By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

As the NFL has morphed into a 3-day extravaganza, which showcases these college players as they move into the next phase of their career. The NFL Draft has their first round of the Draft, in prime time, on Thursday evening. The second and third rounds would be held on Friday evening, with the remainder of the rounds being held on Saturday.

This would be Los Angeles Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco’s ninth draft with the team. Not only would this be the most picks in Telesco’s tenure, but it would also be the most selections the team has made since 2004. After speaking with Telesco last week, he made it clear that in this 2021 NFL Draft they “We’re drafting players, not positions. That’s it. Players, not positions.”

Understanding the need for confidentiality in their draft preparation, I didn’t expect the Chargers brass to identify the players or positions they would be targeting in the draft during the media availability sessions leading up to the draft. However looking at their roster, it wasn’t hard to identify some of the glaring needs the team had.

Coming into this draft I felt the Chargers needed an Offensive Tackle to block for their prize Rookie of the Year Quarterback. A young cornerback to infuse some youth into their secondary, along with an additional Inside Linebacker to improve their tackling in the middle of the defense. Lastly, I felt they could use another EDGE rusher to bolster that defense and get pressure on the opponents’ quarterback.

In the first round with the number #13th pick in the draft, the Chargers selected the 6’4” 305-pound Offensive Tackle, Rashawn Slater, out of Northwestern. Although this Sugar Land, Texas native opted out of his senior season, Slater was named to the 2020 Preseason First-Team All-Big Ten as well as the 2020 Preseason All-America team. He also started 37 of the 38 games he played in, while at Northwestern.

It was interesting to hear how the Chargers got past the issues of Slater opting out of his fourth season at Northwestern. When asked about this GM Tom Telesco said, “Obviously, he didn’t have any game film from this year but he had three

years of game film at Northwestern. He was a three-year starter there… the culture they created there, the players that come from there are football smart, they’re tough… to see a player like Rashawn come out of there, you know he’s coming from a good place. We did a lot of work on him throughout the whole process and he’s a perfect fit for us.”

Head Coach Brandon said about Slater’s flexibility, “We certainly see him a tackle that’s why we drafted him- to play outside. We feel like he’s a natural out there. We feel like he has rare athleticism to kick to these wide rushers.”

When asked what separates him from the other Offensive Tackles in the draft Rashawn Slater says, “I’m a technician, I’m consistent. I feel like the best thing that you can be, as an offensive lineman, is consistent, and I’m the most consistent offensive lineman in this draft. I owe that to my technique, my understanding of the game, and just my work ethic.”

With their second-round and 47th overall pick, the Chargers selected 5”10”, 180 pound Florida State Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. Samuels Jr. is a native of Sunrise Florida and is the son of a two-time Super Bowl Champion. The young Samuels was Third-Team All-ACC as a sophomore in 2019 and First-Team All-ACC as a junior in 2020 He also started in 23 of the 32 games he played in as a Florida State Seminole.

Although I understand Samuel Jr. is a second-generation cornerback and comes with all the tricks of the trade, at 5’10” 180 pounds, I wanted to know why they think he’ll be able to compete with taller receivers in this league. GM Tom Telesco responded by saying, “Good question. Sometimes we throw around that a player, ‘plays bigger than his size.’ We heard that a lot from our scouts… he has all of the traits and attributes that you need to have at that position if you’re going to be a little bit size deficient. What I mentioned before about incredible instincts, his ability to key in on and diagnose routs and the football… He’s built well. He’s strong, durable. His athletic traits, as far as his quickness and his feet- his short burst explosion- it’s all there.”

In their first of their two picks in the third round, the Chargers surprised people by using the 77th overall pick to draft Josh Palmer, the 6’1” 210-pound receiver out of Tennessee. This was a surprising pick because they seeming had good production out of their wide receiving group last season. Nonetheless, Palmer will

be a big target with good hands for Herbert to throw too. In 4 seasons with the Volunteers, Palmer played 47 games while catching a total of 99 passes for an average of 15.3 yards in his time there.

