Chargers fans, I would like to sincerely give you an apology. This season has been full of blown leads, coaching ineptitude, injuries and most likely an insurmountable level of frustration. Though, there are reasons to be excited about the years ahead. Justin Herbert is playing at an extremely high level, living up to the potential that he exhibited in the pre-draft process. Derwin James and Drue Tranquil will be back healthy, which are two integral members of this young Chargers defense. This team will have exceptional draft capital that should be maximized by a general manager who has infused youth and talent into this roster. With the season approaching the end it is time to address the issues that are plaguing this team’s ability to succeed, and examine how they should be fixed this offseason.
No. 1: Coaching
Issue: Anthony Lynn is an exceptional leader of men, who in my estimation exhibits the intellect and cultural structure that would be useful for any organization. While you do not wish for one to lose their job, his continual mismanagement of game situations have plagued the Chargers momentum and ability to succeed in times that they are set up to do so.
For example, let us look back at an inexcusable end game situation in their ugly loss to the Buffalo Bills a little over a week ago. Herbert with 40 seconds to go and no timeouts, completes a miraculous Hail Mary to Tyron Johnson. They then rush to the line, to call a dive play with 20 seconds to go. With no timeouts and such little time, that is inexcusable. Fast forward a few plays later, and with 3 seconds left Herbert runs a quarterback sneak while the offensive line is in pass protection. Lynn attributed these issues to miscommunications, and that could be a genuine truth. However, this disastrous series of events is a perpetuation of mistakes we have seen a semblance of time and time again.
As the head coach, it is important to be an exceptional mentor to your players while having a firm grip on the X’s and O’s. Lynn succeeds in those areas, while also instilling a tough, disciplined culture. To be a successful head coach, you need to excel in managing the clock, and have elite situational awareness to put your team in the best position to win. Throughout Lynn’s tenure, he has shown subpar ability in these areas, which has cost the team wins. I have no doubt that Lynn, if let go, will find his footing in the league as a coordinator. His trajectory could be similar to Todd Bowles. In conclusion, change in leadership is best for all.
Solution: At the the end of the season there needs to be a change in leadership. In no way am I discounting the years of success Lynn has had, but with the state of the team, a new infusion of energy and football prowess would be beneficial. A case for Pep Hamilton can be made to stay employed on the new staff. Hamilton has been instrumental in the emergence of their rookie quarterback. Being the QB coach, he has consistently prepared Herbert to an incredible degree and it is showing in his weekly performances. Having continuity in that mentorship role could be crucial for the rapidity in Herbert’s growth.
In the Chargers head coaching search, the focus should be on the maximization of their current situation. A coach who can maximize Herbert’s growth, while also having a deft feel for game management and situational awareness is key. Schematically, to maximize the incumbent QB, this coach needs to exude an identity that matches Herbert’s strengths. Someone like Arthur Smith or Brian Daboll would create an offense around Herbert that will allow him to run primarily out of play action that builds off of the run game. In their current system, the identity is unclear. Smith and Daboll, believe in a successful and consistent formula that would allow Herbert to grow and master his skillset. Pairing that up, with an experienced defensive coordinator will propel this team to a winning record that most feel they are capable of.
Another intriguing option could be Joe Brady — a youthful offensive phenom on a meteoric rise in the coaching industry. Brady, working with someone like Herbert and that set of playmakers, could be quite intriguing. For him to truly succeed, he would need to be surrounded by experienced coaches who could guide him in certain areas and responsibilities of the job. Wade Phillips for example, could be an incredible defensive coordinator to pair with him. However, the intrigue with Brady is palpable. There is no question he will start getting head coach interviews shortly. Something that also needs to be focused on, is effective special teams management. Whoever becomes head coach, needs to fix the most inept special teams unit that the NFL has seen in some time.
No. 2: The Offensive Line
Issue: The Chargers prized young quarterback needs to be protected and saved from brutal, unnecessary hits. The best ability is often said to be availability, and Herbert’s availability will be predicated on the success of the line he has in front of him. As of now, that line needs considerable work. Bryan Bulaga and injured center Mike Pouncey are two serviceable offensive linemen. However, they are both well over the age of 30. Sam Tevi is an average left tackle with admirable traits, though, a high asset could be administered toward an upgrade at that position. On the interior, Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney have plagued the front five with inconsistency. Trai Turner, acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers, is likely their most talented player on the front. He has been injured though, as has Bulaga and a few others. To put the group’s struggles into perspective, let us analyze some statistics.
- Sacks: 25 (8th highest)
- Pocket Time: 2.4 seconds (16th lowest)
- Hurries: 79 (Highest in league)
- Hits Taken: 37 (9th highest)
- Pressures: 141 (Tied for 1st highest)
- Pressure %: 28.2% of his drop backs are pressured. (2nd highest)
The offense has proven to be explosive when clicking on all cylinders. Herbert has been phenomenal, and he is surrounded by a top tier group of skill position talent. But he needs help upfront. Upgrading the trenches by adding top-tier talent and building reliable depth could propel this team forward in their path to league legitimacy. Bluntly put, Herbert needs to be protected. In games against the Patriots and the Dolphins it became clear that the unit in front of him has a long way to go before being reliable. It is not even necessarily all about talent, it is also having a coach who can emphasize cohesion and unity in the execution of assignments. Luckily, these issues can be fixed.
Solution: Luckily for general manager Tom Telesco, the areas of considerable need for the Chargers are somewhat slim. Beyond the offensive line, they just need to invest in their secondary, a speed receiver and defensive line depth. Herbert could use a speedy threat on the perimeter, but that need is secondary. They will have premium draft assets in the coming cycle, as right now they are projected to have a top five pick if things finish at a status quo. With their draft picks, and over 30 million of projected cap space, they should invest heavily in improving trench play to preserve the longevity of their quarterback. In all likelihood, Oregon OT Penei Sewell will be drafted no later than pick No. 3. The Chargers, Eagles, Cowboys and Bengals are all roaming around the top five with little separation. If Sewell is gone before the Chargers pick, it would be beneficial to take a blue chip talent at another need.
The 2021 NFL Draft class is full of offensive line depth, so reaching would be unnecessary and counterproductive. Looking at guys like Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State), Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame), Landon Dickerson (Alabama) and Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) on Day 2 would be a great fall back option and even they would go a long way in solidifying a porous front five.
Looking at possible free agent options, there are not a vast amount of youthful offensive tackles worth spending on. That position, which also has more draftable options throughout, should be mostly looked at on draft day. At guard there are plenty of intriguing options. Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff, while under a franchise tag, will surely have plenty of suitors. It is likely that they will both remain on their respective teams, though they are still worth watching closely. Denzelle Good, Austin Blythe and John Miller would also be bargain options that would equate to consistency and moldable depth. Telesco has many options regarding improvement here, and I am looking forward to analyzing the path he takes.
No. 3: Cornerback
Issue: To preface this, the Chargers back end has been riddled with injuries. Chris Harris has been banged up and Derwin James incurred a season ending injury during camp. However, there are more issues than just durability. The two starting corners for the Chargers are over 30 years old, lacking the youth and juice needed to hold up at a high level against divisional talent. Age in the CB room is not a damning quality, however they need to be surrounded by youth and athleticism in order to match the developing speed prototype at the receiver position in this league. They have some depth with Michael Davis, however they can make some additions that will also round out that depth and cushion the room for injuries. Athleticism, youth, and ball skills are all qualities Telesco should search for in a newcomer defensive back.
Defensive identity is important, and with building blocks like Joey Bosa, Jerry Tillery, Nasir Adderley and James it can be seen that this defense should be built to make game altering plays. It is imperative that the Chargers address the defensive back position this offseason, in order to help preserve leads and help out the offense when they need it most.
Solution: Add playmakers and speed to the backend! This draft class is filled with capable cornerbacks throughout. As stated above, if Sewell is gone by the Chargers pick, I would think picking a blue chip defensive back would be top priority. At the top of the draft, there are two high-level options in Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) and Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech). Jaycee Horn of South Carolina continues to be a steady riser on big boards. If they address a different need during Round 1, I can see them looking towards a guy like Derion Kendrick (Clemson) who would be an exceptional fit.
There are plenty of options throughout all three days of the draft and the defense will benefit from the infusion of speed and ball skills that spending a pick on one of these players would bring. Regarding free agency, there are several intriguing depth options that would provide a spark to this backend. Gareon Conley, Kevin King and Vernon Hargreaves I feel could contribute a vast amount to this team if the Chargers decide to look in that direction. Making these additions would allow the Chargers to be more multiple in their pressures, and coverage variations.
7-Round Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick 5: Patrick Surtain II (CB – Alabama)
Surtain is an exceptional talent. He is a long, yet deliberate cornerback with refined technique and elite ball skills at the catch point. Surtain also possesses soft eyes, and a high level processor that allows him to innately mirror and match receiver routes. Slotting Surtain in with Hayward, Harris and Davis will be another step toward adding playmaking ability to the backend of a defense that needs it greatly.
Round 2, Pick 37: Dillon Radunz (OT – North Dakota State)
Radunz is an athletically gifted tackle prospect who possesses the moldable traits necessary to become a bookend tackle for Herbert in the near future. He is raw at his core, however his frame and ability in his pass set will prove critical to matching the edge rushers in his division. In the run game, he is deft with his hand placement and leg drive. His potential is through the roof, and the thought of him growing with the youth in this offense proves exciting.
