[Editor’s Note: Version 1.0 below was originally published on February 1]
For the first time since 2004, the Chargers will be entering the season without Phillip Rivers at quarterback. The trusty veteran has been amazingly durable and consistent during his tenure with the team, but it appears that they are finally ready to move on. The team could be without two pillars of their offense in recent years, with both Rivers and Melvin Gordon likely gone. This 2020 7-Round Mock Draft should give a little insight on how the Los Angeles Chargers could look next season.
The defense will likely remain in-tact as we head into the 2020 season, but it is still unknown whether they are good enough to carry this offense. With cornerstones like Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James, and Casey Hayward, the team has to feel pretty good on that side of the ball.
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Rivers appears headed to another team at the onset of free agency, which leaves a massive hole at arguably the most critical position in football. One of their top priorities should be addressing the job moving forward. There are a few players at the quarterback position that the team could be looking at with one of their top picks. However, will the team be willing to sit back and wait for their guy, or could they be looking to make a move to secure their future?
While finding a new face to the franchise seems paramount, it is also essential to find someone to protect him and keep the running game going. The Chargers have struggled in the protection department in recent years and will hope to see more success in the 2020 NFL Draft. There will be a plethora of options available in rounds two and three, and that seems like the best spot for this team to find those contenders. Los Angeles could also look to add some weapons for a new quarterback, as they try to keep up with high-scoring Kansas City in the AFC West.
Addressing the offense will take priority, but the defense could also use some reinforcements. Notably, the team struggled with depth in the secondary and with the pass rush last season. If the Chargers can add some quality backups at corner and edge rusher, that will go a long way towards getting them back into the AFC Playoffs race sooner than later. Depending on how the team addresses their needs in free agency, they could be in a position to improve their team rapidly going into the 2020 season.
I have separated each need into tiers to help identify the importance of each position for the Chargers heading into this 2020 7-round Mock Draft.
Tier 1: Quarterback, Offensive Tackle, Offensive Guard
Tier 2: Tight End, Cornerback, Running Back, Safety
Tier 3: Edge Rusher, Defensive Line, Wide Receiver
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Round 1, Pick 6: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The Chargers have been a model of consistency and longevity at the quarterback position since the selection of Phillip Rivers at four overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Rivers’ play fell off of a cliff during the 2019-2020 season, and the offense suffered greatly. Rivers suffered through one of his worst statistical seasons this past year, as he threw for only 23 touchdowns and an even more troubling 20 interceptions.
This choice should be a fairly obvious one, as there should be a future potential franchise quarterback left on the board. Justin Herbert has been a top prospect at the position since the start of last season, and he has also been a model of consistency for his team in Eugene, Oregon. As long as a team such as the Detroit Lions does not snatch up Herbert before Los Angeles, this pick would be a perfect match and keeps Herbert on the West Coast. While I have him ranked just slightly behind LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Herbert is a tremendously gifted prospect in his own right.
One of Herbert’s biggest strengths is his tremendous touch on deep passes. Take a look at this beautiful throw below.
Justin Herbert Deep Touch (2018 Bowl Game) pic.twitter.com/FJkkrnbQ2F
— Quarterback Film Room (@QBFilmRoom) January 27, 2020
Herbert also makes a ton of plays with his legs and has very underrated athleticism for the position. The former Oregon Duck undeniably gives the Chargers their face of the franchise as they move forward into a new stadium and new decade of Chargers football under head coach Anthony Lynn and General Manager Tom Telesco.
Round 2, Pick 37: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
The selection of Herbert as the future of the quarterback position is an excellent start for Los Angeles. The next piece of their agenda should be addressing this ever-struggling sieve of an offensive line. Blindside protector Russell Okung missed all but six games due to injury in 2019. The team used draft resources on Trey Pipkins last season, who was a decent yet unspectacular replacement for Okung in the starting lineup. The team could choose to move on from Okung this offseason, but regardless of their short-term plans with the former first-rounder, a long-term replacement is needed.
