout.


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    Aaron Josefczyk/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Philip Rivers

    NFL1000 Score: 75.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/38

    Since Philip Rivers became the Chargers' de facto starter in 2006 after the departure of Drew Brees, the team has experienced just three losing seasons, two of which have come in the past two years. Around the turn of the decade, Rivers was one of the few factors keeping the team from more dismal results, as he strung together MVP-caliber performances despite front office shenanigans that would have left lesser quarterbacks out in the cold.

    The primary problem with Rivers' play in the last two seasons is that his velocity is declining. That became clear down the stretch last season, and with a questionable offensive line and receivers under development, he doesn't have the weapons he needs to succeed at the highest level. That didn't used to be a problem for him, but the recent boom-or-bust nature of his playhe's led the league in interceptions in two of the last three seasonsmeans his window of playing above the team might be closed once and for all. Rivers has always been an idiosyncratic passer with fierce intelligence and impressive physical tools. As is the case with every quarterback eventually, the third of those three factors may now be in inexorable decline. The franchise may not have enough time to meet him halfway.

    Backup: Kellen Clemens

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Selected in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Jets, Kellen Clemens made 21 combined starts for the Jets and Rams but failed to leave a positive lasting impression at either stop. He's an ideal backup in that he's smart enough to pick up just about any system, but his lack of velocity and inefficiency under pressure limit him. He's had the ideal situation in San Diego for the last three seasonsthe backup to a quarterback who practically has to be dragged off the field.

    Backup: Mike Bercovici

    NFL1000 Score: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Mike Bercovici impressed the Chargers' coaches in his first training camp, though the team released him during final roster cuts. He worked out for the Cardinals in October but didn't receive a contract offer, so he re-signed with the Chargers on a reserve/future contract in January. The Arizona State alum was a sleeper pick among some draft analysts, as he showed a big arm in college.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech), Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee)

Running Back

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Melvin Gordon

    NFL1000 Score: 74.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 8/82

    After looking like a potential bust in 2015, Melvin Gordon helped validate his first-round status with an excellent 2016 campaign. He ran for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns in only 11 starts after failing to score a single time as a rookie. The Wisconsin product was a bright spot for a bad Chargers team, and he should be one of their core guys for years to come.

    Gordon is a downhill, one-cut runner who did a much better job of hitting the hole in 2016. He played fast, violent and ran with a purpose. He has excellent feet to go along with improved vision from his rookie year, and he was a threat to bust a big run at any moment. Gordon proved he could run the ball inside and out in a very physical division. He also was excellent in the passing game, adding 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns. If he can stay healthy in 2017, he could have a monster statistical season.

    Backup: Kenneth Farrow

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Kenneth Farrow is a run-of-the-mill NFL back who was only thrust into action because of injuries to the Chargers backfield. He doesn't do anything particularly well and is a one-speed player. With a new coaching staff, expect Farrows' roster spot to be on the line in training camp.

    Backup: Branden Oliver

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Branden Oliver tore his Achilles in the 2016 preseason and missed the entire season. He made seven starts in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, but he's played a limited role since. Oliver runs hard and can handle the load between the tackles. He isn't a dynamic player in space because he lacks the change-of-direction speed to consistently make defenders miss. He does add value in the passing game, which is an area he'll need to excel in to make the team.

    Backup: Kenjon Barner

    NFL1000 Score: 66.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 75/82

    Kenjon Barner signed a one-year deal with the Chargers in March after spending the last two seasons in Philadelphia. He's a change-of-pace back who also adds value as a special teams return man. Barner is a straight-line runner who lacks power, but he does have decent play speed. Barner struggles to break tackles, and is not a powerful runner. The Notre Dame product only has 61 career carries, so depending on him as a consistent running option would be a stretch. He's average in the passing game, with only 16 career catches to his name. Barner will need to excel on special teams to make the final 53.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Jamaal Williams (BYU), Marlon Mack (South Florida)


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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Derek Watt

    NFL1000 Score: 71.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 9/20

    Derek Watt had an excellent rookie season, playing a major role in Melvin Gordon's breakout sophomore campaign. The brother of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Derek proved he was more than just a star player's brotherhe's a legitimate NFL starter. Watt has the toughness needed for a fullback and the willingness to lead-block, clearing out linebackers consistently. He also has the athletic ability to excel in the passing game. Watt is a threat to run the football in short-yardage situations, which he may do increasingly in the future. Watt and Gordon should be a productive backfield combination for years to come. 

    Team Need: 0/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Wide Receiver

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Keenan Allen

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Entering his fifth NFL season after a successful career at the University of California, Keenan Allen is looking to rebound from two straight injury-riddled seasons. Allen set a Chargers rookie record with 1,046 receiving yards in 2013, and he finished that year with 71 receptions and eight touchdowns. He increased his reception total in 2014, catching 77 passes for 783 yards and four touchdowns, although his yards per reception dipped drastically. He appeared in only eight games in 2015, as a lacerated kidney cut his season short. Allen was ready for the start of the 2016 season, but he suffered a torn ACL in the season opener and was promptly placed on injured reserve.

    When healthy, Allen is a perfect fit for Ken Whisenhunt's offensive style. He has the speed and separation ability to get open downfield, whether on vertical routes or deeper crossing routes. He also has the size (6'2", 211 pounds) to align either as an X receiver or a Z receiver. With the emergence of some other wideouts on the roster, such as Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman, Allen should have opportunities to make big plays for Los Angeles if he can stay on the field.

    Starter: Travis Benjamin

    NFL1000 Score: 66.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 54/155

    A receiver and track sprinter at the University of Miami, the Browns spent a fourth-round pick on Travis Benjamin in 2012. He served as a reserve wide receiver as well as a return specialist for the Browns until 2015, when he played more of a role as a receiver. That season, Benjamin caught a career-high 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns. He parlayed his career year into a a four-year, $24 million free-agent deal with the Chargers in March 2016, but his production dipped a bit last season, as he finished with just 47 catches for 677 yards and four touchdowns.

    Benjamin's size and skill set make him a perfect Z receiver in Whisenhunt's offense, or a slot receiver in 11-personnel sets. His sprinter background gives him the speed to gain separation on vertical routes, and he does a great job extending separation off his breaks with footwork and kicking into an extra gear. A prime example of this ability came on the first offensive play against his former team in Week 16. From a bunch formation and against off coverage from Joe Haden, Benjamin executed a deep post pattern. He accelerated out of his cut and extended separation from the defender, and he did a great job tracking the ball over his shoulder, pulling in a 50-yard reception. Plays like this illustrate his value to a Air Coryell-based system.

    Backup: Dontrelle Inman

    NFL1000 Score: 66.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 58/155

    Dontrelle Inman went undrafted in 2011 after playing his college football for the University of Virginia. After a brief stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2011 offseason, Inman began his professional football career in the CFL. He finally caught on with the Chargers for the 2014 season and saw limited action over those next two years. Pressed into a larger role this past season, Inman responded by catching 58 passes on 94 targets for 810 yards and four touchdowns. His breakout game came against the Saints in Week 4, when he caught seven passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

    His best performance from a grading standpoint came in Week 12 against the Texans. Inman caught all six of his targets for 119 yards and a touchdown in that contest, displaying a ceiling of traits that make him an attractive option for offenses. He showed great route running on his 52-yard touchdown, on a curl-and-go route where he displayed good footwork and ability to sell defenders on routes. He flashed an impressive catch radius on a comeback route late in the second quarter, snaring a high throw from Philip Rivers. Inman also showed awareness on a catch in the fourth quarter, working to get open in the scramble drill and then hanging on after taking a shot to the head from Kareem Jackson.

    The 28-year-old Inman is no spring chicken, but his size and skill make him an option at both the X and Z receiver spots. The Chargers recently placed a second-round tender on the restricted free agent, a sign of their believe in Inman's ability to contribute to their offense.

