Bolt Beat Monday Mailbag: Linebacker options for the Chargers
By Tyler Schoon
Happy Monday, Bolt Beat readers! Welcome to the Bolt Beat Mailbag!
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I’ve got a 12-hour flight back to Los Angeles on Friday, so not only will your questions make for a more interesting and diverse mailbag, but it’ll keep me busy! Feel free to ask me about anything other than linebacker and defensive tackle (please, anything else). Enjoy the mailbag!
Question 1: Evans over LVE (Leighton Vander Esch)? – ezloan1
Can we just draft both?
Rashaan Evans out of Alabama and Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise State are two solid first-round options heading into the draft. At 17, the Chargers couldn’t go totally wrong with either:
- 6’3″ and 234 lbs.
- 2017 season highlights: 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks
After starting his collegiate career sitting behind Reuben Foster, Evans finally got to emerge as the starter for Alabama. Despite starting off with only 14 total tackles and zero sacks in his first four games (and missing time due to a groin injury), he went on to put up 60 tackles through the regular season and the playoffs.
What makes Evans a legitimate pick is his ability to attack. He chose not to run the 40-yard dash at both the combine and the Alabama pro day, but his game speed shows enough. He’s a guy that gives 100 percent and is relentless:
Great effort by Rashaan Evans to make a stop on 3rd & 1. Quick diagnosis & excellent tackle to stop the RB in his tracks. pic.twitter.com/FnLVz5WFq9
— Cathal Keane (@iamcathal) March 31, 2018
Rashaan Evans is looking like a player I want more at No. 17.
Watch Evans take on Tennessee's LT then get a hit on the ball carrier behind the LOS. Fast player and extremely physical. He improved on diagnosing plays and reacting as the season went on. pic.twitter.com/zdFFkdp692
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) March 11, 2018
The biggest knock on him, at least for me, is injury issues. That’s a question for any team, but as a Charger, that’s a bigger problem when the guy he’s supposed to line up next to is missing so many games. Denzel Perryman cannot stay healthy and has actually missed more games in every year through his first three seasons.
If those injury issues are determined to be “okay” by the Chargers, then I’m all in on him in the first round. He’s my personal choice if Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds are gone. But then, there’s this guy…
Leighton Vander Esch:
- 6’4″ and 256 lbs
- 2017 season highlights: 141 tackles
That’s a big dude making a lot of tackles. And he’s supposed to put on more muscle (not necessarily weight, for the record).
I won’t say he’s the polar opposite of Evans, because they both can tackle and blitz to varying levels. But where Vander Esch shines is with his tackling instincts, rather than pure athletic ability:
Leighton Vander Esch193㎝116㎏ pic.twitter.com/yb8cTz1pcy
— IOLITES (@edoriveriolites) March 11, 2018
The guy just knows how to tackle and shut down the run. I love it. For the Chargers, that might enough to sell him as their first-round choice.
Vander Esch has become a new ascending favorite of mine after going through all the linebacker prospects, though I would still prefer Evans. Evans has that extra something you look for. Can you imagine a quarterback cycling through his reads and finding his receivers covered by Casey Hayward/Jason Verrett/Trevor Williams/Desmond King, trying to keep track of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but have the play designed to bring a speed demon like Evans up the middle to hit him right in the face? Got no chance.
Question 2: What’s up with Korey Toomer? Is he leaving looking for a bigger role? – Malik
You know to be honest, at the time I read your question I thought he had signed with the Indianapolis Colts and completely forgot about him.
As of right now, the former Charger linebacker has not signed with another team. He’s in an interesting predicament: On one hand, you’ve got a guy who’s been with four different teams and never entered the season as a legitimate starter; on the other hand, he’s totaled 123 tackles across the last two seasons as a “fill-in.” Teams are probably trying to get him on the cheap because he’s never been “the guy,” but Toomer likely believes (and deservedly so) that he can be a true starter. As you mentioned, he’s likely looking for a bigger role with his new team. With the Chargers, he would likely be an underpaid backup. With another team, he’s probably going to get the contract and playing time he deserves.
Question 3: Should the Chargers trade for Odell Beckham Jr.? – Dan
Question 4: IF it’s DT in the 1st ~~Brian O’Neill OT or Malik Jefferson LB in the 2nd? – ezloan1
If I had to pick between the two, I’m going with Malik Jefferson. I am a firm believer that Joe Barksdale remains the starter at this point, and I don’t prefer a second-round OT to sit behind Barksdale when Michael Schofield or Sam Tevi can do that. Or I’m just greedy and want a linebacker as soon as possible!
Here’s the situation with linebacker:
Trying to figure out what the Chargers need/want to do at LB. They have Perryman to man the middle (MIKE), but he needs to stay healthy. Wonder if they see Jatavis as a bounce-back guy at WLB or have Phillips/Jenkins split time there. That would lead to find a starter at the SAM.
— Bolt Beat (@BB_Chargers) March 28, 2018
Jefferson has all the athletic ability in the world, but he is still raw in instincts and football IQ. He specializes when he attacks and doesn’t have to think. Those learning and teaching moments will come with time, but from a first-year perspective, he won’t start in the middle while Denzel Perryman, who excels at diagnosing run plays, is there. Let him play WLB and run around and make plays like these:
Malik Jefferson Film/ThreadLB Texas 6’3” 240. Malik Jefferson was a Freshman All-American at Texas and was able to produce under two separate staffs and defensive schemes. He has the ideal height, weight, speed, and mentality of a linebacker@49ersHive @LedyardNFLDraft #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/L7dHJTteia
— John Chapman (@JL_Chapman) March 3, 2018
There will be learning curve issues, but he will get better. Gus Bradley seems to have a good hold on defensive player development, and Jefferson should fit in well. Going from 60 to 110 tackles in one year shows a lot of growth, and I believe his best football is ahead of him.
Thanks for the questions guys! It’s good to be in April and that much closer to the draft. There’s so much to look forward to regarding both the immediate and distant future of this team.
Have a great rest of your week!