In a couple of weeks Philip Rivers and company return to Chargers Park for the start of training camp. While GM Tom Telesco is focused on getting Joey Bosa, their first pick of the 2016 NFL Draft under contract before camp starts; there is also a part of him that turns his attention to the 2017 NFL draft class. So like Tom Telesco, Bolt Beat will take a way-too-early look on which 2017 prospects could hear their name called when San Diego is on the clock.
RODERICK JOHNSON, FLORIDA STATE, OT
Oct 3, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (77) lines up during the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field. Florida State defeated Wake Forest 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Roderick Johnson seems to be a shoe-in to sport a lightning bolt on his helmet in 2017. One thing that has been consistent under the Telesco regime is that he tends to draft for need in the 1st round; and perhaps the biggest need the Chargers have is offensive tackle.
At 6’6”, 323 lbs, Johnson already has the massive frame to be Philip Rivers’ blindside protector. The Florida State Seminole tackle is big and powerful, with long arms; but also has the athletic upside to keep the AFC West edge rushers at bay. In addition, Telesco has an affinity for offensive linemen that are versatile and with Johnson’s high football IQ, San Diego will be able to line him up on either the left or right side of the line. Fans will most likely question why Cam Robinson, the offensive tackle from Alabama, is not listed here. Two reasons, first, Robinson will most likely be selected before the Chargers are on the clock, and secondly, Telesco shies away from players with questionable pasts.
JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, USC, WR
Dec 5, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster (9) stiff arms Stanford Cardinal cornerback Ronnie Harris (21) after making a catch in the second quarter in the Pac-12 Conference football championship game at Levi
Above is the safer, and most likely scenario the Chargers will find themselves in come the 2017 NFL draft. However, San Diego could look to shock the world again and make a splashy pick come next April by selecting USC wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster. Stevie Johnson is most likely playing his last year in San Diego this year. GM Tom Telesco could look to replace the veteran with a younger, more talented wide receiver, to give Rivers another weapon at his disposal. Smith-Schuster is the perfect combination of size and speed which makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing cornerbacks. He is a smooth and an accomplished route runner, but also has the size and strength to overpower defenders at the point of attack which makes him a red zone threat. During his two-year college career, Smith-Schuster has proven to be a productive and versatile receiver for the Trojans. In 2015, JuJu posted a stat line of 85 receptions, 1,389 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Between his 6’2”, 215lb frame, and his aggressive play, it is easy to see why a lot of NFL draft pundits are comparing him to Dez Bryant. Some will point out that San Diego has already addressed the skills position with young and upcoming talent with the acquisitions of Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry. However, don’t forget who was GM Tom Telesco’s mentor; Bill Polian, a man that believed in investing a lot of resources on the skill positions. A line up of Allen, Benjamin, Schuster-Smith, and Henry will look eerie familiar to a Colts team that had Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokely, and Dallas Clark. Now does this sound so far-fetched?
JABRILL PEPPERS, MICHIGAN, CB/S
Oct 31, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Michigan Wolverines safety Jabrill Peppers (5) holds up the brown jug after defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Michigan won 29-26. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Ever since Tyrann Mathieu came onto the scene for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, hybrid players are the new fad. Nowadays, with the emergence of the passing game and multiple personnel formations to create mismatches, teams need their safeties to be highly versatile. In order to alleviate the stress an offense tries to create with certain mismatches, an elite defense asks their safeties to have tremendous range from sideline to sideline and the ability to move down and play man coverage on a slot wide receiver. This year, Jalen Ramsey was the perfect example of this new age type of player that showed these abilities. A lot of Chargers fans were upset when they decided to pass up on Ramsey. However, San Diego will have the opportunity next year to make it up to them. Meet Jabrill Peppers, safety/cornerback for the University of Michigan. Between his style of play and his identical size, Peppers is already being called Jalen Ramsey 2.0. Like Ramsey, Peppers is athletic enough to play safety or press man corner. In 2015, Jabrill recorded 45 tackles along with 10 broken up passes for the Wolverines. This year Michigan will ask Peppers to play a bigger role by playing some linebacker as well. The Chargers will most likely need an infusion of talent in their secondary next year due to the imminent release of Brandon Flowers. A combination of Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward, and Peppers might be too good to pass up for San Diego. The only thing that could possibly kill this pipe dream for Chargers fans is Telesco seems to devalue the safety position and appears content on filling that need with second-tier players.
JONATHAN ALLEN, ALABAMA, DE
Nov 14, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) reacts after tackling Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) during the game at Davis Wade Stadium. Alabama won 31-6. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
The possible selection of Jonathan Allen in the first round is all dependent on the rookie performance of Bosa. If Bosa shows to be better suited as an outside linebacker the Chargers are going to need to fill a need at the defensive end position. Allen is a prototypical 5-technique with no glaring weakness. He is a complete three-down lineman that can excel as a pass-rusher or run defender. Allen does a great job converting speed to power which makes him a disruptive force up and down the defensive line. Last year, Allen proved to be extremely productive for Alabama. He totaled 36 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, along with 12 sacks, two forced fumbles, and four passes batted. The only question is, if Allen continues to dominate the SEC in 2016, will he even make it to the Chargers when they are on the clock?
CARL LAWSON, AUBURN, OLB
Nov 21, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Idaho Vandals quarterback Matt Linehan (10) runs the ball while defended by Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) during the second quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
This would be another selection that is completely dependent on a current Chargers situation. If Melvin Ingram regresses this year or is unable to come to an agreement with the Chargers on a long-term deal, Telesco could look to replace him with Carl Lawson, the outside linebacker of the Auburn Tigers. At 6’2”, 261 lbs, Lawson has similar measurables to Ingram and ironically he told NFL Network’s Chase Goodbread that he likes to watch Ingram and tries to incorporate some of Ingram’s game to his own. Lawson missed some time in 2015 with a hip injury but was still able to cause fits against the top offensive tackles in the SEC, like Laremy Tunsil. He is a natural pass-rusher that has violent hands and does a phenomenal job dipping his hips to get by offensive tackles. The only knock on Lawson is that he could be too much like Ingram. Due to injury, Lawson missed a couple of games last year and all of the 2014 season. Scouts will question his durability and start labeling him injury prone if he cannot put together a full season in 2016.
These are five prospects that the San Diego Chargers are most likely to consider during next years draft. In my opinion, the addition of a play maker like Smith-Schuster would transform a good Chargers offense into a dominant one. Bolt Beat wants to hear from the fans though. If you were Telesco, who would you want to see on the podium holding a Chargers jersey next year?