    Backup: Tyrell Williams

    NFL1000 Score: 68.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 37/155

    Tyrell Williams enters his third season in the NFL coming off a career year. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chargers in 2015 out of Western Oregon, Williams spent his rookie season primarily on the practice squad, appearing in four games and tallying two receptions. But after Allen and Stevie Johnson went down last year, Williams was pressed into action. He responded by appearing in all 16 games (starting 12), and he tallied 69 receptions for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Standing 6'4" and weighing 205 pounds, Williams is a prototypical X receiver in any offense. He is a talented route-runner, and his ability in this area was highlighted in this Scouting With Schofield video from Week 12 that touched upon Inman as well. He can run underneath routes such as slants with precise footwork, and he can beat the press at the line of scrimmage. But he can also execute deeper routes, as he did on a 21-yard touchdown reception against the Texans, running a post pattern using a dino stem to get separation on the break.

    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech), ArDarius Stewart (Alabama), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky)

Tight End

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Antonio Gates

    NFL1000 Score: 67.6/100

    NFL Position Ranking: 14/96

    A veteran of 14 NFL seasons, Antonio Gates may not be the dynamic playmaker he was earlier in his career, but he remains a solid cog in the Chargers offense. Appearing in 14 games with nine starts last season, he caught 53 passes for 548 yards and seven touchdowns. He is still a solid option for quarterback Phillip Rivers on third downs, and he's effective at running routes either from the wing or split to the outside. He can get separation underneath on option and crossing routes or on some deeper routes such as seam patterns and post routes.

    Additionally, Gates still has the ability to be a lead blocker at the point of attack in the Chargers' ground game. He can be counted on to deliver strong blocks whether on zone or gap plays, and he's particularly adept at slice blocks in split-zone designs. Gates turns 37 this summer and might not have many years left, but he is still a solid tight end for this offense.

    Backup: Hunter Henry

    NFL1000 Score: 65.5

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 22/96

    With Gates in the twilight of his career, the Chargers looked to find their tight end of the future in last year's draft. It seems as though they found him in Hunter Henry. The rookie from Arkansas appeared in 15 contests, starting 10, and caught 36 passes for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. Henry was an effective red-zone weapon for Los Angeles last season, as seven of his eight scoring plays went for fewer than 20 yards.

    Henry can be effective lined up anywhere on the field, which was on display in Week 15 against the Raiders. He caught a 20-yard pass on a slant route aligned from the wing early in the game, showing ability after the catch as well. He was also used on a mesh concept, running a crossing route from an inline alignment and getting separation against the underneath linebackers in coverage. His seven-yard touchdown reception in that game came on a red-zone post pattern, when he split wide to the outside and worked open on his pattern for the score.

    Another area where Henry showed some ability was as a blocker. Whether executing down blocks in power schemes or zone blocks on other designs, Henry was a willing and able blocker in the running game for the Chargers. His impressive rookie campaign is a good sign for L.A. moving forward.

    Backup: Sean McGrath

    NFL1000 Score: 58.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 86/96

    Veteran Sean McGrath returns as the third tight end on the roster, having served in that capacity for portions of the past two seasons. McGrath is a solid blocker when the Chargers are in short-yardage situations or using a three-tight-end formation. He's limited as a receiver, as evidenced by his 28 career receptions. He caught two passes for 25 yards in 2016.

    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Jake Butt (Michigan), Jordan Leggett (Clemson), Cole Hikutini (Louisville)

Left Tackle

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Russell Okung

    NFL1000 Score: 74.9

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 15/40

    Russell Okung will enter the 2017 season having started 88 career regular-season games, yet 2016 marked the first time in his seven-year career that Okung started all 16 games in a season. The Oklahoma State product has battled an array of foot injuries, which has limited his ability at times.

    When healthy, Okung is an adequate pass protector. When those lower leg ailments start to take their toll, however, he tends to go away from his technique, especially when he needs to suddenly stick his foot in the ground to change directions or abruptly anchor. The results have been less than ideal, as Okung allows too many pressures.

    By signing Okung to a four-year, $53 million contract with $25 million guaranteed, the Chargers did upgrade their left tackle spot, as he's a physical run-blocker who can succeed in both a gap or zone blocking scheme.

