2015 Draft Review


Carpe Diem et omni Mundio
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Jan 19, 2006
San Diego, CA
2015 Chargers Draft Review

By: Loren S. Casuto

"You want some guys that, if they walk into the alley, you may not want to walk down that street, It's a look. It's an edginess. It's a toughness." – Nick Hardwick (San Diego Union Tribune 2/9/2015)

“We've got to bring some bad, bad dudes in here" – Nick Hardwick (Xtra Sports 1360 12/30/2014)

When Nick Hardwick spoke these words, I doubt he thought it would carry the weight it did in the 2015 Draft. Hardwick’s call for ‘bad dudes’ and hitters was heard loud and clear, and to prove the point Tom Telesco had a hammer in his draft war room. While the Chargers continued their trend of selecting team captains and squeaky clean individuals, they definitely brought attitude and toughness to the team. The only question is how well that balances with need and impact.

1st Round: Melvin Gordon RB Wisconsin

No position was as bad in 2014 for the Chargers as the running back position. Brandon Oliver led the team with under 600yds rushing and, while a nice find, isn’t a starting RB. Danny Woodhead might’ve been the best running back on the team but he was lost by game 3. Ryan Mathews ended his Chargers career injured and with tons of untapped potential. One way or another, the Chargers had to get a running back to start. It took a trade and another fourth rounder lost, but the Chargers got arguably the best running back in the draft.

Even with Wisconsin’s reputation as Running Back U, few have achieved the level of success that Melvin Gordon III attained. He set the single game rushing record, breaking Ladanian Tomlinson previous mark, and nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. Gordon has very impressive acceleration and go from 0 to 60 in a blink. He combines this with great balance and good top speed to become a dangerous back. Just as important he is effective at following his blockers, and letting plays develop before being decisive. He fights hard on every play and has no issue with trying to run through players thinking he’d go side to side. On the negative he needs to work on his pass blocking and receiving, though he won’t be asked to do that initially. He also needs to not free-lance or try to bounce plays outside too much.

I’m not thrilled we traded a 4th rounder, but that’s been consistent over the last few years. 4th and 5th round selections are not guaranteed to impact nor guaranteed to be with the team long term. At the end of the first round though, it’s hard to argue that the team isn’t immediately better. The moment Gordon signs his contract he immediately becomes the team’s best running back. With his acceleration, balance, cutting ability and patience, he should be a huge upgrade over Ryan Mathews. This should also give the Chargers, for the first time in years, a consistent effective running game. Don’t worry about his negatives for now; Danny Woodhead will remain the third down back and that will allow Gordon the opportunity to keep working on those flaws. With the new offensive line and teams having to respect the pass, Melvin Gordon should be on the short list for offensive rookie of the year.

2nd Round: Denzel Perryman ILB Miami (FL)

While not discussed much in draft circles, inside linebacker was still a need for the San Diego Chargers. This free agency period saw the team lose two good depth players in Andrew Gachkar and Reggie Walker leaving the team with three players. Donald Butler signed an extension and immediately posted one of the worst LB seasons in Chargers history. Manti Te’o made big strides but was hampered by fluke injuries again. Kavell Connor is a better rotational player who was forced to play far too much in 2014. Into this mix the Chargers added arguably one of the best inside linebackers in the draft.

Perryman harkens back to the linebackers of yesterday. At 5’11 236lbs he’s a short, squat but powerful player. Do a search on him and the most common word you see is ‘hitter’ followed shortly by ‘tough’. He’s one of the best run stopping LBs in the draft who can take on blockers, shed with ease and tackle effectively and with authority. While he didn’t run well at the combine his tape show’s a guy who is quick in short areas and faster on tape, making plays sideline to sideline. He also showed improvements on instincts and coverage over the last two years. The negative is that he’s short, he doesn’t have great length and can get washed out of some plays if he’s overwhelmed. He also doesn’t have the speed to cover players man to man.

I see Perryman as the yang to Manti Te’o’s ying, a perfect compliment. Initially he and Butler will be 1st/2nd down players with Te’o rotating in on passing downs. Few players caused fans as much annoyance as Donald Butler. With Perryman you now have someone who could replace him short and long term. It provides the team with better depth at a problematic position last year, and he could be a very good starter long term. But this wasn’t a position of immediate need.

3rd Round: Craig Mager DB Texas State

If Perryman was a head scratcher this next pick caused fans to hit their heads against a piece of furniture. After adding Jimmy Wilson & Patrick Robinson, re-signing Brandon Flowers and clearing the way for Jahleel Addae to start, you would think the defensive backfield would be set. Clearly, Tom Telesco believed otherwise and went with a guy on many experts’ sleeper list, but was his BPA.

The more you read about who Craig Mager is, you see a player with almost limitless potential. A 4 year starter who chose Texas State to stay close to his family he has fantastic intangibles and physical skills. At 5’11 201lbs he has good height and weight for a cornerback along with excellent speed and quickness. He has solid zone awareness but is best playing physical bump and run. Unique for a cornerback, he’s a fantastic run defender and loves to mix it up. He doesn’t panic if beaten and can recover well, though his ball skills are only adequate. As with most D-II players, he needs to step up his game coming from a lower level of competition. In addition his hand eye skills are so-so, leading to few interceptions than he was in a position to make, and he needs to improve instincts for what is beyond his eyes.

Mager is a fast rising player who, in the last few weeks of the draft, went from a late day 3 pick to a projected early day 3. He’s considered one of the more impressive prospects from the FCS ranks even though he didn’t dominate his level of play. I look at Mager and see a potentially excellent strong safety, but he could also be a dime back until 2016 when he’d take over at nickel. Either way this is a guy who is too raw to be playing much in 2015. He has all the natural abilities to be something special, but needs plenty of work. This isn’t the kind of player you select in the third round for a team with real needs.

5th Round: Kyle Emanuel OLB North Dakota State

If Inside linebacker was an area of want, outside linebacker was an area of desperate need. Starters Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaouch both missed time last year (in Ingram’s case he’s missed time for multiple years) but showed flashes. Jarrett Johnson retired and Dwight Freeney left, taking with them thousands of snaps over the last two years. All that is left were the ineffective duo of Corderro Law and Tourek Williams. The Chargers had to get more bodies and they added a Bison to the mix.

You might think of North Dakota State as being a backwater football school but they are one of the best FCS schools in the nation. Emanuel steps up in the big games – through his career against D1 schools he had 16.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. In 2015 he had 19.5 sacks, showing his great pass rushing skill. His success is mostly strength based but he bends around the edge very effectively but will keep moving preventing linemen from locking onto him. All he does is make plays and fight hard. He tackles effectively, once he puts his hands on you, play is over. On the negative is that he doesn’t have great physical measurable numbers, 6’3, 255lbs who ran a 4.74, and has shorter arms and hands than normal for OLBs.

Emanuel already has more natural pass rush skill than Tourek Williams and can set the edge effectively He will provide great depth at this position and could develop potentially into a starter. He is just the kind of player you take a flyer on at this stage, and considering he had a third round grade going into the draft, he brings great value.

6th Round Darius Philon DL Arkansas

The Chargers continued their trend of best players available, and in the case of their final pick of the draft they ignored scheme fits. Going into the draft many suggested the team needed defensive line help at almost the same level as running back. As the draft continued, nothing developed as Telesco ignored numerous defensive linemen. In the 6th round, the Chargers selected one of the fastest defensive tackles in the draft, but one that doesn’t seem to fit the current defensive system.

Considered to be the best remaining defensive lineman at that stage, Philon came out surprisingly as a redshirt sophomore. For a defensive tackle he’s incredibly fast; he ran the 40 yd dash in 5 seconds which is unheard of for a 300lb lineman. He shows great rip and swim moves and can use leverage very effectively. His speed and initial quickness is considered elite and few linemen are prepared or can handle that from a big man. He’s underdeveloped and needs a lot of work in the weight room to develop his strength. His game is entirely speed and as such stronger offensive linemen can wash him out of plays. The good news is that he is still young (not even 21 yet) and there’s time for him to develop.

Philon is an interesting pick as he would be a perfect 4-3 one gap penetrating tackle. With the Chargers, Philon is limited in where he can contribute; he’s not the right size nor has the strength to be a DE and can’t hold up against the run. Even though the Chargers use a lot of two down linemen formations, Philon would likely struggle to take on blockers. For now Philon will likely be a rotational interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs where he can use his speed to cause havoc. Given a year of strength training he might be a viable rotational defensive end as well as an interior pass rusher.

Interesting Undrafted Free Agents

Brock Hekking OLB Nevada – owner of the perfect Boz style mullet, a strong but effective pass rusher and edge setter with questionable speed.

Tyrell Williams WR Western Oregon – insane measurables but raw, could be biggest find of the class. Jahwan Edwards RB Ball State – steamrolling RB looks like Mike Tolbert.

Gordon Hill DB Sacred Heart – Thumping run stopper with good speed but questionable in coverage.

Ben Beckwith OG/C Mississippi State – doesn’t play well on the move but incredibly powerful and technically sound blocker.

Random Thoughts

1) Who is more at risk with the Perryman pick, Donald Butler or Manti Te’o?

2) Melvin Gordon will be the sole pick which will determine whether this class is a success or not.

3) The lack of OL pick suggests either that the team is confident in a roster option (Jeremiah Sirles?) or they could get someone in FA still (Evan Mathis?). It can’t mean they have faith in Troutman, right?

4) I will not mock a fourth rounder to the Chargers from now until Telesco leaves.

5) The last time the Chargers selected two small school prospects in a row was during the Beathard era, here’s hoping this goes better than that.

6) I don’t care how much it’ll cost Donald Brown to cut him, he’s gone by the end of training camp or he will somehow be traded. Telesco doesn’t let his mistakes linger.

7) Anyone else thought DB was one area the team was solid in?

8) Is Tom Telesco allergic to trading down?

9) Marketing note; if you are going to have a hammer in your war room, make sure it’s either big (sledgehammer) or cool (medieval war hammer). A basic small hammer doesn’t inspire confidence.

Initial Grade: C

This is one of the most confusing drafts in years. While the Chargers met two needs with the selection of Gordon and Emanuel, the rest were selections of either no or lesser need. Perryman is a good selection but yet another linebacker in the second to make up for another failed selection. Mager will have to be a stud to prevent Chargers fans from thinking this was a disaster. Philon will need a lot of work to be more than a rotational spare part. What saves the team is that these players, unlike the Beathard days, are universally well respected and liked. Mager was on nearly everyone’s draft sleeper list, Perryman was considered one of the best ILBs in the draft, Philon and Emanuel were the best players available at their spots. However unlike past seasons the Chargers will likely not get as much help this year as the classes did in the last two years. For those reasons, this draft barely passes.