San Diego Chargers’ 2015 Draft — Quick Reaction

A few quick thoughts on the Chargers’ 2015 Draft. Hopefully, more content to follow.

Trading Up in the 1st Round — In principle, sacrificing two Day-3 picks for the opportunity to move up a few spots in the teens of the Draft’s first round seems fine. Historically, the aggregate talent in the top 13 or so picks far exceeds what’s available from about 15 through 40. Sacrificing fourth- and fifth-round picks to move up and nab an elite talent that’s still available could yield positive results over time (especially given that the fifth rounder falls in 2016); someone please write if this conflicts with more modern assessments of draft pick values. In the end, however, given the player the Chargers took at 15, and the way they executed the rest of the draft, I think they should have stayed at 17.

Melvin Gordon III — Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco sees Gordon as an elite talent. I disagree, and I also think he’s a somewhat awkward fit for the Bolts zone-blocking scheme. I’ll post a more complete breakdown forthcoming.

Denzel Perryman — I never saw the tape of Perryman defending the run at an elite level that everyone else so passionately references. Given the talent available (at positions of need, if it matters) when the Chargers picked in the second round, the Chargers made a very, very troubling choice here.

Craig Mager — We may come to view Mager as the most talented player the Chargers selected in 2015 – and the pick still concerns me a bit. I hope to review Mager in an upcoming post, as he has a lot of good (and some bad) tape. But I get the feeling, as I did last year, that the Chargers selected a player in the third round that they would have taken in the fourth, given that option. This suggests a lack of commitment to the team’s supposed “best-player-available” strategy. Of course the Chargers traded their fourth rounder each of the past few years, so they were forced to select a coveted player in the third round or run the risk he wouldn’t be there in the fifth. Thus, the downside of the team’s Day-1 trade.

Kyle Emanuel — I didn’t see Emanuel show the burst up the field or the agility to make an impact as an NFL pass rusher, and he looked really uncomfortable playing in space on the few occasions he dropped into coverage. I simply don’t see how he succeeds at outside linebacker for this team. Until Emanuel proves me otherwise, I consider this a wasted pick. I certainly doubt very highly that Emanuel will provide any kind of answer for the Bolts’ pass-rush woes.

Darius Philon — Philon adds a bit of depth to the Chargers’ corps of defensive ends. His skill set played well in a one-gap scheme against SEC competition. He’ll need bulk, for starters, to hold up effectively in the Chargers’ two-gap system.

At first blush, I think other teams got a lot better, and the Chargers largely flubbed this draft. But I hope to explore the pros and cons of each pick in a bit more detail in the coming weeks…


An Argument for the Chargers Trading Down in the NFL Draft

With Phillip Rivers balking at the prospect of relocating to Carson – who can blame him? – much of the Chargers draft talk is swirling around a potential trade up to snag Marcus Mariota.

Without wading into the quarterback drama, the Bolts might give some thought to trading down in this year’s draft.

The collection of talent is plenty strong in this year’s draft, but several position groups have far more depth than high-end talent. Take wide receiver. Amari Cooper is not Calvin Johnson, and no one argues otherwise. So should a team rush to the podium to spend a Top 10 selection on Cooper?

But teams drafting late in the first round or early in the second may have their choice of accomplished college wideouts like Jaelen Strong, Nelson Agholar, or Phillip Dorsett. Pair Dorsett with a Day 2 tight end like (Dorsett’s college teammate) Clive Walford, and a team’s listless passing game looks a lot healthier a few years down the line. I’m talking to you, Raiders.

The top offensive linemen, linebackers, and secondary players in this draft all have warts. But those position groups all feature quality players who should come off the board at the end of Day 1 and during Day 2.

The Chargers pick 17th. If the real draft shakes out anything like the mocks, top players like Todd Gurley, Randy Gregory, or Danny Shelton could fall into the teens. If so, the Bolts have to think strongly about taking one of them. But accumulating picks between 18 and 90, where teams will make hay in this draft, wouldn’t be such a bad Plan B.

Chargers-Seahawks Takeaways

A few thoughts on the Chargers’ second preseason contest:
• Seattle reminded us that the quick passing and draw game, not some all-world offensive line, saved Phillip Rivers from a pounding last year. The Chargers’ front was embarrassed by the ‘Hawks defensive linemen at times on Friday.
• Kellen Clemens cannot read a defense like Phillip Rivers (How many mortals can?), but he gets the ball out in a hurry with some zip on it. He is having a late-career resurgence.
• Speaking of resurgences, Malcolm Floyd caught several balls in traffic the other night. He looks out to prove that there is more to his game than the go route…
• Anyone paying attention sees that Manti Te’o has serious limitations in his game (even when he is on the field). He has never used his hands effectively, and with a suspect defensive line in front of him, he has seen too many linemen with a clean release on him. He routinely gets beat to the edge, too: Friday night, it was Robert Turbin and Russell Wilson in the same series. Not exactly Darren Sproles, either of them. Te’o is a modest downhill thumper with a mounting injury history. Players who fit that description don’t last long in the NFL.
• Jerry Attaochu continues to show he is an athletic freak – including lightning quickness of the snap and astonishing speed chasing the play – even as he consistently misses assignments…
• With Manti Te’o out for awhile and Dwight Freeney’s reps limited, next man up in the outside linebacker rotation may be Tourek Williams. And for good reason. He has heavy hands but quick reactions in the run game, and plays with good discipline. He’s an underrated pass rusher, too.
• Brandon Ghee probably makes the 53-man roster. Though the Bolts are suddenly flush with replacement-level-or-better cornerbacks, Ghee has more length than his peers. The Chargers will want that flexibility when facing bigger wideouts.

