In the 2020 NFL Draft, we saw three quarterbacks selected within the first six picks. First, the Cincinnati Bengals selected LSU’s Joe Burrow, which was followed by the Miami Dolphins taking Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa four picks later. The name often lost in the shuffle is Justin Herbert, who was selected with the sixth overall pick by the Los Angeles Chargers. While he might not be as talented as Burrow and Tagovailoa, there is a lot to like about Herbert’s game. When it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, the top priority for the Los Angeles Chargers should be finding weapons for Herbert.
I know what you’re thinking: “The Chargers have a pretty solid group of skill players”. You’re not wrong, but there are question marks surrounding the group, which consists of running back Austin Ekeler, tight end Hunter Henry, and wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
Remember, we are talking about the 2021 season, as head coach Anthony Lynn has made it abundantly clear that the team plans to roll with Tyrod Taylor as the teams’ starting quarterback in 2020. How many of these offensive skill players will still be on the roster in 2021?
What does next season look like for the Chargers’ roster?
First, tight end Hunter Henry is franchise tagged for 2020 and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Chargers will be loaded with approximately $97 million in cap space heading into 2021, but do they invest big money in a player with quite the injury history?
Next, the team’s best offensive player and possibly the NFL’s best route-runner, Keenan Allen, is an unrestricted free agent. After the 2020 season, Allen will be 29 years old and looking for a contract that will pay him in the ballpark of $15 million per season. Re-signing Allen, who ranks fifth all-time in receptions and sixth all-time in receiving yards for the Chargers franchise, makes a great deal of sense, but it is far from certain that he returns in 2021.
Finally, there is the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, wide receiver Mike Williams. If we’re being honest, Williams’ play has been quite pedestrian given his high draft slot. He is playing on his fifth-year option in 2021, which means the Chargers can cut Williams to save $15.7 million in cap space while attaining zero dollars in dead cap.
Williams, who has 12 touchdowns in 41 career games, must have a stellar 2020 season in order to be brought back at such a high cap number. Given the question marks surrounding the Los Angeles Chargers’ offensive weapons, they must look to upgrade the group in 2021 to support their new quarterback Justin Herbert.
Three weapons for Justin Herbert in the 2021 NFL Draft
According to Las Vegas odds, the Los Angeles Chargers’ season win total for 2020 is 7.5 games, which would land them the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Who will be their best available options to aid Herbert in becoming the face of the franchise?
Jaylen Waddle, Wide Receiver, Alabama, Junior (5’10”, 182 pounds)
Ignore the stat sheets; if you see Jaylen Waddle‘s production during his two seasons at Alabama, you will be underwhelmed. However, it is worth noting that during his tenure at Alabama, he was the victim of a crowded receiver room featuring the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and Devonta Smith. In 2020, Waddle gets his opportunity to shine, and if I were a betting man, he will be the best 2021 wide receiver prospect not named Ja’Marr Chase.
When you watch film on Waddle, the first thing that comes to mind is the word “explosive”, as he is blazing fast and one of the most electrifying players in college football. When the ball is in his hands, Waddle is elusive and majestic. The Chargers’ offense currently lacks some juice, so adding a dynamic player would certainly provide a boost for their passing attack.
Even if the team decides to keep Allen and Williams around, both players lack the skill-set that Waddle possesses. As you can see in the clip below, Waddle has speed that can overwhelm defenses, which allows him to take a simple slant to the house for a score.
Herbert’s most appealing trait is his big, strong arm, and having a target who can take the roof off of an opposing defense will play to that strength. Envision a Chargers’ offense with Justin Herbert throwing bombs to Jaylen Waddle.
Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Penn State, Redshirt Junior (6’5″, 259 pounds)
This might be considered “too high” by some in the draft community, but Pat Freiermuth is the clear-cut best tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Dubbed “Baby Gronk”, Freiermuth is the total package at the tight end position, as he can block, has strong hands, runs brilliant routes, and is effective in the red zone.
As Pro Football Network’s Scott Gorman points out, “Freiermuth has scored 15 touchdowns the past two seasons and looks destined to hear his name called in the top 20 of the 2021 NFL Draft.”
As we have seen in Baltimore with Mark Andrews, a skilled tight end can be a young quarterback’s best friend and security blanket. Pat Freiermuth has the talent and production to be that guy for Herbert. He’s a touchdown machine, as highlighted in the clip below.
Even with Hunter Henry being one of the better tight ends in the NFL, Pat Freiermuth would be a wise selection for the Chargers. He has the tools to blossom into one of, if not the best tight end in the NFL. Nothing helps the confidence of a young quarterback more than throwing touchdown passes, and Freiermuth might just be the most effective red zone target in this draft.
Jackson Carman, Left Tackle, Clemson, Junior (6’5″, 345 pounds)
In what world is a left tackle considered a weapon? Well, protecting the quarterback is paramount in today’s NFL, and finding an upper-echelon left tackle has been a challenge for the Chargers. Of course, they would love to somehow land Oregon’s Penei Sewell, who is the best left tackle prospect we’ve seen in a decade, but the chances he falls into their laps is zero. If not Sewell, who can Los Angeles land to protect Herbert’s blindside?
While there are many candidates, no player is the clear-cut “OT2” in the 2021 Draft. There are players such as Samuel Cosmi (Texas), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), and Walker Little (Stanford) that are drawing a lot of attention, but one name to keep an eye on is Clemson’s Jackson Carman.
In Pro Football Network draft analyst Ian Cummings’ most recent 2021 NFL mock draft, the Chargers indeed select Jackson Carman, with Cummings stating that “it makes sense to bolster the unit with a powerful, punishing player.” While a left tackle won’t provide Herbert a red zone target, he will surely keep him upright, which is half the battle.