    Backup: Tyreek Burwell

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify 

    Tyreek Burwell was an undrafted free agent in 2015 who has bounced back and forth from the Chargers' practice squad and active roster.

    Burwell saw minimal game action in 2016 and is a developmental player with a great deal of upside that the Chargers seem to be excited about, especially because of his ability in pass protection.

    Backup: Tyler Johnstone

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Tyler Johnston was an undrafted free agent in 2016 and has battled knee injuries dating back to his time at University of Oregon. A healthy Johnston can provide quality depth at right or left tackle.

    Team Need: 0/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None. Could consider bringing camp competition with undrafted free agents

Right Tackle

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Joe Barksdale

    NFL1000 Score: 70.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 23/38

    Joe Barksdale is entering his seventh season in the NFL and his third with the Chargers. When Barksdale is on, he is a solid starting right tackle, but the lack of consistency throughout his career is frustrating. Barksdale surrendered nine sacks, seven hits and 32 pressures in 2016, and the numbers aren't indicative of how poorly he played.

    It bears watching who will emerge to compete with Barksdale. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Chargers looked to upgrade right tackle in the draft.

    Backup: Chris Hairston

    NFL1000 Score: 65.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 39/40 (Graded at LT)

    Chris Hairston saw significant action as a reserve right and left tackle for the Chargers in 2016, even starting five games. The Clemson product has limitations in every aspect of his game. The most glaring issue is his lack of play strength, which gets him into trouble in pass protection and as a run-blocker.

    Hairston figures to once again serve as veteran depth for the Chargers, as he has experience at both tackle slots.


    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Will Holden (Vanderbilt)

Offensive Guard

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Orlando Franklin

    NFL1000 Score: 70.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 32/78

    Assuming new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn runs similar concepts to what he did in Buffalo, we should see a lot more power and gap-heavy looks from the Bolts next season. However, that style doesn't fit their offensive personnel, as a team that didn't run much power last year. That makes it difficult to define this blocking scheme at the moment. Orlando Franklin would benefit from more gap looks, though. His physicality and play strength would thrive in a power-based scheme, and if he gets to the second level as a puller, he can wreak havoc there.

    Starter: Kenny Wiggins

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    A placeholder until the Chargers eventually draft a right guard, Kenny Wiggins currently fills the hole left by D.J. Fluker in the starting lineup. Wiggins is an adequate depth option, but the Chargers have to address this position early in the draft given their lack of options behind Wiggins.

    Backup: Donavon Clark

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    The Chargers' seventh-round pick from last year, Donavon Clark was banged up for almost all of the 2016 campaign. But if things fall his way and he stays healthy, he could be a sleeper to push for the starting right guard job if the Chargers leave it unaddressed.

    Team Need: 8/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), Dorian Johnson (Pitt)


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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power

    Starter: Matt Slauson

    NFL1000 Score: 68.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 24/38

    Matt Slauson is the prototypical serviceable starter at center. Given his experience in multiple schemes and even across positions, he should be able to handle this new schematic transition. And since the Chargers drafted his eventual replacement at center last year, they likely won't prioritize the position this time around.

    Starter: Max Tuerk

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Max Tuerk may not fit this new blocking scheme (depending on which way it goes), but he showed promise at USC, especially as a pass protector. He was banged up last year, but he could start at center this year if the draft doesn't go the way the Chargers want and Slauson has to move to guard.

    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Cameron Tom (Southern Miss), Jake Eldrenkamp (Washington)

Defensive End

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3

    Starter: Joey Bosa

    NFL1000 Score: 71.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 1/53

    After a holdout delayed Joey Bosa's rookie campaign, the Chargers gained a premier defensive talent when he hit the field. Bosa was athletic, strong, fast and supremely talented. He looked like a young J.J. Watt, and in only 11 starts, Bosa accumulated 10.5 sacks.


    Starter: Melvin Ingram

    NFL1000 Score: 75.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 3/65 (Graded at 3-4 OLB)

    The Chargers wisely used the franchise tag to retain Melvin Ingram, who is coming off another dominant season as an edge-rusher. He'll now make the switch from stand-up outside linebacker to defensive end, but the change should be no problem for a player with as much disruptive ability and overall versatility as Ingram.

