Los Angeles Chargers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern – Round 1
I think the Chargers made a mistake in taking Slater over USC tackle/guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood. Around the NFL, many other teams had Vera-Tucker graded higher than Slater because Vera-Tucker is bigger and plays longer. Leatherwood was a natural left tackle at Alabama who also started at right tackle and guard. He has more size and length to be an edge blocker in the NFL.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Slater is very undersized for left tackle, and some teams had Slater graded in the second round because they project him to guard or center as a pro. Los Angeles believes he can remain at left tackle, but I think he is safe pick to be a solid starter because he could move to guard or center if playing left tackle doesn’t work out.

As a pass blocker, Slater is a smooth mover who has shocking speed. Slater quickly gets to the next level by firing out of his stance with an explosive burst. Thanks to his quick feet and agility, Slater is able to stay square on speed rushers and neutralize them from running around the edge. Slater’s athleticism enables him to be a natural knee bender who does not have to reach after edge rushers because his feet and bending get him in proper position. In pass blocking, Slater has good hand placement and is able to sustain his blocks thanks to his functional strength to tie up defenders.

Slater also makes an impact as a run blocker when firing to the second level. He is dynamic for getting to linebackers off the snap along with peeling off defensive linemen and then hitting a linebacker to help open a hole. With his speed, athleticism, and ability to play in space, Slater is a great fit for a zone-blocking scheme. While he has some functional strength, Slater is limited and is not a true bull who can overpower defenders at the line of scrimmage. He fights, but he is not a people mover who can drive defenders backward off the ball.

Slater can have problems with length and strength on the edge, where long defenders are able to keep him at a distance, which gives them the space to run free. With his smaller build, strong defenders can get Slater rolling backward somewhat in bull rushes. He even gets stood up without issue sometimes.

There are currently only two NFL left tackles who are similarly sized to Slater, the Patriots’ Isaiah Wynn and veteran journeyman Kelvin Beachum. Wynn has been injured a lot, perhaps in part from being undersized, while Beachum has played a lot of guard and right tackle as a pro. That leaves me skeptical Slater can remain at left tackle for his career, but I think he would be a solid starter at guard or center if he is forced to move there.

2020: Justin Herbert, QB
2019: Nasir Adderley, S
2018: Justin Jones, DT
2017: Forrest Lamp, G
2016: Hunter Henry, TE
2015: Denzel Perryman, LB
2014: Jason Verrett, CB
2013: Manti Te’o, LB

Most Likely To Bust

Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State – Round 2
Samuel was a quality cornerback for the Seminoles, but he has skill-set limitations for the NFL. The 5-foot-10, 184-pounder is small and is simply not fast. He does not have a short-area burst and lacks long speed. In the NFL, Samuel is going to be challenged to run with receivers vertically downfield. Samuel’s size hurts him as well because he can get bumped and “out-physicaled” by bigger receivers. Tall receivers are able to make catches over Samuel with ease, and he offers the offense a size mismatch – see the Florida-State Notre Dame game last year. Samuel also can get handsy in downfield coverage at times, and he was often flagged for penalties. While he ran fast in his pro day 40, he did not play up to that speed in college.

While Samuel projects as a starting slot cornerback, the Chargers are going to have a hard time hiding his size. NFL teams will line up big receivers in the slot and utilize sets featuring a trio of larger wideouts. Hence. Samuel will not have the luxury of going up against only the traditional slot receiver of a smaller shifty wideout. Of Los Angeles’ early-round picks, Samuel looked like the riskiest in terms of bust potential.

2020: Joe Reed, WR
2019: Trey Pipkins, OT
2018: Uchenna Nwosu, LB
2017: Dan Feeney, G
2016: Max Tuerk, C
2015: Craig Mager, CB
2014: Chris Watt, G
2013: D.J. Fluker, OT

Potential Boom Pick

Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia – Round 3
The Chargers lost Hunter Henry in free agency, and they brought in veteran Jared Cook as a stop-gap. Los Angeles grabbed one of the potential steals of the 2021 NFL Draft by landing McKitty, who could be a mismatch weapon and valuable receiving tight end in the NFL.

McKitty (6-4, 247) could be a real mismatch problem for pro defenses. He is a good athlete who has the speed to generate separation from coverage. He shows a nice burst out of his breaks to create space from defenders and get open for his quarterback. McKitty has nice twitch for a tight end of his size and second-gear quickness. He does a nice job of working the middle seam, slants, and is capable near the edge of the field. With his surprising speed, he can challenge defenses vertically running down the seam or along the sideline.