Head Coach Brandon Staley was excited to get Palmer on his team as he stated when asked how he fits in, “He’s a guy that can play outside, he can play ‘X’ or ‘Z’ for us. Truly he can be an outside receiver and he has a really good body, really strong, physical, can run the route tree out there and get separation against press. Can you beat press? It kind of starts there. Can you beat press coverage? And then can you separate, level two? And then what’s your ball judge like, level three? He kind of clicked all three of those boxes for us. We feel like he can go inside to the slot and run that tree as well. It gives us a bigger-bodied guy that can match up against smaller nickel-type people or a linebacker to be able to get that separation. Feel like he’s a complete player and we’re excited about him. He showed up a lot in the evaluation process.”

When asked if he had a message for Chargers fans Palmer did not hesitate to say, “I’m coming to work. Man, you’re going to get everything out of me. I won’t care what role I have; I’m going to learn. You’re going to get everything from me. We’re going to win some games and we’re going to win some championships, for real.”

The Chargers used the 97th overall pick, which was their second pick in the third round, to select Tre’ McKitty, the 6’4” 246 pound Tight End out of Georgia. McKitty, a Wesley Chapel, Florida native, played in 42 games as a Bulldog and caught 56 passes for an average of 11.2 yards per catch during his 4 years in college. Coming into the draft this was certainly a position of need for them after losing a Tight End in Free Agency.

GM Tom Telesco shared with us his pleasure with McKitty’s ability and willingness to block when he responded to my question, “One of the best things that he does is block at the line of scrimmage. Very good size, strength, and power. Good feet to stay on blocks. He likes to do it, and you can tell. He comes from more of a pro-style offense at Georgie, so he has had to do it. That position is very hard to find in college nowadays; the guys that do it and do it well. A big part of our offense moving forward here is having a tight end that can get on the line of scrimmage and block. It’s a huge part of the run game to do that.” He went on to say, “At that

position, it’s hard, coming out of college, to find players that do that. A lot of tight ends are out in the slot, and they’re excellent receivers, but we do need somebody to kind of handle that role at the line of scrimmage. I hate to say it, but someone to do some of that dirty work. That’s going to be some of his jobs. Hopefully, we’ll get him some balls, too.”

McKitty said when asked what Chargers fans could expect from him, “A hard-worker. A guy that’s going to get it done on all three downs. I feel like I’m an all-around tight end. I’m more than willing to come in and learn and then do whatever I can to help the team win.” He also said about blocking, “First thing, 80 percent of blocking is the want to. I think I have that dog in me who wants to go and put somebody on their back. It also comes down to technique. I have to continue to grow in that. I think it’s there and that I can improve in that, as well.”

With their fourth-round pick and the 118th overall pick, the Chargers selected 6’2” 244-pound EDGE rusher Chris Rumph II out of Duke. The Gainsville, Florida native grew each season of his career at Duke, from 2018 Freshman All-America (USA Today), 2019 Third-Team All-ACC, 2019 First-Team All-America (PFF), and 2020 Second-Team All-ACC. Rumph II started 12 games of the 36 games he played at Duke while recording 125 total tackles and 17.5 sacks.

Head Coach was asked about what he likes about Rumph II and he shares with us, “his versatility to play on the edge and play a variety of techniques. Then, certainly, helping in the kicking game. In a system like ours, you’re hoping that a backup edge player can play in the kicking game. We feel like he can and that he’s athletic enough to be one of those big-skill bodies.”

With their fourth-round pick and the Chargers selected 6’5” 298 pound Nebraska lineman Brenden Jaimes with the 159th overall pick in round five. Jaimes, an Austin, Texas native, was well decorated during his career as a cornhusker, by being named 2017 Big Ten Network Honorable Mention All-Freshman Team, 2018 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Coaches & Media), 2019 Academic All-Big Ten, 2019 Team Offensive MVP, 2019 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Coaches & Media), 2020 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Coaches & Media), 2020 Academic All-Big Ten. Brenden also started in all 40 of the game he played in, while at Nebraska.

Head Coach Brandon Staley would say when about where Jaimes would play Guard or Tackle, “We think a little bit of both. He’s done both. I really like his body of work. Set a career record at Nebraska for most games started by an offensive lineman. [Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach] Frank Smith and [Assistant Offensive Line Coach] Shaun Sarrett both had really good grades on this guy. This is a guy that had a lot of inside-out flex. Felt like he would contribute to the depth of our group. He’s a guy that’s been a productive player in a really good conference.”