Dillon Radunz – people mover pic.twitter.com/B80DFQAHQe
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) December 2, 2020
Round 3, Pick 69: Zion Johnson (OG – Boston College)
Feeney, Lamp and backup Ryan Groy are all projected to be free agents this offseason. Picking Johnson here, will give you a powerful yet agile guard who can stabilize interior rushes and hold integrity of the pocket. Because he can slot in at either guard spot, the Chargers will be able to hold off on paying big dollars to two interior offensive linemen who have been relatively inconsistent. If I were making this decision, I would resign Lamp and slot in Johnson at the right guard spot. Johnson will play a crucial role in the line’s improvement early, and he should have a long career in the league.
A LOT of talented SRs on offense in the #ACC. Who did I name as my favorite on the last Journey To The Draft Podcast? #BC LG Zion Johnson. Great athlete, great feet, outstanding on the move, uses his hands well, and gets after people! Shaq Mason vibes!https://t.co/eDpgJLJRyX pic.twitter.com/vSt70ppDLu
— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) August 9, 2020
Round 3, Pick 97: Dazz Newsome (WR – North Carolina)
Herbert needs weapons and dynamic playmakers who can stretch the field vertically and stress backend defenders. Newsome fits that to an incredible degree. He is an explosive, elusive vertical threat who consistently wins deep and across the middle of the field. For someone of his stature, Newsome can also make jaw dropping contested catches that make him worth watching closely every week. He, and Jalen Guyton would work wonders in keeping the safeties honest in order to open up intermediate areas for Allen and Henry. Newsome can also be utilized well in the screen game, a concept that the Chargers run often. He has exceptional RAC ability, and can get into his second gear with rapidity.
Start your day off with 53 seconds of North Carolina's Dazz Newsome making insane catches🔥pic.twitter.com/XyxG7DNMf3
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 28, 2020
Round 4, Pick 106: Myjai Sanders (EDGE – Cincinnati)
With Melvin Ingram’s contract expiring, it makes a ton of sense to take a chance on Sanders. He is an explosive, twitched up base end with advanced hands, a plus motor and incredible ankle flexion. He could add some thickness in his lower extremities, however with time he could be an exceptional contributor to the Los Angeles front seven.
.@GoBearcatsFB pass rusher Myjai Sanders is another newcomer to the top-50 draft board.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 11, 2020
Round 5, Pick 145: Tedarrell Slaton (DT – Florida)
With Damion Square’s contract expiring, and Linval Joseph getting up there in age, Slaton would be an exceptional player in a rotational role for this front four. With the explosiveness and length they have on this defense, having Slaton’s massive, stout interior presence will help mitigate gaps and occupy blockers so their fast linebackers can roam free. He is an exceptional, human eclipse like run defender who will play a hugely important role with this roster. This also would be exceptional value for the skillset he brings to the table.
Tedarrell Slaton had a hell of game vs Missouri this past season. Four tackles, one TFL, one sack.
He's a run-stuffing nose tackle at the next level, but for a 358 pound man, he's surprisingly nimble. pic.twitter.com/hfhd1A3fSz
— Brennen Rupp (@Brennen_Rupp) May 9, 2020
Round 6, Pick 183: Noah Gray (TE – Duke)
Gray will complement Hunter Henry well, as he is an athletic move tight end who can be a safety valve for Herbert in several ways. He can stack linebackers, and has the IQ to also uncover against different zone schemes. When he catches the ball in the open field, he has the athletic ability to get serious yardage afterwards. Adding Gray will provide Herbert with a complimentary TE target, and it would open up ways to utilize more 12 personnel.
Re-watching the Notre Dame & Duke game this morning. Watched this one live yesterday & liked the toughness from QB Chase Brice but Duke TE 87 Noah Gray is the name to watch in their offense. He had 51 receptions for 392 yards & 3 TDs last season. Here's his 1st catch of 2020 pic.twitter.com/wDPi6n6NLW
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) September 13, 2020
Round 6, Pick 201: Quentin Lake (S – UCLA)
Lake is an exceptional athlete, and he is a willing tackle who can make plays in the open field. He moves in a fluid manner, and is reliable in both man and zone coverage. This pick will add depth to the backend and he can also be used as a chess piece to match up on different targets.
UCLA S Quentin Lake is a 2021 NFL Draft prospect with heavy Steelers bloodlines.
He's the son of former Steelers All-Pro S Carnell Lake, was born in Pittsburgh, and his favorite player is Rod Woodson.
Lake is a versatile chess piece who is a sure tackler and smart player. pic.twitter.com/4UaowwucM1
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) September 11, 2020
Round 7, Pick 226: Austin Watkins (WR – UAB)
Here, we are adding another exceptionally talented target for the franchise quarterback, as Watkins is a great route runner with impressive balance, body control and ball skills. You can never have too many playmakers and getting Watkins at this value would be advantageous to the depth of the receiver room.
*NFL body ✅
*Deep ball production ✅
*Red-zone skills ✅ pic.twitter.com/EpNpsmc1X5
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 25, 2020