Los Angeles Chargers: The most unpredictable pick at 17
By Matt Pagels
Who will the Los Angeles Chargers take with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft? I will give two choices, one being predictable and one being a wild card. This is the unpredictable pick.
I recently wrote that Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne would be a predictable choice at 17.
Before I reveal a wild-card selection, I want to say that this is all for fun. Not too much fun, because laughs are cheap and I’m going for gasps. Right, Mac?
It’s unlikely this player is picked by the Chargers; I have yet to see him go to Los Angeles in any mock draft. But in order to not make this too far-fetched, I went with a guy who plays a position in which the Chargers need to upgrade. Again, I’m not saying he should be the pick, especially if other talent (you know, the four guys I already wrote about located in this section here) is on the board, so don’t feed me to the lions or step on my head when I’m drowning if you hate this.
And that player is: Florida DT Taven Bryan.
Like what I said in the previous article, interior defensive line is a need. If Payne was the pick, he’d be taking over for an aging Brandon Mebane at the 1-tech in Gus Bradley’s 4-3 defense. If it’s Bryan’s name that’s called, he’d compete for a starting role at the 3-tech.
Despite a decent 2017 performance, last year’s starting 3-tech Corey Liuget has underwhelmed since signing his big contract extension a few years back. Not only that, but Liuget will miss the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance. 2015 sixth-rounder Darius Philon is his replacement for right now. Philon, who split snaps with Liuget last year (and, in my opinion, played better) deserves a shot at being the full-time starter, but he needs competition. The Chargers also need more depth at this spot.
In 2017, Bryan was the best player on a bad Florida team. He finished with 40 total tackles, including six for loss, and four sacks, per College Football Statistics. His Pro Football Focus grade of 89.1 overall was good for sixth-best among all interior defenders last year; in comparison, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst ranked first, Washington’s Vita Vea ranked second and Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne ranked ninth. Bryan’s 9.5 pass-rush productivity was the fifth-highest among draft-eligible defensive tackles, and he continued to get more and more pressures every year, as noted by PFF.
The J.J. Watt comparison by some is a bit much, but there’s a lot to like about the 6-foot-4, 291-pound Bryan. He’s a great athlete with the tools to become dominant at the next level. He’s known for being a good pass rusher who is extremely explosive off the line and strong enough to shed blocks.
To say he blew up the combine is an understatement. He was a top performer in the 40-yard dash (4.98 seconds), bench press (30 reps), vertical (35 inches), broad jump (9’11”), three-cone drill (7.12 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.48 seconds) among all defensive linemen (DEs and DTs) that participated. His rankings in those categories among players listed at DT: fourth, sixth, first, first, first and first.
However, there is a downside to drafting Bryan: He’s raw. Scouts say he doesn’t have great instincts and gets lost/caught out of position. He also doesn’t have the starting experience or high-end production you’re looking for in a prospect. Prior to 2017, Bryan had 17 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks from 2015-16 (he redshirted in 2014), and he only started two games during that span.
Taven Bryan has a legitimately elite first step. Has issues with running himself out of plays and getting off blocks.
Just 5.5 sacks and 10.5 TFLs in college. (Maurice Hurst had 13.5/32.) Still, he has a real high upside if you trust your DL coach.
Raw but clearly talented pic.twitter.com/nrReeXF2N2
— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) March 23, 2018
But it’s the talent and upside that’s appealing to scouts. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has Bryan as his third-best defensive tackle (24th overall) behind Vita Vea (11th) and Da’Ron Payne (18th) in his top 50 rankings. Here’s what Jeremiah had to say:
“Bryan is a very athletic, twitched-up defensive tackle. As a pass rusher, he has an excellent get-off. He launches out of his stance and flashes an impressive push/pull move to generate pressure. When he has proper hand placement, he can push the pocket with outstanding power. He does needs to add more hand moves to his arsenal, but he has the raw tools to develop into an outstanding interior pass rusher at the next level. Bryan is very inconsistent against the run. He plays too high, struggles to resist pressure on angle blocks and loses sight of the ball. He’s at his best when slanting and shooting gaps. Overall, Bryan isn’t a finished product, but he has Pro Bowl-caliber traits and could emerge as a premier interior pass rusher.”
In Rotoworld’s Josh Norris’ Top 50 Board, Bryan ranks 19th overall and ahead of both Payne (27th) and Vea (36th). It’s not just scouts who view Bryan as a top prospect, as Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller says teams are also very high on the Florida product.
There’s a lot of talk Taven Bryan will be not only a first round pick but potentially a top 25 player. Teams love his athleticism and potential. Keep an eye on the Falcons for him
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 8, 2018
This doesn’t apply to all of general manager Tom Telesco’s draft picks, but I feel as if the Chargers draft safer, more productive players with average athleticism instead of going after high-end athletes with very high ceilings; but perhaps Bradley will have more of say this year. In this defense, the Chargers could use a Gerald McCoy-esque player in the middle, a taller, more athletic body who can get to the quarterback in a hurry and rack up sacks, as well as take on double teams. And I believe Bryan can quickly become that guy with Bradley coaching him. While Bryan would be playing the 3-tech, his frame, strength and quickness suggest that he’d be the best candidate to fill in at 5-tech defensive end should Joey Bosa sit a few plays out, too (depth is good!). Overall, his versatility as a multi-positional lineman might catch Telesco’s eye.
I know, the Chargers should really be looking for more of a run stuffer, but this class of defensive tackles is deep to the point where they can find a viable starter at the 1-tech in the middle rounds. So if Bryan were to be the pick, the Chargers should double down on defensive tackles–and that’s not a bad idea.
After needing to get younger and better up front on the offensive side of the ball, Telesco doubled down by getting offensive linemen Forrest Lamp (second round) and Dan Feeney (third round) in the 2017 draft. Getting younger, better players on the interior is the goal this year, right? Plus, you can’t have enough good defensive linemen. The Philadelphia Eagles can attest to that.