They added the linebacker I thought needed when they drafted Iowa’s 6’3” 234 pound Nick Niemann in round 6 with the 185th overall pick. The Sycamore, Illinois native was named Academic All-Big Ten (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017) along with being named 2020 Third-Team All-Big Ten (Coaches), 2020 Third-Team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele), and 2020 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Media) while at Iowa. Neimann started 20 of the 45 games he played in while recording 157 tackles 2 sacks, a fumble recovery, and an interception as a Hawkeye.

GM Tom Telesco says he’s hopeful that Nick will be a contributor on their team in the future, “Nick brings… very smart, tough, has good size, athletic, very productive in the Big Ten. He has a chance to earn the role, he’ll have the opportunity here to come in and compete for playing time. Hopefully, everything works out; he plays against his brother at some point (who plays in Kansas City), twice a year.”

When asked how he could impact the Chargers team Niemann was quick to say, “I just know that I’m going to be a team guy. I’ll find a role, whether that’s on defense or special teams. I’m just going to do what’s asked of me, show up, try to make plays, and help the team win.”

The Chargers added some depth at the running back position when they drafted Missouri running back 5’10” 211 pound Larry Rountree III with the 198th pick in round 6 of their draft. The Raleigh, North Carolina native was named as the 2017 All-SEC Freshman Team All-Purpose/Return Spec. (Coaches), 2018 SEC Academic Honor Roll and to the 2020 Second-Team All-SEC. Rountree III played in 48 games at Missouri and averaged 5.0 yards per carry, 6.1 yards per catch, and scored a total of 40 touchdowns in his four seasons as a Tiger.

When asked about what Rountree III brings to the table Telesco responded by saying, “he played very well in the senior bowl, but a lot of production in Missouri. Built well, strong, really thick body type, very good pass protector, catches the ball in the backfield, and ran for a lot of yards at Missouri. He has really good game speed, we saw that at the Senior Bowl. We think he can come in and compete for a job in the backfield and compete on special teams too. As I said, most of these guys are going to have to find a way through special teams first. We think he can come in and compete for a job and we’ll see how far he can take it.”

With the 241st overall pick in round 7, the Chargers drafted Mark Webb, a 6’1” 207-pound Defensive Back out of Georgia. The Philadelphia, PA native, will add more depth to their secondary, started in 13 of 49 games as a Bulldog. In his 4 years in Athens, Webb recorded 82 total tackles, 2 fumble recovery, and 1 interception.

When asked how he saw Webb fitting into the secondary Head Coach Brandon Staley shared with us, “He fits the style of DB that we’re looking for. He’s a guy that can play anywhere in the secondary but played in a lot of different spots for them in a pro-style defense. You guys all know that they had like five DBs drafted today. Just have a lot of respect for the way that they play. I just feel like he can add to our group with the versatility that we like to play with, but also be a really big factor on special teams in the kicking game. He has a pro body; long arms, strong, fast. We feel like he can be a really strong contributor in that phase, too.”

By many accounts, they have done one of the better jobs of drafting quality players in this year’s draft as compared to many other teams in the league. They drafted a couple of play and play guys in Slater and Samuels and solidified the depth of their offensive line and linebackers. The next evaluation period for these guys will be in OTA’s (Organized Team Activities).

I also asked Coach Staley about how’s the culture development process going, “Yeah, we’re going to have to get to work on that right away. Hopefully, because we’re at the beginning, that we don’t skip any steps with them. We have a little bit of a head start with the veteran group, the guys coming back, but it’s really important with us that we don’t skip any steps with the rookies. That they go through that same onboarding process that we’ve had with the team that’s already here in place. We have to make sure that we go back and do that and

then hopefully because we’re off to a start with the older guys – some of these guys who have played a lot of football – hopefully they can help us accelerate that process. Hopefully, they can be that mouthpiece for us where, hey, your players turn into your coaches. You know you have a good thing if your players turn into your coaches and hopefully, they start sounding like we do and that’s why I love our team so far because I know that that’s exactly what is going to happen.”

Whether you’re a Chargers fan or not, you would have to be pleased with the way they drafted this past weekend? Let us know how you think they did, by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or forward any suggestions on what additional topics or angles you’d like to see discussed to info@whatsgoodinsports.com.

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