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LA Chargers: “Steal a Player” series – AFC North edition

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 10: Alejandro Villanueva #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Los Angeles Rams on November 10, 2019 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 10: Alejandro Villanueva #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Los Angeles Rams on November 10, 2019 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

From the Pittsburgh Steelers, the LA Chargers steal…

T Alejandro Villanueva

As I mentioned in the earlier slides, this exercise is really about fit above all. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a great player but doesn’t really fit what the Chargers currently have. The same goes for TJ Watt, James Connor, Juju Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree and obviously Roethlisberger.

Devin Bush was very tempting here, but I’m a big believer in Drue Tranquill and Kenneth Murray. I also thought about Cameron Heyward but I’m not crazy about the fit as he would have to take on the three-technique defensive tackle role.

At this point, I decided to roll with Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. He’s obviously older than Ronnie Stanley, but there isn’t a clear cut upgrade in terms of fit like there was with Marquise Brown.

Villanueva has really come into his own over the last few seasons and graded as high as 10th among left tackles in 2018, per Pro Football Focus. At six foot nine inches tall, he presents a big-time challenge for opposing edge rushers. His technique is as solid as his physical presence too.

I think it’s safe to say that the left tackle is the biggest question mark on the Chargers offense. I do believe James Campen could develop Trey Pipkins into a very serviceable left tackle in this league, but Villanueva would be a big-time upgrade over him and would give the Chargers a drastically improved offensive line.

Adding Villanueva would give the Chargers four very solid veteran presences upfront and should he or Bryan Bulaga fall to injury, then Pipkins would be able to step in as the team’s swing tackle. That would easily be the best offensive line the Chargers have had since Nick Hardwick, Marcus McNeil and Kris Dielman were on the roster.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

From the Cleveland Browns, the LA Chargers steal…

CB Denzel Ward

If the Chargers had not signed Bryan Bulaga then the easy choice here would be Jack Conklin, who many Chargers fans wanted the team to sign anyway but the team elected to go with the more experienced and cheaper option in Bulaga. Personally I think they are close enough ability wise that they made the right choice.

Since I already chose Brown from the Ravens I didn’t really want to double down at wideout and I’m not the biggest believer in Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry is a bit redundant with Allen and Hill already on the roster. Mayfield replaced Tyrod Taylor in Cleveland but for the Chargers roster, Taylor is obviously the better fit. With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the roster, there isn’t really a need for Myles Garret either.

This was actually a very easy choice for me and I’m going with cornerback Denzel Ward. The Cleveland Browns surprised a lot of people in the 2018 draft, and not just because they took Mayfield but because they also took Ward with the fourth pick in that same draft. Physically, he has all the tools you want from the cornerback position.

He’s got the prototypical size for the position and ran a 4.32 40 yard dash. As is the case with all of the cornerbacks coming out of Ohio State, he’s got a lot of experience as a shut down/man to man corner and he excels in that role.

Admittedly he was a little better as a rookie, and even earned an appearance at the Pro Bowl. But he was still very effective this past season as well. He’s managed to rack up  97 career tackles to go along five interceptions these past two seasons. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s earned a 78.15 grade in coverage so far in his NFL career, which is a fantastic grade for having only been in the league for two years.

The Chargers secondary is loaded with talent, but the long term plan at outside cornerback is a little worrisome. Desmond King is best suited as a slot corner or safety. Chris Harris is 30 years of age and took a step back last season when he was playing primarily as an outside corner.

Casey Hayward is one of the best and most underrated outside corners in the league, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30. Are Michael Davis and Brandon Facyson, two former undrafted free agents really a long term answer? I certainly don’t think so.

Similar to Brown, Ward would be a great addition in the short term as he would be a massive upgrade over the incumbent Davis as well as provide the answer long term should Hayward regress anytime soon. Really sit back and think about a secondary of Ward, Harris, King, Hayward, Derwin James, Nasir Adderly and Rayshawn Jenkins. Now THAT is a scary thought.

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