At around the same time each year for the last few seasons, the experts around the league start predicting how each team will approach the draft and what the key focus of each franchise will be.
Usually, the experts aren’t exactly on the money, especially with a team like the Los Angeles Chargers, who have often shunned a conventional drafting approach and gone for left-field picks high in the draft more than once.
This year, the experts think the Chargers will focus on an early quarterback option to sit behind veteran pass-thrower Philip Rivers for a season or two before assuming the mantle when the N.C. State product finally calls time on his Hall-of-Fame career.
Much-vaunted ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. tipped the Chargers to draft Da’Ron Payne, a defensive tackle out of Alabama with their first pick, which sits 17th overall in the first round. In his analysis, Kiper dubs Payne the best nose tackle in the draft and the perfect replacement for aging veteran Brandon Mebane.
It’s not hard to see why the Chargers would be interested in Payne, or another of the highly-touted defensive tackles like Vita Vea out of Washington or Maurice Hurst out of Michigan. With Mebane getting toward the end of his career and question marks at the position among those set to be on the roster in 2018, drafting a high-end option at the position makes plenty of sense.
Beyond adding depth and potential star-power at defensive tackle, however, the school of thought around selecting the heir apparent to Rivers is growing. Tom Telesco is asked questions about drafting a quarterback every year and he’s always open about he and his staff evaluating the options available like all teams in the NFL, but is 2018 the year the trigger is finally pulled?
Rivers put together a stellar 2017 season, rallying the troops to within inches of an unlikely playoff berth, but his time is coming to an end and the options behind him, namely Kellen Clemens and Cardale Jones, don’t exactly excite the average fan.
Clemens has probably come to the end of his stint as the backup to Rivers in Los Angeles while Jones is a young prospect with some upside but plenty of doubts and question marks as well. As things stand, the man who finally replaces Rivers will most likely come from outside the current roster.
Enter the draft. The quarterback class is attracting much of the interest ahead of the 2018 draft and, as always, the prospects are being picked apart, poked and prodded from all angles.
Among the current crop of prospective NFL quarterbacks, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield have garnered much of the interest while Kiper himself stunned plenty when he suggested the Cleveland Browns should select Josh Allen out of Wyoming first overall.
With the Browns and New York Giants in the top two draft positions, there could be two star prospect quarterbacks off the board in the first two picks, quickly biting into the size of the pool the Chargers could be picking from down at No. 17 or perhaps even in a later round.
If we expect that the likes of Darnold, Rosen, Allen and Mayfield could be off the board by the time the Chargers pick, it’s likely they’ll opt to shore up the defensive line first before targeting a potential prospect pick at quarterback later in the draft.
Of the options that could fall to the Chargers, someone like Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner out of Louisville or Luke Falk from Washington State could pose interesting picks.
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Jackson is a unique dual-threat quarterback and could interest Anthony Lynn as an added running option alongside Melvin Gordon or rising rookie Austin Ekeler on specific set plays. Having finished 2017 with a completion percentage of 59.1 for 3,660 yards and 27 touchdowns, Jackson surpassed 3,400 passing yards and 1,400 rushing yards for the second consecutive season.
A late flyer on someone like Falk, the former walk-on who set a range of school and conference passing records during his time with Washington State, could prove intriguing. Like a mid-to-late round quarterback pick, he has plenty of concerns surrounding him as well.
2018 looks set to be the year the Chargers hand in one of their valuable draft picks for depth at the passer position, how early that move comes, and what type of quarterback Lynn and Telesco would like to sit behind Rivers, remains to be seen.