Los Angeles keeps the local theme going here with the pick of Austin Jackson out of the University of Southern California. Jackson has the size and tools to be a real anchor at the left tackle position for the next decade. He is extremely agile and quick to get to his spots while offering ideal length to hold edge rushers at bay. His functional strength needs to improve, and he’s still somewhat raw for the position, but he could be an All-Pro with the right coaching. Jackson would be a great value selection for the Chargers in the second round of this 2020 7-round Mock Draft.
Round 3, Pick 71: Shane Lemieux, OG, Oregon
The Chargers make another upgrade to their offensive line with Herbert’s teammate at Oregon in the supremely talented and powerful Lemieux. The senior guard could start at either guard position for the Chargers on day one and help anchor against some of the talented fronts in the AFC West.
The team has struggled to find offensive line help via the draft in recent years. Former top pick Forrest Lamp has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, while fellow starting guard Dan Feeney appears to be just another guy. Lemieux would give them an instant upgrade and help both Herbert and whoever starts at running back in 2020.
Round 4, Pick 102: Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC
After transitioning to a new quarterback, it would certainly help to get Herbert some new weapons to throw to in this Chargers’ offense. Some injuries hindered the receiving corps in 2019, most notably to downfield threat Travis Benjamin. That hurt the teams’ ability to stretch the field as much as they did in previous years.
Pittman Jr. is a big target with an excellent bloodline that always seems to get open and make big plays. He is a solid route-runner with good speed for his size and will make tough catches for his rookie quarterback. Pittman is also one of the better jump-ball receivers in the draft, which will make him very attractive to the Chargers and other NFL teams.
USC WR Michael Pittman Jr. is a serious jump ball winner. Does a great job high pointing the football. He's entering the draft coming off of a breakout senior year as well:
– Led Pac-12 in receptions (101)
– Led Pac-12 in receiving yards (1275) pic.twitter.com/kUhM2AuTu5
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) January 11, 2020
Pittman is another Trojan added to this offense that could look much different in 2020.
Round 5, Pick 133: Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt
Hunter Henry missed the entire 2018 season and the start of 2019, before returning to a prominent role again in this offense. He immediately re-established himself as a dominant threat at the tight end position for the Chargers. However, Henry is a free agent this offseason, and the team could opt to go younger and cheaper at the position moving forward.
Pinkney was a player projected to go slightly higher than this before the Senior Bowl, but the talented three-year starter struggled and could see himself tumble down the position rankings a bit. He is a solid blocker and has good hands for the position. He would be another reliable target for this evolving offense and would be the favorite to start right away.
Round 6, Pick 166: A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College
The Chargers’ backfield went through a radical change in 2019 following a lengthy standoff and holdout from Pro Bowl running back, Melvin Gordon. Backup Austin Ekeler took over the reins and ran away with the job. He was an absolute star last season and now looks poised to remain the workhorse following a permanent separation from Gordon.
Dillon has been a workhorse himself for the Eagles during his three years at Boston College. He is a bruising, powerful back who rushed for over 1,600 yards and 14 scores in 2019, and earned All-Conference honors three years in a row. He would be the perfect short-yardage complement to Ekeler and would allow this offense to maintain an elite running game behind their new rookie starting quarterback.
Round 7, Pick 197: Lavert Hill, CB, Michigan
The Chargers suffered some injuries to their secondary last season and could use some depth moving forward. We are going to conclude the Chargers 2020 7-round mock draft by bringing in a player in Hill who carries a ton of experience at the corner position and would be an excellent value addition at this point in the draft. He’s only a two-year starter but has played all four years, including ten games as a freshman. While he may not be the biggest corner, he is a dependable technician with excellent ball skills. He intercepted three passes in the Big Ten this past season while collecting ten pass deflections.
Michael Davis has been solid on the outside since taking over the number two corner spot midway through the 2018 season, while Casey Hayward continues to be one of the league’s best. Desmond King is also an elite nickel corner, who doubles as the punt returner for Los Angeles. Hill would likely slot in as a backup at all three positions and would be a capable starter in case injuries pop up again for the annually snake-bitten Chargers team.