Los Angeles Chargers: Why LB Rashaan Evans should be the pick at 17

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 21: Rashaan Evans #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles Jarrett Guarantano #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 21: Rashaan Evans #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles Jarrett Guarantano #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

There are four players I believe the Los Angeles Chargers should target with their first-round pick. Next up, Alabama LB Rashaan Evans.

*Why OT Mike McGlinchey should be the pick at 17

*Why S Derwin James should be the pick at 17

*Why DT Vita Vea should be the pick at 17

The Chargers need linebacker help. It’s as simple as that.

Denzel Perryman is a stud, but the 2015 second-round pick has missed 15 games in three seasons. Kyle Emanuel was a nice find in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, but he’s an average player who lacks ideal speed, coverage ability and playmaking skills. 2016 sixth-rounder Jatavis Brown was one of the top rookie linebackers, but he took a step back in 2017 after struggling to adapt to a new scheme and playing through some pain. As for depth, Hayes Pullard started a career-high 10 game in place of an injured Perryman, but he was one of the worst linebackers in the league. Nick Dzubnar was re-signed to a one-year deal and James Onwualu is currently on the roster, too, but both are special teams contributors. Korey Toomer is no longer a Charger after signing a deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Chargers didn’t add a linebacker in free agency, so I can almost guarantee they will take one within the first three rounds.

Everyone knows Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is my guy. I’ve been hyping Edmunds up since the very beginning, so much so that he became a consensus top-10 (or 15) pick. I’ll take the blame for that. Georgia’s Roquan Smith is right behind Edmunds as one of my favorite players, but he too will likely be long gone by the time the Chargers are on the clock.

What about Alabama’s Rashaan Evans? Is the “third-best linebacker” worth the pick at 17?

Don’t think of it like that. At all. Just because Evans ranks behind Edmunds and Smith doesn’t mean he won’t be a stud. Think of it this way: The Chargers were in need of a cornerback in 2014 and had to settle for whoever was left after three corners (Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller and Darqueze Dennard) were taken before them, and they ended up with the best (but oft-injured) of the bunch in Jason Verrett (25th overall).

Evans started his career at Alabama as a backup who saw most of his playing time on special teams during his first two seasons. He was set to challenge for a starting role in 2016, but a groin injury suffered in fall camp set him back. Despite being a reserve, he made more of an impact on defense than he did in the previous two years combined, finishing with 53 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss, six quarterback hurries, four sacks, two pass deflections and one forced fumble in 14 games, per College Football Statistics. He later replaced starting linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who tore his ACL in the SEC Championship game, to end the year.

In 2017, Evans took over for Reuben Foster at middle linebacker and put up his best numbers of his four-year career. He finished with 74 total tackles, including 13 for loss, seven quarterback hurries, six sacks, three pass deflections and one forced fumble. He earned All-SEC honors.

It’s also worth noting that Evans showed up big when the lights were brightest. According to his draft profile on NFL.com, he recorded Alabama’s only two sacks against Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. The following season, Evans recorded 18 tackles from an inside linebacker position during the Tide’s two playoff appearances, which also marked his only two starts of the season.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Evans was a top performer in the three-cone drill (6.95 seconds), which displayed how fluid he can be when changing directions, and the 20-yard shuttle (4.36 seconds), which displayed his quickness and agility. He opted not to run the 40 at both the combine and Alabama’s pro day, which could hurt his stock.

Evans is NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s 20th-ranked prospect. Here’s what Jeremiah had to say:

“Evans is a versatile, playmaking linebacker. He moved all over the field in the Alabama defense. He aligned off the ball in the middle of the defense, stood up outside and even occasionally put his hand in the ground as a defensive end in pass-rush situations. Against the run, he’s a tick late to key/read, but once he makes up his mind, he closes in a hurry. He runs right through blockers and if he doesn’t make the tackle, he creates a pileup to slow down the ball carrier. He has outstanding speed to range sideline to sideline. He will miss an occasional tackle in space because he rarely breaks down, instead looking for the big hit. In coverage, he can easily mirror tight ends and backs. He will even match up in the slot at times. He isn’t a polished pass rusher, but he can win with pure speed and effort. Overall, Evans is a tone-setter on defense and his versatility is a huge asset.”

I think Jeremiah is spot on. Evans is one of the fastest, most explosive linebackers out there. He might be the hardest hitter, too. A lot of violence makes you wonder if he’s got a little pain behind those eyes.

Whether it’s defending the run, dropping back in coverage (surrendered just 6.9 yards per reception and allowed one TD into his coverage, per Pro Football Focus) and rushing passer (15 career sacks), Evans is a player who can do it all. As a linebacker, you usually benefit from how good your defensive line is, and Alabama’s DL was one of the best in the country. However, he can make plays regardless of who is in front of him because of his ferocious mentality and his physical and athletic traits. He’s so good at shedding blocks-like here and here–that he can quickly stop a play from resulting in a big gain.

While he’s a very instinctive linebacker, there are times that his speed occasionally caused him to overpursue a player out of the backfield. However, he gives you so much effort that he might still be able to track that player down.

Bleacher Report’s and Bolts From the Blue’s Kyle Posey makes a compelling case as to why he believes Evans is the best linebacker in the draft. He highlights some of the strengths listed above, as well as points out a few areas in which Evans needs to improve on, including gap integrity (in other words, losing his gap).

Unfortunately, durability concerns do come with Evans. Even though he had a productive senior year, he was dealing with another groin injury last season. Despite missing only two games, he admitted he wasn’t 100 percent.

Even so, I’d gladly take Evans because he stands out. Where would you play him? Like Jeremiah said, Evans’ versatility stands out, which is another reason why I can see general manager Tom Telesco targeting him. If I were the Chargers, I’d draft Evans to be a Day 1 starter at the SAM outside linebacker position, with Perryman playing the MIKE and Brown, who I believe will bounce back starting next to Perryman, playing the WILL. I believe Evans has the size (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) to set the edge and play on the outside, and he can move around in certain packages.

The Chargers desperately need a playmaker at the linebacker position, and Evans is just that.