By all logic, the Los Angeles Chargers will be looking to fortify the interior of their defense in the first round of the upcoming draft by selecting a defensive tackle or middle linebacker.
Of course, the thoughts that fans of the team consider logical don’t always match those of the front office. After all, the team drafted a wide receiver in the first round last year when that was one of the team’s deeper positions.
With Corey Liuget facing a 4-game suspension to begin the year and Brandon Mebane well into the aging process for an NFL player, many think that the team’s first-round selection should be used on a defensive tackle and nothing else.
However, when looking at the depth of the defensive tackle position compared to that of the middle linebacker spot, one can make an argument that the pick at No. 17 could (and possibly even should) be used on a middle linebacker.
The defensive tackle position is just a deeper talent pool. Let’s take a look at some of the top defensive tackles in this draft.
Vita Vea: Size, speed, strength and athleticism. You don’t often get the complete package in a defensive tackle, but this guy is pretty close. If he’s there at No. 17, it would be awfully tough to pass on him.
Da’Ron Payne: A player you will or perhaps have already seen mocked to the Chargers at No. 17. Payne is a solid player, but may be getting too much credit due to playing at Alabama.
Taven Bryan: This is a player who seems to be ascending up draft boards and has even drawn comparisons to J.J. Watt. That’s high praise.
Tim Settle: A versatile defensive lineman who teams could line up at multiple positions, Settle can aid the rush defense while also adding something as a pass rusher.
Maurice Hurst: Hurst was the top rated defensive tackle on some boards when the college football season ended but he’s shown limitations to only fit in certain schemes when watching film and a heart condition detected at the scouting combine could scare some teams off.
Harrison Phillips: Probably not as athletic as some teams would like, but it’s hard to argue against 98 tackles from a defensive tackle, which Phillips recorded last season.
B.J. Hill: Some analysts like this player, some see him as a third or fourth-round pick. In the right system, a team could get a steal as Hill is an above-average run defender.
Derrick Nnadi: This is another player who, under the right coaching, could be much better than a lot of scouts and general managers think. Nnadi doesn’t appear to possess much in the way of skills as a pass rusher, but he can be an effective defensive playmaker due to his impressive strength.
All of those players could be drafted within the first three rounds at the end of this month, and three of them could easily be first-round picks. Should the Chargers take one of them? Possibly, but you may think twice after seeing the list of linebackers.
Roquan Smith: Smith is the top inside linebacker in this class and with good reason. There’s not much he doesn’t do well, but that makes him a top-10 pick, one that almost certainly won’t be on the board at No. 17.
Rashaan Evans: We like the idea of the Chargers drafting Evans at No. 17 and if you ask me, unless Vea is still on the board, he should be the pick. A physical defender who can get after the quarterback, Evans would instantly make the Chargers’ defense more dynamic.
Leighton Vander Esch: If the Chargers could get a guy like Vea or Payne in the first round and then land this guy in the second, the draft would be an instant success. Vander Esch started just one season at Boise State, but he was selected as the 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in that season. He most likely won’t still be on the board when the Chargers select in the second round, which is one of the main reasons I’d push drafting a linebacker in round one.
There’s also players such as Malik Jefferson and Josey Jewell in the draft, but for me, the drop off from Vander Esch to them is much steeper than say Taven Bryan to Tim Settle or Harrison Phillips.
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The Chargers should strongly consider drafting a defensive tackle and a linebacker in the first three rounds, but it’s hard to say which should be taken first. Because of the depth at defensive tackle, Tom Telesco should target a guy like Evans at No. 17.
Currently, the Chargers’ starting linebackers would be Denzel Perryman, Kyle Emanuel and either Jatavis Brown or Hayes Pullard. In addition to the lack of depth (and perhaps overall talent) at the linebacker position, there’s also the concerning fact that Perryman has missed 13 games over the last two seasons due to injury. It seems that linebacker is the position that should be at the top of board in terms of needing an upgrade.
When hearing all of that, do you still feel that defensive tackle should be the priority?