    A former first-round pick of the Chargers, Ingram has blossomed into one of the league's best edge defenders over the last two years. His totals over the last 32 games: 18.5 sacks, 24 tackles for losses, seven forced fumbles and 11 passes defended. Ingram and Bosa make for a dominant edge duo, regardless of scheme.


    Backup: Jeremiah Attaochu

    NFL1000 Score: 66.0/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 39/65 (Graded at 3-4 OLB)

    Jeremiah Attaochu was never ever able to build off his encouraging 2015 season (six sacks) in 2016, largely thanks to ankle and foot injuries. He eventually ended up on injured reserve after tallying two sacks in eight games.

    When healthy, Attaochu brings burst and speed off the edge. He could embrace the team's switch to the 4-3 defense, as he spent time at Georgia Tech playing as a more traditional defensive end. A second-round pick in 2014, Attaochu is entering a contract year in 2017.

    Backup: Chris Landrum

    NFL1000 Score: 63.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 55/65 (Graded at 3-4 OLB)

    Mostly a special teams player during his rookie season, Chris Landrum flashed some pass-rushing ability when given the opportunity to play defensive snaps later in 2016. He's another player who could benefit from the scheme change. A collegiate standout, Landrum played primarily as a 4-3 defensive end at Jacksonville State.


    Backup: Tenny Palepoi

    NFL1000 Score: 63.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 25/53

    Despite not posting big numbers on the stat sheet, Tony Palepoi seemed to be disruptive and stood out for most of the past season. He should compete to be the primary backup in 2017.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Malik McDowell (Michigan State)

Defensive Tackle

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3


    Starter: Corey Liuget

    NFL1000 Score: 63.5/100

    NFL1000 Rank: 23/53 (Graded at 3-4 DE)

    For the first time in his career, Corey Liuget didn't record a single sack all year. Despite that, he still had good moments in his 16 starts. Liuget played 812 snaps for the Chargers defense and was solid against the run, though he lost a step as a pass-rusher.


    Backup: Brandon Mebane

    NFL1000 Score: 71.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 14/99

    Brandon Mebane was one of the best nose tackles in the league before he suffered a season-ending torn biceps in November. He's being reunited with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, as both spent time in Seattle, and he'll play the same role as a 0-technique and 1-technique. Assuming Mebane is back to 100 percent in 2017, he'll bring a dominant run-stuffing presence to the Chargers.


    Backup: Caraun Reid

    NFL1000 Score: 65.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 37/99

    Caraun Reid was a nice pickup for the Chargers last season. Unfortunately his campaign also ended early with a torn ACL in October. Reid teamed up with Mebane for one of the better run-stuffing duos in the league while they played together. Hopefully Reid can regain the form he had last year.


    Backup: Damion Square

    NFL1000 Score: 58.3

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 90/99

    Damion Square had an unspectacular 2016 season, but he did put together one dominant showing against the Browns in relief of Mebane. Even though his NFL1000 score from last year is poor, Square is a viable third defensive tackle. Adding Liuget to the defensive tackle rotation and getting Reid back will help alleviate some pressure from Square as a rotational player.

    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA), Caleb Brantley (Florida)

Outside Linebacker

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3

    Starter: Jatavis Brown

    NFL1000 Score: 72.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 18/65

    Prior to a knee injury that halted his rapid ascension, Jatavis Brown looked like one of the steals of the 2016 NFL draft. The Chargers began the season with Manti Te'o as a starter next to Denzel Perryman, but Te'o was routinely exploited as being an underwhelming athlete who relied solely on competitive toughness.

    Te'o suffered a season-ending torn Achilles, paving the way for Brown to get a shot at starting. He immediately proved to be an upgrade, showing above-average athleticism in coverage and the speed to be an aggressive run defender. With more time to develop the skills required, Brown could become a top-tier linebacker in a couple of years. He'll likely move outside in Gus Bradley's 4-3 defense.


