With Chargers CEO Dean Spanos making the franchise move to Los Angeles official earlier this month, it’s time to focus on the NFL Draft. After all, with all of the negative press he has received since announcing the move, the quickest way to silence the critics and establish a fan base is to win — and to win immediately.
And the best way to build a winning franchise is through the draft. Coming off a successful draft last year in which three rookies — DE Joey Bosa, ILB Jatavis Brown and TE under Henry — were named to the All-Rookie team by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA), with Bosa named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, General Manager Tom Telesco and the front office have their work cut out for them. The faster you put a winning product on the field, the faster a fan base is established and tickets get sold in a city that doesn’t want your franchise.
Finishing a disappointing 5-11 last season, there are a number of areas the team needs to upgrade — namely the offensive line, wide receiver and safety positions. In this issue we will concentrate on the safety position where most analysts agree one of the top three impact safeties will be available when the Chargers pick at No. 7.
According to the various scouting websites, Jamal Adams, Jabrill Peppers and Malik Hooker are the top safety prospects coming out this year. Here is a look at each player with a quote from various draft analysts.
Jamal Adams, 6-foot, 211-pounds, LSU
ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay rank Adams No. 6 and No. 4 overall respectively on their big boards. Many mock drafts have Adams being the first safety off the board and not falling to the Chargers. Prior to the draft order being set, John Gworek (Athlons) had Adams going to the Chargers in his first mock draft. Scouts Inc. ranks No. 6.
Gworek: “The Chargers have forced a ton of turnovers this season, masking the fact that they give up a ton of yards in the passing game. Adams can fill the hole left when Eric Weddle left in free agency.”
Kiper: “Adams was a huge part of LSU’s defensive success, even if it doesn’t show on the stat sheet (one interception, one sack, one forced fumble). He has great bloodlines — his dad, George Adams, was the No. 19 overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft. He is built for today’s NFL as a versatile safety who can play in the box effectively, make tackles against the run and move to the edges and track slot receivers.”
McShay: “Adams is one of the most complete players in this class. He’s is a true difference-maker as an in-the-box defender, racking up 7.0 tackles for loss in his past seven games. Even though he has room to improve his technique in coverage, Adams has shown his ceiling in that area on multiple occasions. He has an excellent blend of size, length and athleticism, and it shows up on tape.”
Jabrill Peppers, 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pounds, Michigan
Ranked No. 8 on both Kiper and McShay’s player rankings and No. 12 by Scouts Inc., Peppers is seen as a ‘tweener’ because his versatility. At Michigan Peppers played safety, linebacker, running back and punt returner — and he was productive at each position. Many pro scouts project him as a hybrid who could rotate between safety and linebacker depending on the team he goes to and the scheme it runs.
Kiper: “Peppers, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting, was the best prospect on one of the best defenses in the country. At 6-0, 210 pounds, he is a tweener without a set position in the NFL, as I wrote in December. His potential is as an in-the-box safety or linebacker who helps in run support and goes out and covers receivers and tight ends, but he’s not for everybody; not every team will give him a high grade. I expect him to test off the charts at the NFL combine. He’s a special athlete.”
McShay: “Peppers is a polarizing player because it’s a little tricky to find him a true position, but I see him as a great fit for the modern NFL. He has the speed and athleticism to thrive in space and the toughness to play bigger than his 205-pound frame. Think of Peppers as a hybrid player at the next level — a Deone Bucannon-type — who can help your team in a lot of ways (he finished the regular season with 15.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven QB hurries, three rushing TDs and one punt-return TD). The biggest concern for me is his lack of ball production at Michigan (he has only one career interception).”
Malik Hooker, 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pounds, Ohio St
NFL analysts Daniel Jeremiah, Chad Reuter and CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and Dane Brugler, DraftSite’s D.J. Boyer and Fansided’s Dan Schmelzer have the Chargers taking Hooker once they are on the clock. Scouts Inc. ranks Hooker No. 6 overall; Kiper and McShay rank Hooker No. 14 and No. 11, respectively.
Jeremiah: “With the best ball skills of any safety I’ve ever evaluated, Hooker would benefit from the pass rush led by Joey Bosa. If Jason Verrett comes back healthy, this could become one of the best secondaries in the NFL.”
Schmelzer: “Hooker only started for one season at Ohio State, but oh, what a year it was. Hooker piled up 74 total tackles, including 5.5 for loss and seven interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. He is an elite-coverage safety who shows ridiculous range on the back-end. Hooker is an incredibly fast and athletic player who shows insane natural ball skills. If the ball is in the air, Hooker is a threat to make a play on it.”
The Endzone: According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers’ defensive front seven finished the season ranked No. 14 overall, one spot ahead of the Oakland Raiders. PFF gave the top overall grade to Joey Bosa (89.9) while giving its lowest overall grade to Corey Liuget (49.3), stating: “No team in the NFL had a more productive edge duo than Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram this past year, as they finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at the position. Outside of that pair, however, there was not much to speak of whatsoever. Nose tackle Brandon Mebane had a career resurgence, but only managed 340 snaps, as he was lost for the season in Week 10. Corey Liuget didn’t manage a sack all season on 495 pass rushes, the most for any such player in the NFL.”