Los Angeles Chargers: 5 linebackers to target after the first round

By Matt Pagels
3 of 5

USC LB Uchenna Nwosu

Another athletic, outside linebacker who can play edge in sub-packages? You betcha!

Uchenna Nwosu got into football a bit late–a sophomore in high school late–but he made the right decision.

He appeared in all but game during his first two seasons as a Trojan, but he only started one game, finished with just 40 total tackles and didn’t record a sack. He became a full-time starter in 2016 and finished the season with 53 total tackles, including 7.5 for loss, five pass deflections, three sacks and one forced fumble. He was USC’s 2016 John McKay award winner (underclassman with the most competitive spirit). A defensive captain in his final year at USC, Nwosu finished with 75 total tackles, including 13.5 for loss, 13 pass deflections (yes, that is correct), 9.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery while earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors

Nwosu was a beast at putting pressure on the quarterback this past season. Pro Football Focus notes that his 61 total QB pressures were the second-most among draft-eligible Power 5 edge defenders. He also shows excellent awareness at the line of scrimmage. In 2017, he led all FBS edge defenders with 13 pass deflections, and his 33 defensive stops tied for fifth-most among Power 5 edge defenders, per PFF.

Check out this very detailed scouting report on Nwosu, including the impact he made vs. top competition. Here is another good thread that shows his talent.

Like Carter, the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Nwosu is versatile. Scouts say he is a very smart football player, too. When watching the tape, I also see a ton of passion. You’ll notice that Nwosu has a terrific first step, the speed to generate pressure inside and outside, the physicality vs. the run and a high motor. Scouts say he’s a good tackler who plays loose. He has solid stop-start quickness, too, which will benefit him in coverage duties.

His combine numbers don’t pop off the charts, but he had a decent showing. He finished with a 4.65 40 (tied for sixth-best among edge defenders), 20 reps on the bench press (tied for 14th-best), 32-inch vertical (tied for 11th-best) and 9’11” broad jump (tied for ninth-best). When comparing his numbers to all linebackers (just LBs) who participated, he would have ranked tied for 14th in the 40, tied for 11th in the bench press, tied for 15th in the vertical and tied for ninth in the broad jump. He didn’t participate in the three-cone drill or 20-yard shuttle.

As for weaknesses, scouts say he is undersized and that his lack of strength will hurt him on the edge. They say he got bullied from time to time. He’s also not a finished product.

Is he a scheme fit? Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast ran a 5-2 base defense, which appears to be similar to a 4-3 under front. In Pendergast’s defense, the outside linebacker’s primary job was to rush the passer. Very few times did the OLB drop back into coverage. Nwosu was the starting strong-side backer for that defense and played in a two-point stance. While he wasn’t asked to drop back a ton, he showed he was athletic enough and comfortable in coverage, especially at the Senior Bowl when he was asked to play both OLB and ILB.

He definitely has the skill set to be an off-ball linebacker and is physical enough to play the SAM in Bradley’s scheme. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller also believes he fits that type of roll. The Chargers met up with Nwosu twice already, once at USC’s pro day and more recently at Los Angeles’ local pro day. And the Chargers have him listed at the OTTO position (a.k.a. SAM), per ESPN’s Eric Williams.

With his versatility, Nwosu can be moved closer to the line on passing downs. I believe that his pass rush, which is a work in progress, and his ability to read the quarterback and knock down passes at the LOS will be huge in helping the defense get off the field on third downs. If the Chargers don’t go with LB Rashaan Evans, who is a realistic choice at 17, with their first pick, then Carter or Nwosu should be the pick on Day 2. Texas’ Malik Jefferson could also be in the conversation here, but I prefer the other two.

Round Prediction: Round 2-3