    Starter: Kyle Emanuel

    NFL1000 Score: 66.1/100

    NFL1000 Rank: 38/65 (Graded at 3-4 OLB)

    Kyle Emanuel did a little bit of everything for the Chargers last season. He primarily played outside linebacker in the three-man front, but he also moved inside to help out when injuries devastated the inside linebackers later in the year.

    He was moderately effective at both spots. He could find outside linebacker in the 4-3 to be a good fit, especially considering his size (6'3", 250 lbs), hustle and experience dropping into coverage. His pass-rushing ability will be an added asset on passing downs. The former fifth-round pick is signed through the 2018 season.


    Team Need: 7/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Haason Reddick (Temple), Jarrad Davis (Florida), Ryan Anderson (Alabama)

Inside Linebacker

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3


    Starter: Denzel Perryman

    NFL1000 Score: 72.2/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 19/65

    Denzel Perryman is an underrated linebacker who should only improve with a clean bill of health. Like many of the Chargers, Perryman missed time in 2016 (four games). When on the field, he showed a versatility and enthusiasm that should excite the Chargers. Perryman does everything at a solid or better level and can rush the passer with consistency.

    Jatavis Brown is an excellent athlete playing linebacker, while Perryman is a well-rounded athlete and excellent technician. He has the thick frame (5'11", 240 lbs) that's ideal for a punishing linebacker, and he's a great complement to Brown. As a pair, Perryman and Brown can give the Chargers stability at inside linebacker for years.


    Backup: Joshua Perry

    NFL1000 Score: 68.0/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 45/65

    As a rookie, Joshua Perry didn't see the playing time that Brown earned, but he managed to get on the field toward the end of the season following a rash of injuries to the linebacker unit. Perry is developing and, if nothing else, offers excellent athleticism at special teams and both backup inside linebacker positions.

    He doesn't demonstrate the upper-body strength to get across blocks or maintain gap leverage, but he plays with maxed-out effort. He's an ideal backup.


    Team Need: 1/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None. The team could consider bringing in camp competition via undrafted free agents.


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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Scheme: Cover 1 and Cover 3


    Starter: Jason Verrett

    NFL1000 ScoreDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Jason Verrett didn't receive a grade last year due to missing the final 12 games with a torn ACL. He is one of the five most talented players at his position. But that doesn't mean much when he can't stay on the field. In his three years as a Charger, he's appeared in six, 14 and four games.

    For as talented as he is, at some point the Chargers need to realize they can't count on him. This could be the year they make that realization, as the draft is full of talent at corner. Verrett fits any scheme—no matter who is calling plays. It's his dependability that's in question.


    Starter: Casey Hayward

    NFL1000 Score: 72.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 8/133

    General manager Tom Telesco struck gold with the free-agent signing of Casey Hayward. Not in his wildest dreams did he think he'd be acquiring a top-10 corner. Hayward's ball skills from his rookie season showed up again in 2016, as he displayed what kind of player he can be when healthy.

    Hayward had a ridiculous 20 passes defended while leading the league in interceptions with seven, and he was up to the challenge of following No. 1 receivers all game. If Verrett can give the Chargers anywhere near the same type of performance they got from Hayward, the secondary can be scary.


    Nickel: Craig Mager

    NFL1000 Score: 55/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 130/133

    For some reason, the Chargers continued to march Craig Mager out there last year, and to nobody's surprise, he continued to fail. Mager is a good athlete but has zero feel in coverage. His awareness and instincts are sorely lacking, and for the fans' sake, let's hope the Mager experience is over. He's best suited as a special teamer, at best.


    Team Need: 7/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), Kevin King (Washington), Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado), Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)

Free Safety

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Scheme: Cover 3


    Starter: Dwight Lowery

    NFL1000 Score: 72.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 15/50

    The Chargers will be pleased with what they have in Dwight Lowery at free safety. He was a consistent presence in the secondary and had some outstanding performances while matching up in man coverage against some of the better tight ends in the NFL.

    With new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley expected to install his version of the Seahawks and Falcons Cover 3 scheme, Lowery might be in for a slight adjustment to his role. In Bradley's scheme, the free safety plays the deep middle third almost exclusively. While Lowery can perform in that role, he might be better suited in underneath zones and to be put in position to match up in man coverage when needed.

