The Chargers have a great defense, but their one area of weakness is in the interior of the defensive line. Corey Liuget is a talented interior pass-rusher, but the Chargers lack a monstrous run-stuffing presence. That would change with this selection.
Da'Ron Payne is a great athlete for his position, as few man can do what he's able to at his size. He could easily be chosen in the top 15, so this is a solid value pick.
*** OTHER 2018 NFL DRAFT POSSIBILITIES: ***
1. Vita Vea, NT - The other top-end nose tackle is an option at this juncture as well.
2. Leighton Vander Esch, LB - I've had Vander Esch slotted here before, and I still think he makes sense for a Charger team that needs an upgrade at linebacker.
If the top safeties are gone, I could see the Chargers taking Allen. They hosted him on a visit, and I think he makes sense as a versatile defender for Gus Bradley's 4-3 scheme. On top of that, the organization could save money by moving on from Corey Liuget in 2018, and the veteran had zero sacks last season, which only continued his downward trend of fewer sacks every year over the past four seasons. Allen could play as a five-technique defensive end or a three-technique tackle for Bradley. Allen would give the Chargers an interior pass rush to pair with Joey Bosa for many years to come. Thus, I think Allen is a good fit for the new team in Los Angeles.
In 2016, Allen totaled 62 tackles, 15 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, two passes batted and one interception returned 75 yards for a touchdown. He dominated at the point of attack all year and was very disruptive. Consistently, Allen used his speed and strength to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. He is a tough run defender, yet can also beat guards or tackles in the pass rush.
Allen played really well in 2015 with 36 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes batted. He totaled 33 tackles with 11.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks the year before.
In a 4-3 scheme, the 6-foot-3, 286-pounder could play three-technique defensive tackle, like Aaron Donald, or be an end who moves inside in passing situations. Allen rushed from the inside for Alabama, yet also could serve as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Allen has some natural pass-rushing skills to him along with quickness and strength. He is very fast at the point of attack with the power to shed blocks.
Rd. 2, Pk. 2
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
The Chargers could use a safety upgrade, and Peppers could be a nice value in the second round.
Peppers had a good 2016 season for Michigan with 72 tackles, 16 for a loss, four sacks, one interception, zero pass breakups and one forced fumble. He was electric on special teams and especially phenomenal on punt returns, taking one for a touchdown. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder was excellent as a sophomore in 2015, recording 45 tackles with 10 passes broken up and zero interceptions.
Sources say they see Peppers (5-11, 213) as a hybrid safety/linebacker in the NFL. He has the athletic skill set to play pass coverage, but often can be caught flat-footed. His ball skills aren't special either, as he made just one interception in his collegiate career, which was from catching a tipped pass. Thus, some sources think Peppers would fit best as a safety in the middle of the field. That would allow him to make plays off his instincts, and he could be a weapon in pass coverage on tight ends, blitzing quarterbacks, playing zone, and defending the run. There is no doubt that Peppers has a ton of athletic upside. He could play safety and dime linebacker, similar to Deone Bucannon. Peppers should also be used on special teams as he is a dangerous weapon there.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
The Chargers could use more offensive line talent. Garcia could compete at guard or tackle.
Garcia (6-6, 302) flashed a good physical skill set at the Senior Bowl, but some team sources say there are some developmental issues with Garcia that cause them to have him as a mid-rounder. He possesses the size to be a left or right tackle in the NFL. Garcia broke into the starting lineup at left tackle as a redshirt freshman and locked down the spot for the rest of his college career, minus an injury-shortened 2013 season.
Rd. 4, Pk. 4
Carl Lawson, DE/3-4OLB, Auburn
The Chargers could take some defensive end depth with Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu entering free agency next year.
Lawson totaled 30 tackles with 12.5 for a loss, nine sacks and one forced fumble in 2016. In 2015, he seemed to give Laremy Tunsil more trouble than Myles Garrett did. If Lawson hadn't missed half of that season with an injury, he could have had a huge year. He totaled 17 tackles and one sack in his seven games. Lawson missed all of the 2014 season, and as a freshman, he had 20 tackles with four sacks.
Lawson is fast off the edge with some natural strength to fight blockers. The 6-foot-2, 261-pounder has a lot of upside, but his lack of durability is a huge negative. He has the talent to be a first-rounder, but his health is a big question mark.
Rd. 5, Pk. 5
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
The Chargers grab a backup quarterback to develop.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Sean Culkin, TE, Missouri
The Chargers grab a sleeper tight end who could be a steal.
Rd. 7, Pk. 7
Cameron Tom, C, Southern Mississippi
The Chargers grab some center depth and have demonstrated an interest in Tom.
Per sources with Los Angeles, the Chargers preferences are for a safety or a defensive tackle, and the only question is if quality prospects at those positions get to their pick. If Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James gets to Los Angeles, either would be a no-brainer, and I think the team would be thrilled to take one of those safeties. The Chargers also could use a defensive tackle run stuffer, and Payne would be superb next to Joey Bosa. <br> <br>
Payne dominated at the point of attack in 2017, stuffing runs while showcasing his freakish speed and athleticism. On the year, he totaled 53 tackles, two half-sacks, three passes batted, an interception and a touchdown reception. I heard general managers and scouts raving about Payne all season. <br> <br>
Scouts were already raving about Payne's potential in the preseason. He was the Crimson Tide's best defensive lineman in 2017, following Jonathan Allen's moving on to the NFL. Payne (6-2, 311) is a run plugger with a lot of potential to grow. When given the opportunity to rush the passer in 2016 and 2017, Payne was impressive, and sources have said that he helped set up sacks for numerous Alabama defenders, including Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and Rashaan Evans, over the previous two seasons.
General manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn have assembled a playoffs caliber roster, despite not appearing in the postseason during either of their tenures and as a franchise not since 2013. The Chargers have elite playmakers on the roster in Joey Bosa, Melvin Gordon, Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen, Casey Hayward, and Phillip Rivers. They possess the ability to spread the ball around aerially or run the ball down your throat, all while consistent rushing the passer on defense. The biggest area of weakness on the team that was exposed during the 2017 campaign was their ability to stop the run. The team has holes defensive tackle, linebacker and safety after letting long-term safety Eric Weddle leave in free agency.
The Bolts have several different options they can go with these needs with players like linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, safeties Ronnie Harrison and Justin Reid, and defensive tackles Vita Vea and DaRon Payne available. The biggest difference between the positions available is that defensive tackle is the only one without a player selected yet during the draft, allowing the team to pick their highest rated player at the position. Fortunately for them, Los Angeles can target a top ten talent in Vea who excels in stopping the run. Vea is an athletic freak, running a 5.01 40 yard dash and recording 44 reps on the bench at the NFL combine. He weighs in at 345 pounds, and his massive frame and quick feet should help eat up offensive lineup, clog running holes, and ease pressure on talented ends Bosa and Ingram. Vea has even shown ability to rush the passer himself during college with 5.5 and 3.5 sacks in 2016 and 2017, respectively. If Los Angeles can finally stay healthy during the 2018 season, look for them to make the playoffs as a wild card.
I make this pick with a lot of trepidation; I have seemingly given Los Angeles and/or San Diego a first round OL in nearly every draft, yet they seem adamant to not go that way. Perhaps DJ Fluker burned them that bad, but I swear I've slotted Xavier S'ua Filo, Andrus Peat, Ronnie Stanley and a trade up for Ryan Ramczyk in recent years.
Clearly, I'm wrong, because...well, in those 4 years, they drafted 3 Pro-Bowlers. Either way, the offensive line in Los Angeles is now starting to suffer. Having a healthy Forrest Lamp will certainly add a solid dynamic, but finding a long-term replacement for Okung and Barksdale will help lengthen the twilight of Philip Rivers' career. I actually see McGlinchey as a lot better than most, and if not for what Brown offers on his size and potential, I think McGlinchey would be the top OT in the class.
The Chargers have some needs on defense. They still haven't adequately replaced Eric Weddle and have seen Corey Liuget's sack totals decline over the past four seasons, including zero in 2016. I think Los Angeles may end up regretting passing on Malik Hooker and Jonathan Allen with the seventh pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here's a safety to lead the back end. <br> <br>
In 2017, James has 23 tackles with four passes batted. While he didn't have flawless performances against Alabama and N.C. State this season, they were impressive overall. James was healthy and able to display his great instincts and rare combination of great size, speed, physicality and versatility. He played dime linebacker, nickel corner, free safety and strong safety, basically doing everything a coach could ask of him. <br> <br>
James totaled 11 tackles and an interception through two games in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. He had been playing well for Florida State. Entering last season, there was a lot of hype that James was an elite player and perhaps the best defensive player in college football. As a freshman in 2015, he had a strong debut with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles, but zero interceptions. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder has a great athletic skill set with tremendous speed, instincts, and strength to hit. He shows the ability to do everything an NFL safety is needed to do. James is fast and long with coverage skills in the deep middle of the field. He also is strong enough to be the eighth man in the box and tackle.
TRADE - Los Angeles trades 2018 1st + 2018 3rd to Miami Dolphins. Miami really doesn't have an incentive to keep this pick because they have so many difficult decisions to make this offseason, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Chargers on the other hand are suddenly positioning themselves for one final rodeo with Phillip Rivers, and for that, I think protecting their star QB will be the key. Brown may not be the best OT prospect in this draft, but he is by far the most intriguing; with a fully tooled OL, the Chargers will at least get an opportunity at winning the Bolo-Tie Bandalero a ring.