Chargers’ Opt for Substance over Style with Guard Chris Watt

Chris Watt personifies the reason teams should never, ever spend a first-round pick on a guard.

Watt is not huge, like Xaver Su’a-Filo or Jack Mewhort. He’s not freaky athletic in the mold of Jonathan Cooper. There’s probably not a mock draft on the planet that put him in the first two rounds.

But Watt can really play, and the Chargers got good value taking him in the third round, particularly in comparison to teams like the Texans and Colts (future employers of the aforementioned Su’a-Filo and Mewhort, respectively).

Find any youtube clip of the Notre Dame offense this past year, and you’ll see Watt stoning pass rushers, burying run defenders, and ably finding linebackers at the second level. You don’t need me to point out that Watt is talented.

Watt stands apart from his peers for different reasons. Particularly in 2013, Watt showed good balance and an aptitude for quickly recovering from missteps. Here, an Alabama defender engages Watt (left guard) and immediately throws him off balance with a strong two-arm shuck. Linemate Zack Martin gives the defender a solid punch — and Watt has already recovered:

Chris Watt Pass Block

Watt gathers himself, showing exceptional functional strength, and reflexively takes a quick step back. He’s in position to take on the defender himself, and the quarterback gets the ball off.

Also, Watt understands his role in the offensive scheme. In the below clip for example, Notre Dame calls a run off tackle with zone blocking up front. The center reaches for the defensive tackle; Watt is charged with double-teaming long enough for the center to get position, then releasing to find the linebacker. But the defender is so quick off the snap, the center never gets good position on him. Watt releases a bit early at first, but recovers and acts decisively:

Chris Watt Recovers

Chris Watt Recovers

Seeing that he cannot release with the defender penetrating into the backfield, Watt halts his momentum and shifts his weight back to his right. He gets enough of a push on the defender’s outside shoulder that the running back is able to elude the tackle. The rest of the Stanford defensive front rallies to bottle up the running back, but Watt’s quick thinking almost sprung the play.

Watt’s exceptional effort really complements his physical tools and football IQ. For example, Watt latches onto Stanford’s Trent Murphy in the play below. Watt drive blocks Murphy for several yards, before Murphy tries to shuck Watt aside. Watch our prospect’s reaction:

drive block

Watt locks out with his right arm and continues to push Murphy downfield. Had the running back found the crease, he might have sprung it for six.

Marcus Martin, also a third round pick, is much more powerful than Watt. But as talented as Martin is, there’s an outside chance that he never sees an NFL field. He simply hasn’t mastered the tools to ensure his success at the next level. Watt could start from his first snap of training camp.

The Chargers don’t have any kind of need at guard. To the contrary, the team runs two-deep at the position, and Watt is unlikely to push the incumbents for time his first year. This is a move for the long term: the Chargers simply liked Watt’s game enough that they didn’t want to miss out on adding him to the mix.

For all of the complimentary things I’ve said about Watt, there was a downside to the pick. Yes, Watt has some bad tape from 2012. But I’m referring to the opportunity cost of picking Watt: the Chargers passed upon on other notable players. I think they might regret it down the road, and so will fans.

For now, Tom Telesco added another talented, fundamentally sound, relentless football player to the Chargers’ roster in Chris Watt. This was a solid pick, and the offensive line’s future looks brighter because of it.

Jason Verrett Fits the Chargers Defense

Thinking about the Chargers draft so far, one word stands out: fit.

Start with Jason Verrett. He played almost exclusively off-man and zone at TCU — exactly what Pagano will ask him to do most on Sundays. In game action, Verrett didn’t show the backpedal you would like to see in a first round cover corner, so his tape is a little unappealing at first. But Verrett has all of the physical ability you could want in a cover corner: he reacts quickly, changes direction fluidly, and shows an exceptional recovery skills. He also keeps one eye on the quarterback while maintaining position on the receiver. Simply put, he may be the best pure cover corner to come out since Janoris Jenkins a few years ago.

Put on Verrett’s film against LSU. The Tigers had two receivers drafted in the first two rounds this year — and the team didn’t complete a ton of passes against Verrett. Here was the result when they tried:

Jason Verrett on Jarvis Landry

At the start of the play, Verrett is about seven yards off of Jarvis Landry, a very quick receiver. Landry runs a slant, and Verrett jumps it. When the two come into view, Verrett has made up any separation from Landry and has positioned himself to get a hand on the ball. The rest of the TCU secondary is no slouch, but Zach Mettenberger was awfully reluctant to throw Verrett’s way after that.

A review of Verrett’s combine workout helped resolve my concerns about his form. He showed an impressively smooth backpedal and the quick, fluid hips from his game tape.

Verrett can play some bump-and-run, although he’s not the physical defender that a Tyrann Mathieu is, for example. And of course he may have trouble playing bigger, physical receivers in the Anquan Boldin mold. Luckily, that’s not what Pagano will ask him to do.

Chargers fans are right to be skeptical about the team drafting a 5’9″ cornerback in the first round. Verrett is such an exceptional talent, and incredible fit for Pagano’s defense, that I think fans will grow to love the pick.

In the same vein, second round pick Jeremiah Attaochu is an exceptional talent that will work within a Chargers defense sure to highlight his skill set. More on that in my next post…

Norv Turner sending Mike Evans deep, and other ideal fits for NFL Draft prospects

Sportsthink doesn’t do mock drafts. Not because I hate them, as some critics are wont to say these days. It just requires psychic powers beyond the means of a simple sports blogger. My NCAA tournament bracket was bad. Predicting how 32 NFL teams will react in such a dynamic environment can’t turn out much better.

It’s always fun to stoke our anticipation for the draft by matching players to teams, though. And certain players would make particularly great additions to certain squads. Here’s three players whose fit with a prospective team should ignite a lot of excitement with fans:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the New York Jets — Christmas comes in May if Rex Ryan gets his hands on Clinton-Dix. Ryan loves innovating to bring pressure, shifting from his base front to as many as seven DBs with regularity. How about a little Cover Zero to really dial up the pressure? The Alabama free safety might be the best defensive back in man coverage in this draft, giving Rex Ryan yet another way to surprise offensive coordinators.

An Alabama defensive back for the second year in a row might be just the thing for Gang Green.

An Alabama defensive back for the second year in a row might be just the thing for Gang Green.

Mike Evans to the Minnesota Vikings — Norv Turner filled up the Chargers’ receiver corps with basketball players moonlighting as football players. Watching Phillip Rivers fake a handoff to Ladainian Tomlinson and hit Malcolm Floyd on a deep in or Vincent Jackson on a deep post was a beautiful thing to watch. Almost all of the pieces are in place in Minnesota: an outside receiver with top-end speed, a multi-dimensional tight end, and the best running back in the NFL. How about adding a massive, athletic wideout with good hands to the mix?

Darqueze Dennard to the Tampa Bay Bucaneers — If an NFL coach could dream up the perfect Cover 2 corner, Dennard might come close. He shines when the play is in front of him, diagnosing run/pass and blanketing short passes outside the hashes. He’s also great in run support. Lovie Smith’s defense will tap into these strengths, and but won’t ask Dennard to play much press man, where he struggles to flip his hips.

San Diego Chargers 2014 Schedule

The NFL released its 2014 regular seasons schedule on Wednesday, and it’s made an optimist out of me. The past few years, I’ve gone on record projecting that the Chargers would struggle against a slate of teams with more talent, a serious advantage in time zones (early games on the East Coast), or both.

This year’s different.

I won’t make any bold predictions. But even the most pessimistic Chargers fan – or headiest Raiders fan – must admit that the 2014 Chargers can contend with the clubs put in front of them.

Take the first seven games. The Bolts face:

· A tough Arizona team on the road and the Super Bowl champs at home; but then…
· Two AFC East also-rans in three weeks, broken up by a Jacksonville team that, despite some solid free agent additions, still desperately needs players; and,
· Oakland and a bound-to-regress Kansas City team, both on West Coast time.

Make no mistake: none of these teams will roll over for the Bolts. But it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility for the Bolts to hold serve at home against the AFC squads, and Mike McCoy and company will implement a game plan to at least compete with Seattle and Arizona.

Things get tougher from there: back-to-back contests against Denver and a more complete Miami team, the latter an early start on the East Coast. After a bye and Oakland at the Q, the Chargers face a ferocious fivesome of St. Louis, Baltimore, New England, Denver, and San Fran. After Week 11, the Bolts may not be favored again in 2014.

But a 6-1 or 5-2 record going into the first Denver game is not unrealistic. And this Chargers team proved that it can contend with the AFC’s top squads on the road last year. Teams like Denver, Baltimore, and San Fran will surely not look past Phillip Rivers and Co.

If the Bolts post nine wins against this group, it will be an achievement – but these are the NFL’s elite! And if the Chargers pull that off, and nine wins qualifies them for the postseason tournament for a second straight year, heed the warning Cincinnati ignored last year: watch out for the Chargers in the playoffs.

Don't look past the Bolts

Don’t look past the Bolts