The Chargers aren’t in a good place to address their top two position needs in the first round of this month’s NFL draft. They need offensive tackles and cornerbacks, but so do a handful of teams picking ahead of them.
But by picking 13th overall, the Chargers are in a prime spot for selecting a top prospect at other positions if there’s an early run on quarterbacks, tackles and corners.
Alabama wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are top 10-ranked prospects who could be available for the Chargers, though most mock drafts project the top four pass-catchers (Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase are the others) will all go in the top 12. If one of the top receivers does fall to the Chargers, it would be a luxury pick, but the thought of Waddle or Smith joining the Chargers’ receiving corps of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams could be enticing. It would give Rookie of the Year quarterback Justin Herbert an abundance of skill players to go toe-to-toe against the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes twice a year.
But Herbert also needs a left tackle to allow him to make downfield plays and the defense needs an outside cornerback to contain Mahomes and other star quarterbacks.
Teams, however, shouldn’t reach for needs. Also, wide receiver could soon become a position of need if the Chargers don’t re-sign Williams, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
But if the Chargers want to combine current needs with the best available player at No. 13, then they might look for an edge rusher. They’re thin behind star edge rusher Joey Bosa and 2018 second-round pick Uchenna Nwosu has provided mixed results.
While quarterbacks and receivers might make up eight or nine of the top 12 picks, the Chargers could have their choice of the top edge rusher in this draft class. A new defensive playmaker would likely please head coach Brandon Staley, who turned the Rams into the league’s top-ranked defensive unit last season as the coordinator.
Here’s a list of potential first-round prospects who don’t play tackle or cornerback:
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Chargers had a rotation for their speedy No. 3 wideout position last season with Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton. Waddle is regarded as the fastest player in the draft and could take the Chargers’ offense to the next level. He’s no rotational player and a dangerous playmaker. Waddle would also help special teams as a kick and punt returner.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Last season, Herbert relied on Allen and tight end Hunter Henry to get open on third down. Henry is now playing for the New England Patriots. The Heisman Trophy-winning Smith is arguably the best wide receiver in this draft at getting open with his full route tree. Allen and Smith could alternate at slot wide receiver to give Herbert plenty of third-down options.
Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan
This draft class lacks a top five-rated edge rusher, but there are several talented prospects, and Paye might be the best at the position. He has the size and speed to get to the quarterback often. The Chargers need to increase their sack and pressure totals.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Chargers don’t have a need at linebacker with Kenneth Murray and Drue Tranquill, but they could use depth at the position. Parsons has the skill set to play off-ball linebacker and edge rusher. He could replace Melvin Ingram on the edge and provide linebacker depth if and when injuries occur. Tranquill only played one game last season. Parsons has the size (6-foot-3) to make the transition to full-time pass rusher.
Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia
The draft experts are split on who is the best edge rusher in the 2021 draft, but Ojulari has received many votes for EDGE1. He generated 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 12 tackles for loss in 10 games during his redshirt sophomore season. Bosa needs a productive player like that to help him on the defensive line.
Others to watch include: Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami; Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami; Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU