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2020 NFL Draft Grades – Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers’ six-man draft class is one of the league’s best in 2020 and may very well spark a power-shift in the highly contentious AFC West.
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Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.

In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.

In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.

So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.

Therefore, over the next 30 days, will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.

Today’s team: Los Angeles Chargers

Head Coach: Anthony Lynn

General Manager: Tom Telesco

Players selected in 2020:

Round 1, Pick 6 overall: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

Round 1, Pick 23 overall: LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

Round 4, Pick 112 overall: RB Joshua Kelley, UCLA

Round 5, Pick 151 overall: WR Joe Reed, Virginia

Round 6, Pick 186 overall: S Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame

Round 6, Pick 185 overall: WR K.J. Hill, Ohio State

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Key Undrafted Free Agents:

DE Joe Gaziano, Northwestern

NG Breiden Fehoko, LSU

LB Asmar Bilal, Notre Dame

WR Jeff Cotton, Idaho

OT Ryan Roberts, Florida State

Overview of the Chargers’ 2020 draft: After parting ways with iconic quarterback Philip Rivers in the offseason, the Chargers got a much-needed jolt in the 2020 draft, landing mega-watt talents Justin Herbert and Kenneth Murray in the first round and taking advantage of this year’s extraordinary depth at receiver (and running back) to scoop up falling stars on Day Three. The supremely-gifted Herbert lands in a perfect position, getting drafted by the team he grew up rooting for and one already boasting both plenty of pass-catching talent and the same focus on the running game he saw at Oregon. Even better, with the presence of veteran Tyrod Taylor, the Chargers do not have to rush Herbert. It will be fellow first round pick, Murray, who shines immediately, quickly justifying Telesco’s bold decision to package the Chargers second and third round picks in a jump to the Patriots’ No. 23 overall selection. The aggressive swap landed the Chargers two of just 17 true first round talents in this class but it locked the team out of the draft on Day Two and in doing so took away the franchise’s best opportunity to take advantage of this year’s elite offensive tackle class. Losing out at that position, specifically, would be one of the only quibbles I have with the Chargers’ draft. And that may be unwarranted, as the fact that the Chargers only signed one undrafted free agent offensive tackle suggests the club feels very good about the development of second-year starter Trey Simpkins on the left side with former Packers Pro Bowler Bryan Bulaga, of course, expected to lock down right tackle. Just as he did in Round One, Telesco won with quality over quantity on Day Three, nabbing the hard-running Joshua Kelley as an inexpensive replacement to Melvin Gordon as the Chargers inside runner to complement breakout air-back Austin Ekeler. Late round receivers Joe Reed and K.J. Hill would have earned top 100 consideration in most drafts but fell with needy teams filling holes on others earlier. Polar opposites in size, speed and style, each offers a unique skill-set that should fit in quite well to an already diverse and talented Chargers’ receiving corps. Alohi Gilman’s smarts and steady open-field tackling should help in the secondary and on special teams, as well.

Best Player of the Chargers’ 2020 Draft: LB Kenneth Murray

One day Herbert may take over this spot but in terms of instant-impact ability, Murray not only ranks as the top choice on the Chargers, he should be viewed among the frontrunners for Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades. The 6-2, 241 pounder has exceptional speed, unofficially clocking in at 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash and it is so obvious on the field in the way that Murray beats backs to the edges and chases down ballcarriers from behind. He isn’t just fast, Murray generates incredible force with his collisions. Quite frankly, the Chargers have not employed a linebacker with this kind of run and hit ability since the late legend Junior Seau was patrolling in San Diego. Now, to be clear, Murray is currently nowhere near Seau in terms of recognition, and his instincts will need fine-tuning if he is to maximize his potential. Plugging that kind of speed into a defense already boasting playmakers like Derwin James, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, however, could make the Chargers a defensive equivalent to Kansas City’s almost unstoppable offense and one of the powerbrokers of the AFC West division.

Best Value of the Chargers’ 2020 Draft: WR Joe Reed, Virginia

Technically-speaking fellow late round receiver K.J. Hill checked in higher on my board but the multi-faceted Reed ranks as one of my favorite players in this draft class and I love his fit with the Chargers, specifically. Built more like a running back than a receiver at a rocked-up 6-0, 224 pounds, Reed did most of his damage with the Cavaliers as a returner, showing terrific vision and courage, strength and speed to run through traffic and into daylight. In terms of size, speed and versatility, Reed was essentially a poor man’s Laviska Shenault (selected 42 overall by Jacksonville) in this class. Shoddy quarterback play at Virginia contributed to Reed entering his senior campaign with just 52 career receptions but he exploded for 77 grabs as a senior, demonstrating improved routes and hands. After averaging 18.6 yards per reception as a junior - scoring touchdowns on seven of his just 25 receptions for the year – Reed was the focus of every defense in 2019 and his yard-per-catch average plummeted to just 8.8, suggesting that he is not a playmaker. That couldn’t be further from the truth, which will be evident soon enough when Reed adds juice to the Chargers’ kick and punt return units (which ranked 27 and 28, respectively in the NFL last year), while complementing established outside pass-catchers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams out of the slot and across the middle. Hill, one of the most accomplished route-runners and sticky-handed pass-catchers of this class, is more of a traditional slot, who also should outplay his selection.

Best Project of the Chargers’ 2020 Draft: QB Justin Herbert

Given that he was a four-year starter at Oregon, checked every box imaginable at the Senior Bowl and Combine and was the sixth overall pick of the draft, listing Herbert as a project will be considered a stretch for some. Those suggesting that, however, would do well to watch more tape on Herbert. His maddeningly inconsistent accuracy from the pocket and on the move made him one of the most polarizing prospects in the country over the past two seasons. While his highlight reel contains some legitimately All-Pro caliber throws, Herbert was often at his best when allowed to challenge defenses with his legs, as well as his arm. Given that the other two quarterbacks currently on the roster – Taylor and Easton Stick – also are quality athletes, it is possible that utilizing the quarterback as a true dual-threat has been part of offensive coordinator Steve Steichen’s plan all along. Herbert’s ascent to a starting (and perhaps starring) role for the Chargers received a post-draft boost with the hiring of highly regarded quarterback coach Pep Hamilton.

Overall Grade for the Chargers’ 2020 Draft: A

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs