The winds of change have circled the Chargers franchise for the past few years. Upon the end of the 2015 season, there were rumors the Chargers would vacate San Diego and look for greener pastures in another city. The team stayed put for the 2016 season, only to be relocated this past January to the City of Angels. After several excruciatingly close losses throughout the 2016 season, owner Dean Spanos fired head coach Mike McCoy and replaced him with Buffalo’s interim head coach Anthony Lynn. Lynn, who began the 2016 season as the Bills’ running backs coach, rose through the coaching ranks in one year and established the most effective (in yards per game) rushing attack in the NFL over the past two seasons. With the controversial move to Los Angeles and the new head coach running the show, it was imperative for the Chargers to nail this draft. I believe they did just that and here are three reasons why.
Bolstering the interior offensive line
Prior to the draft, we at Inside The Pylon did a dream-fit article for each division. I stated that guard Forrest Lamp, out of Western Kentucky, was a dream fit for the Los Angeles Chargers. My mindset was that the Chargers may trade down in the first round and snag Lamp, but the Chargers were able to acquire his talents with the 38th overall pick. Lamp is possibly the best overall offensive line talent in this draft and he provides versatility along the line of scrimmage, effective play in both run and pass blocking, and can excel in gap and zone concepts. This gives Lynn the flexibility to execute different types of running plays. The Chargers then doubled down and drafted guard Dan Feeney out of Indiana, who is possibly the second-best interior line prospect in the draft at pick 71 in the third round. Both interior linemen excel at run blocking and are significantly smaller and more athletic than the starting guards from 2016; after having his fifth-year option picked up in 2016, D.J. Fluker was cut prior to the draft and Orlando Franklin was released after the draft, and both linemen were better fits in a gap system. Head coach Anthony Lynn ran a lot of power / gap with Buffalo, but I feel, as currently constructed, the Chargers personnel is more fit for zone, so the flexibility of this running game is going to be fun to watch and hard to plan for. With a healthy Max Tuerk coming off a “redshirt” season and incumbent starting center Matt Slauson set to be a free agent in 2018, the Chargers will have a young and athletic interior offensive line that Melvin Gordon and Philip Rivers should grow to appreciate.
Finding a true X
Philip Rivers is in the twilight of his illustrious career. Throughout his 13 years in the NFL, Rivers has generally had that big bodied X receiver, who is over 6’4” with 33” arms, that can go up and high point the ball. Whether it was Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, or a younger Antonio Gates at tight end, these weapons proved effective. With the seventh pick in the draft, the Chargers have found their new outside toy for Rivers and that is Mike Williams out of Clemson. Williams wins with physicality, whether that be in and out of cuts or at the catch point. The questions about his separation quickness were somewhat silenced after he ran a 4.53 and a 4.51 40-yard dash at his pro day. He is going to need some refinement in his route running, due to the fact he is coming out of Clemson’s limited route tree, but Williams will provide a strong, reliable set of hands and a big physical presence for Rivers to utilize alongside Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin, and hopefully a healthy Keenan Allen.
Improving the safety position
Despite having two of the best cornerbacks (Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward) and pass rushers (Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram) in football last season, the defense was 29th in points allowed; albeit with Bosa and Verrett hurt for parts of the season. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley comes over from his stint as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bradley is known for having versatile defenders and built a talented young defense in Jacksonville. The Chargers attacked the safety position in the draft and at pick 113 they drafted Rayshawn Jenkins out of Miami. Jenkins is big (6’1”, 214 lbs.), fast (4.51 40), and he’s an aggressive box-type safety in the mold of what Johnathan Cyprien was for Bradley in Jacksonville. He will compete to start day 1 with Tre Boston, Dwight Lowery, and Jahleel Addae. The Chargers also drafted converted cornerback out of Iowa Desmond King at 151 overall. King is the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner, when he picked off eight passes and looked like he was well on his way to being a second-round pick, but a down year, subpar measurables/combine, and the tweener label lead to him falling to the fifth round. This was fantastic value for a player like King. Bradley can utilize King’s versatility as a nickel defender in the slot, as a safety, or as a cornerback. King will be a fun chess piece in Bradley’s secondary and at the very least King offers very good special teams ability in coverage and as a returner.
There is no doubting that the AFC West is arguably the best division in football. Every team has a legitimate shot to make the playoffs as currently constructed. General manager Tom Telesco recognized his mistakes with the offensive line and made a point to improve it. Not all general managers would admit their mistakes, so I wanted to acknowledge Telesco’s ability to amend his recent decisions that weren’t coinciding with his vision on how the team can succeed. The Chargers made a conscious effort to improve their team in the likes of their new head coach and defensive coordinator. The front office and coaches seems to be cohesive in the early stages of the Anthony Lynn’s tenure. Hopefully, for the Chargers’ sake, the greener pastures in 2017 are in the StubHub Center because those winds of change have come to the Los Angeles Chargers and I’m sure Bolt Nation expects these gusts to result in something better than a 5-11 season.