Close losses were one of the main reasons why the Chargers ended the Philip Rivers era after the 2019 season. After losing 10 one-possession games, the Chargers’ brass hoped that a new quarterback would help the team win some of the games it was unable to finish the previous season.
While Rivers is a Chargers legend, it’s safe to say that the franchise was happy with its decision. Rivers is now happily retired, and Los Angeles has his long-term replacement in Justin Herbert, who enjoyed a terrific rookie season that included winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert ended his rookie campaign by leading the Chargers to four consecutive wins that included three wins over AFC West division foes.
Los Angeles’ late run, however, could not mask the fact that the Chargers lost seven one-possession games in 2020. In order to further correct the issue, the Chargers set out to add depth to several key positions via the 2021 draft. Here’s what the Chargers were able to do during the draft, along with one decision that has left some scratching their heads.
2021 Chargers draft picks
- Round 1 (No. 13 overall): Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
- Round 2 (No. 47): Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
- Round 3 (No. 77): Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee
- Round 3 (No. 97): Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia
- Round 4 (No. 118): Chris Rumph II, EDGE, Duke
- Round 5 (No. 159): Brenden Jaimes, OT, Nebraska
- Round 6 (No. 185): Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa
- Round 6 (No. 198): Larry Rountree III, RB, Missouri
- Round 7 (No. 241): Mark Webb, DB, Georgia
Thunder and Lightning
Before the draft, we recommended that the Chargers select the best-available offensive lineman/cornerback with the 13th and 47th picks. The Chargers did exactly that, taking Slater (CBS Sports’ second-ranked lineman in the draft behind Penei Sewell) in the first round and Samuel (the third-ranked cornerback) in the second round. One of college football‘s best linemen over the past several years, Slater has the versatility to play either tackle (his natural position) or guard at the next level. Samuel, despite being a tad undersized, excelled in man coverage during his time at Florida State. During his final two years with the Seminoles, Samuel picked off four passes (including three during the 2020 season) to go with 20 passes defensed.
With two of their biggest needs solidified, the Chargers gave Herbert two new weapons in Palmer and McKitty. And while the Chargers drafted the right positions, there has been mixed reaction to the selection of Palmer, who was a hard player to evaluate leading up to the draft due to the Vols’ suspect QB play. If Palmer struggles, then the Chargers will likely regret not taking Dyami Brown or Amari Rodgers, who were selected after Palmer. But if Palmer proves his doubters wrong, this could go down as one of the Chargers’ better picks.
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More defensive depth
Los Angeles did an excellent job adding depth to a defense that finished 23rd in the league in points allowed in 2020. Specifically, CBS Sports NFL draft analyst Ryan Wilson lauded the Chargers’ selection of Webb, a corner/safety hybrid who fell to the seventh round. Los Angeles also selected edge rusher Chris Rumph II out of Duke, whose versatility was recently praised by Los Angeles co-defensive coordinator Ben Albert.
“I think it’s a great fit. He’s a Swiss army knife, so to speak,” Albert said of Rumph, via Chargers.com. “He can do a lot of different things. He has the ability to rush the passer. He’s athletic enough to drop into coverage. He can do a lot of different things. He’s very smart, he’s highly competitive. He’s very passionate about the sport of football and he brings great energy. He’s going to make the people around him better, and when you have that kind of a person on the football field or a part of your football team, it’s a lot of fun to be around.”
As stated above, the development of Palmer will play a significant role in how the Chargers’ draft will be viewed several years from now. And while sixth-round picks are often overlooked, the Chargers are surely hoping that Rountree can compete for playing time behind Austin Ekeler. With Ekeler coming off an injury-marred season, the Chargers need a reliable backup who can help keep the pressure off of Herbert. That player could end up being Rountree, who scored 40 touchdowns in four years at Missouri. But if either Palmer and/or Rountree fall short, this draft will be viewed as lacking at those skill positions.