The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Los Angeles Chargers 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (13)
Round 2 (47)
Round 3 (77)
Round 3 (97)
Round 4 (118)
Round 5 (159)
Round 6 (185)
Round 6 (198)
Round 7 (241)
Los Angeles Chargers Offense
By Rich Hribar
Right after losing a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers last offseason, the Chargers did not waste any time finding their next long-term passer as Justin Herbert crushed his immediate expectations. After being pressed into the starting role by accident in Week 2, Herbert then set a rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns, completing 66.6% of his passes with 10.9 yards per completion. Herbert did all that while being placed in an unfriendly passing climate. Last year’s staff had him throw just 35.1% of his passes on first down (which was 39th in the league) while Herbert led the NFL with 253 pass attempts on second-fourth down with seven or more yards to go, which was 42.5% of his passes (second-highest in the league behind Jimmy Garoppolo).
Behind Herbert, the Chargers added journeyman and life-time career -earnings savant Chase Daniel on a one-year deal while Easton Stick still has two years remaining on his rookie deal.
No team used their backfield more in 2020 than the Chargers (see above) as their backs combined to average 33.3 touches per game, the most in the league despite ranking 23rd in yards per touch (4.7 yards) as a group.
After signing Austin Ekeler to an offseason contract extension through 2023, Ekeler missed six games due to a hamstring injury, but when on the field he averaged a career-high 17.0 touches per game for 93.3 yards per game. The only bugaboo for Ekeler joining the top of the dual-usage backs is that he still only had two total carries inside of the 5-yard line, giving away those carries to the likes of Kalen Ballage and Joshua Kelley. We will see if this new regime uses him near the goal line moving forward, but Ekeler is locked in at the top of the depth chart.
Fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley handled 134 touches in his first season, but averaged just 3.7 yards per touch and lost time as the season wore on to Ballage, playing 19 snaps or fewer in his final six games active on the season.
The team still has Justin Jackson in the mix, but Jackson is in the final season of his rookie contract and has been active for just 29 games over his first three years in the league. Running back is not a pressing need here, but a day three selection could be added for depth.
Last offseason, the Chargers rewarded Keenan Allen with a contract extension through 2024 and he continued to deliver. With 100, 104, 97, and 102 receptions over his past four seasons, only Michael Thomas (418) and DeAndre Hopkins (430) have more catches than Allen over that span. Allen scored eight touchdowns (his most since his rookie season) while averaging 12.2 targets per game (28.6% of the team total) in his 11 full games played with Justin Herbert. The only red flag for Allen is that his yards per reception dropped to a career-low 9.9 in 2020 and has declined from the season prior in three straight seasons.
Mike Williams will play 2020 under the fifth-year option that was picked up by the team last offseason and make nearly an identical salary to Allen this season. Williams has yet to clear 90 targets in an NFL season, but has been limited by Allen being such a target magnet. In the four games that Allen has outright missed or forced from early over Williams’s career, Williams has had games of 7-76-2, 5-109-2, 4-40-0, and 6-108-1 on 25% of the team’s targets in those games.
Both Jalen Guyton (18.3 yards per catch) and Tyron Johnson (19.9 yards per catch) flashed upside last season when called upon, but both are also in the final seasons of their contracts. Guyton is a restricted free agent after the season while Johnson is an exclusive rights free agent. The team has 2020 draft picks Joe Reed and K.J. Hill on rookie deals.
2021 is not overly pressing for receiver help, but with Williams, Guyton, and Johnson all on the final season of their rookie deals, the Chargers still could use more weaponry to add the fold here for the future with Herbert.
After losing Hunter Henry early in free agency, the Chargers added Cook to the fold in part to replace him on a one-year contract. Cook will turn 34 years old this April coming off a 37-504-7 campaign in 2020 in 15 games played. After never posting a season with more than six touchdowns, Cook caught nine and seven scores over the past two seasons while compiling 15.1 yards per catch. Hunter Henry averaged a career-low 6.6 yards per target and caught a career-low 64.5% of those targets despite Justin Herbert’s impressive rookie campaign while in the apex of his career.
The team has Donald Parham in the fold as well. The 6’8”, 237-poound tight end will only be 24 years old this August while he played 80.7% (2-45-0) and 52.1% (3-37-1) in the final two games of the season with Henry sidelined. Parham is an exclusive rights free agent after the season as the Chargers do not currently have any tight end signed for 2022, meaning that contractual depth and competition should be added here.
LT: Trey Pipkins
LG: Matt Feiler*/Tyree St. Louis
C: Corey Linsley*/Scott Quessenberry
RG: Oday Aboushi/Nathan Gilliam
RT: Bryan Bulaga
Offensive line continued to be a long-running problem for the Chargers in 2020 as they finished 31st in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (47%) and dead last in their Run Block Win Rate (67%) metrics. Per Pro Football Focus, they graded out 30th as a team in pass blocking and 32nd in run blocking grade.
The Chargers had just three offensive linemen (Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, and Sam Tevi) play more than 10 games last season as those three players were the only offensive linemen to play more than 50% of the team snaps. All three were subpar options at their position and are no longer with the team.
They then immediately addressed the needs here by shelling out big money for center Corey Linsley, poaching another Green Bay offensive lineman for the second consecutive offseason. Linsley ranked fifth among centers in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate and first by Run Block Win Rate. He was also first in Pass Block Win Rate in 2019. That would be a massive upgrade over Feeney, who was 31st in Pass Block Win Rate and the worst center by Run Block Win Rate last season.
The team also went out and added the versatile Matt Feiler, who has experience playing tackle and guard. Feiler played left guard full-time in 2020 for the Steelers after playing two years at right tackle 2018-2019. The team also added veteran backup Oday Aboushi as depth to compete at right guard.
With those additions, the Chargers have three solid offensive linemen in Bryan Bulaga, Linsley, and Feiler, but still have needs at left tackle and right guard.
Los Angeles Chargers Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
The Chargers brought Linval Joseph in on a two-year deal last offseason and the veteran defensive tackle was an effective run stopper in the middle of the line for 70% of the defensive snaps. He was often lined up next to Jerry Tillery, who has yet to live up to his draft status of a first-round pick, but did rank 23rd among defensive tackles in pressure rate last season.
2018 second-round pick Justin Jones was also on the field for 51% of the defensive snaps in 2020. Jones had five tackles for loss in 2020 as a good run stopper. The structure of the defense is likely to change a bit from the previous coaching staff, and while lines are certainly blurred more than even between 3-4/4-3 but it will likely mean more traditional two-man interior looks, which should allow the Chargers to rotate their top three players more to keep them fresh.
When Joey Bosa is on the field, he’s easily one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The problem has been keeping him on the field. Bosa has played 16 games just twice in his five-year career and played ion 12 games last season. But to the on-field point, he was sixth in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate and 17th in pressure rate among edge rushers, per SIS.
With Melvin Ingram still a free agent, the No. 2 pass rusher is currently 2018 second-round pick Uchenna Nwosu. Nwosu has flashed when he’s been on the field, but his career-high in snaps played is 37%. He played 34% last season. But in that limited time, he ranked 16th in pressure rate among edge rushers. As a second-round pick, he’ll be on the final year of his rookie deal.
Kyler Fackrell was signed as cheap depth. He’s been able to make an impact as a part-time player in previous spots with the Giants and Packers.
The Chargers used a first-round pick on Kenneth Murray last season and there were some predictable ups and downs with the rookie in the middle of the defense. 52.8% of Murray’s tackles came before a first down was gained, which was the 12th-highest rate among 59 linebackers with at least 40 tackles. But few of those came behind the line of scrimmage, his 3.7% tackle for loss rate was 54th among the group. Murray also ranked 56th of 59 linebackers by yards allowed per target in coverage.
Kyzir White played 52% of the defensive snaps last season. He was a little better by yards allowed per target, but he was targeted more often, so was one of the worst linebackers by yards allowed per coverage snap.
Drue Tranquill was a plus coverage defender in college and the 2019 fourth-round pick was expected to play a bigger part in the 2020 defense but he was lost for the season during the first game of the season.
Chris Harris Jr.
The Chargers have reworked some of the cornerback group over the past few seasons. Casey Hayward is gone, which opens up the door for some of the part-time contributors to play bigger roles. The big veteran add last season was Chris Harris Jr. Harris stuck to the slot and ranked 66th among 148 cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap.
Michel Davis played 92.4% of the defensive snaps and ranked 79th — just below average — among that group of cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. Davis signed a three-year extension with the Chargers this season and will continue his role as the starting outside corner.
Tevaughn Campbell played 31.3% of the defensive snaps after bouncing on and off the Chargers’ practice squad throughout the 2019 season. He held up surprisingly well for a player seeing his first NFL action — he ranked 36th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap over that limited playing time — but it was not a tongue debut. Campbell will turn 28 years old in June. Campbell was born in Canada and played in the CFL from 2015-2018.
Brandon Facyson only got on the field for 5% of the defensive snaps in 2020 after seeing 34% of the snaps in 2019.
Derwin James is a star who hasn’t been able to stay healthy. James was an All-Pro as a rookie but lasted just five games in 2019 and missed all of 2020. James could be a bigger star in a Brandon Staley defense and could specifically play a star position similar to how Jalen Ramsey was used early in the 2020 season as a middle-of-the-field and slot defender.
There are depth questions behind him. Nasir Adderly played the single-high deep safety in 2020. But given how Staley favored an excelled in two-high looks, there’s going to be more added — especially if James has more responsibilities won’t always be one of those deep safeties.