Dexter Lawrence is the popular name, but is Jerry Tillery the better choice for Chargers?

Could Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery be the Chargers’ first-round pick?

One of the Chargers’ top three needs is the interior defensive line.

They lost defensive tackles Darius Philon, Corey Liuget and Damion Square. Philon signed with the Arizona Cardinals and Liuget and Square are free agents. The Chargers re-signed nose tackle Brandon Mebane to a two-year deal and drafted Justin Jones in the third round of the 2018 draft, but they are in desperate need of more playmakers.

Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence is a player who is brought up time and time again by pundits and fans. I like Lawrence, I really do… but not for the Chargers at No. 28 overall.

The Chargers need a 3-tech to replace Liuget and Philon. That position needs a starter. That position needs a pass-rushing force to help take the pressure off of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Don’t get me wrong, Mebane is on the wrong side of 30 and the Chargers should look to add a bigger body for depth, but both he and Jones will likely be splitting reps at the 1-tech.

Christian Wilkins is my guy. Ed Oliver has so much upside. Unfortunately, both players will likely get taken very early.

So which defensive lineman might be available and worth the pick? Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery.

Back in March, Pro Football Focus put out an article stating that Tillery is an elite player. The 6-foot-6, 295-pounder has the size, power and athleticism that teams covet. He ran an impressive 4.93 40-yard dash at the combine.

Tillery’s major strength is getting to the quarterback. He tied Alabama’s Quinnen Williams for the highest pass-rush grade among interior defenders last season, per PFF. In Rotoworld.com’s Josh Norris’ draft preview, Norris says that it is difficult to find interior players with balance, flexibility and explosion, and that Tillery, who slides in at No. 10 in his overall rankings, has those traits.

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah also acknowledges Tillery’s talent, but playing at a high level on a consistent basis has been an issue.

“He is a very streaky player on tape. As a pass rusher, there are games where he dominates (see: Stanford game, when he logged four sacks) with a combination of quick hands, power and effort. However, there are other games where he’s content to hang on blocks and play too high. In the run game, he flashes the ability to stack, toss and pursue the ball. He still needs to lower his pad level, but he rarely gives ground at the point of attack. Overall, Tillery isn’t going to fit every team, but he shows some flashes, similar to DeForest Buckner. He just needs to become more consistent.” 

The numbers could be better, as Tillery only finished with 12.5 career sacks at Notre Dame. But you can never judge a player’s talent strictly by numbers. Tillery is also recovering from shoulder surgery he had in March. However, he’s expected to be ready to go by July, per NFL.com.

Despite being one of the top defensive line prospects, TIllery’s been projected to get drafted at the end of the first or early second. Overall, there’s a very good chance the Chargers select two defensive linemen this year. Taking a pass-rushing 3-tech like Tillery who will start Day 1 over a 1-tech like Lawrence in the first round and getting a bigger body like Western Illinois’ Khalen Saunders or Arizona State’s Renell Wren later in the draft  makes more sense. You’re getting more bang for your buck.