As a receiver, McKitty could stand to get more consistent as a route-runner and run crisper routes. He can round off some routes and take extra steps, but that is something he can improve with pro coaching. Another point of improvement is he will need to work on getting off jams and using his size to push defenders away when they initiate contact in his routes. McKitty will allow himself to get tied up and rerouted even though he has a size advantage, so getting more aggressive and physical with defensive backs will make him an even more dangerous receiver.

After the catch McKitty shows nice running ability to dart downfield and uses his strength to power through defensive backs to finish runs well with some extra yardage after contact. In the NFL, McKitty should be a valuable player in the red zone with his receiving ability and being capable of contributing as a blocker.

As a blocker McKitty contributes and willing to throw his body into defenders. He could stand to get stronger to sustain his blocks and improve his hand placement to tie up defenders rather just throwing his torso into them. McKitty blocks, but getting more aggressive in this phase would help at the pro level.

Before long McKitty could emerge as the long-term starter and a dangerous receiving tight end for Justin Herbert. I think McKitty has boom pick potential for Los Angeles.

2020: Kenneth Murray, LB
2019: Jerry Tillery, DT
2018: Derwin James, S
2017: Mike Williams, WR
2016: Joey Bosa, DE
2015: Melvin Gordon, RB
2014: Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB
2013: Keenan Allen, WR

Future Depth Player

Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee – Round 3
The Chargers could use some wide receiver depth behind starters Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. Palmer was held back by inconsistent quarterback play at Tennessee, but he has a good skill set with size, speed, and athleticism. At the very least he should be a quality third receiver that could fill in well if a starter is injured. Los Angeles has a wide open competition with a lot of young players behind their starters. With a third-round pick investment, Palmer could be ahead of the competition. Before long he could turn into a nice depth receiver for Los Angeles.

2020: Joshua Kelley, RB
2019: Drue Tranquill, LB
2018: Kyzir White, S
2017: Desmond King, S
2016: Joshua Perry, LB
2015: Darius Philon, DT
2014: Marion Grice, RB
2013: Steve Williams, CB

Walt’s 2021 NFL Draft Grades:

13. Rashawn Slater, OT/G/C, Northwestern – A- Grade
I’m all for improving the offensive line, especially when the quarterback is very young. The Chargers did a good job of this earlier in the offseason, but they weren’t done. They needed a left tackle, and Rashawn Slater seems like a great fit. The one concern teams had with Slater is his lacking length. Some teams believed he would have to play guard or center. That said, plenty of successful tackles have had Slater’s issue, so I’m in the camp that he can succeed at the position.

47. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State – C Grade
The Chargers lost Casey Hayward this offseason, so they had to replace him. However, I think this is a bit high for Asante Samuel Jr. He’s short and slow, which is not a good combination for an NFL cornerback. I think this is a bit early for him, but I don’t hate the pick.

77. Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee – D Grade
Not a fan. The Chargers are making a reach here with Josh Palmer, who I had pegged in the fifth or sixth round. Palmer is a big receiver, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to separate from NFL cornerbacks.

97. Tre McKitty, TE, Georgia – A- Grade
I mocked Tre McKitty to the Chargers in this spot, so I think this pick makes so much sense. The Chargers lost Hunter Henry in free agency, and McKitty projects as a dynamic pass-catcher once he gains some experience. McKitty needs to get stronger, but the upside is certainly there.

118. Chris Rumph, DE/OLB, Duke – C Grade
The Chargers lost Melvin Ingram, so it’s not a surprise that they obtained a pass rusher. Rumph is undersized, however, so I thought he would go later on Day 3. I like getting a player who can get after Patrick Mahomes, but the value isn’t there.

159. Brenden Jaimes, OT/G, Nebraska – C Grade
Brenden Jaimes is a good athlete for a tackle, but the problem is that he’s a tweener. He’s not lengthy enough to be a tackle, and he doesn’t seem to be strong enough to be a guard. I’m not sure where he fits in with the Chargers.

185. Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa – B Grade
I didn’t have Nick Niemann drafted in my final mock draft, but he easily could have been. Nieman is a highly athletic linebacker with plenty of upside, so this is a solid pick to kick off Round 6.

198. Larry Rountree, RB, Missouri – A- Grade
Take note, Steelers and Jaguars: A team that needed a running back waited until the sixth round to acquire one. The Chargers had to find a complement for Austin Ekeler, and Larry Rountree is a nice value pick as someone who could have been chosen a round earlier.

241. Mark Webb, CB, Georgia – B Grade
Mark Webb has nice size and ball skills, but there are some major speed concerns. Those weren’t answered by his 4.61 40-yard dash. Still, it makes sense to take him in the seventh round in case those issues don’t end up being a big deal.

2021 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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