    Moving him to strong safety could be a good option for the Chargers if they can find a free safety in the draft.


    Backup: Dexter McCoil

    NFL1000 Score: 71.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 18/50

    Dexter McCoil saw plenty of reps early in the season, splitting time at both free and strong safety. While he was beaten on occasion, he displayed good range and recovery ability to get back and stay on top of deep routes. But he saw a downturn in performance toward the middle of the campaign and was benched when Jahleel Addae came back from a broken clavicle.

    At 6'4", McCoil is huge for a safety, something that might intrigue Bradley and tempt him to try McCoil closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety in the Kam Chancellor role.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Malik Hooker (Ohio State), Marcus Williams (Utah), John Johnson (Boston College), Tedric Thompson (Colorado)   

Strong Safety

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Scheme: Cover 3


    Starter: Jahleel Addae

    NFL1000 Score: 71.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 29/53

    Jahleel Addae suffered a broken clavicle early in the season that kept him out for half the campaign. Once he returned, he was inconsistent, which perhaps could be attributed to his being rusty. When at his best, Addae was a presence in the box, making highlight-reel hits against the run and playing good underneath zone defense.

    But when asked to do much more than that, he struggled. Fortunately, Gus Bradley's Cover 3 scheme restricts the strong safety role to mostly underneath zone coverages to keep him in the box as an extra run defender. That should suit Addae, who managed to provide a spark when given similar assignments late in the season.


    Backup: Adrian Phillips

    NFL1000 Score: 67.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 52/53

    Adrian Phillips struggled last season, ranking as the second-worst qualified strong safety. His biggest problems were run fits and tackling. Too often he was out of position against the run, and when he was given the opportunity to make a play, he would miss the tackle.

    At 25, Phillips is still young enough to develop, and he has done well to work his way up and earn playing time after going undrafted in 2014. But he shouldn't be anything more than a backup at this point.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Jamal Adams (LSU), Josh Jones (NC State), Josh Harvey-Clemons (Louisville)  


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    Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Starter: Josh Lambo

    NFL1000 Score: 66.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 24/34

    Second-year kicker Josh Lambo started the season strongly, making 17 out of 18 field goals in his first seven games. However, the next nine contests saw Lambo miss five field goals and three extra points. His 2016 accuracy of 81.3 percent was roughly three percentage points below the league-average mark and mirrored his performance from his rookie year. In particular, Lambo struggled from 50-plus yards, going 0-of-3 after going 4-of-5 in 2015—so the regression was significant.

    Lambo's mechanics in the first half of the year showed great repetition, but when things went south for him, he did not display the ability to identify and correct his flaws as quickly as you would like to see from an NFL kicker. Struggles will happen with everyone, but it is the pace of adjustment and return to baseline that is important in producing consistent results.

    Lambo needs to show improvement in this facet of his game in order to maintain a spot on an NFL roster, as he has a talented leg and the raw ability to be an above-average kicker. He may face some competition in camp but is still the favorite to start the year as the Chargers' kicker.


    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None


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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Punter: Drew Kaser

    NFL1000 Score: 61.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 32/34

    Drew Kaser's hype level heading into the 2016 season was among the highest ever seen for a punter. He had an outstanding career at Texas A&M and played incredibly well during the preseason, consistently displaying a big leg and the ability to control the ball both laterally and in terms of distance.

    Unfortunately, Kaser's 2016 season was disappointing, as he struggled out of the gate. His focus seemingly drifted in the early part of the campaign. The low point was a Week 5 debacle in which he posted the lowest one-week score of any NFL punter, coming in at 44 out of 100. Kaser did seem to turn things around in the last several weeks of the year, posting two of his best outings in Weeks 15 and 16, before turning in another competent performance in Week 17.

    Kaser has all the talent in the world and seems to be on the verge of putting it together. It's hard to see the Chargers giving up on him after just a season, especially on a cheap deal, so he is the likely Week 1 starter in 2017. But if his performance looks anything like last year's, he will likely be on his way out of Los Angeles.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None


    Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.


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