The 2015 Chargers draft ended up being heavy defensively, with general manager Tom Telesco going offense in the first round and spending the remainder of his picks on the other side of the ball. The Chargers took mostly versatile, productive players with experience on special teams. Telesco also seemed to value physicality and toughness when making his selections.
All in all, it wasn’t a “splashy” draft — true to form with the Chargers GM, who maintains an even keel in free agency as well –- and at times, San Diego’s selections were even downright puzzling when put into perspective with the roster’s deficiencies.
Since these days no NFL team can make a move without it being analyzed to exhaustion, here are our evaluations of the Chargers’ picks. **Keep in mind that we aren’t scouts — (well, once Annie was a Girl Scout, but not sure that counts) – and that in general, it usually takes a year or two (at least) to determine whether the draft was a good one.
Round one: Melvin Gordon, running back (Wisconsin)
The most excitement came with this pick, when the Chargers traded up two spots to draft Gordon, who hails from Wisconsin and rushed for 29 touchdowns and 2,587 yards last season. The Heisman runner-up was arguably the most productive running back in the nation in 2014 and seems to have great intangibles, including a strong work ethic and leadership qualities.
Unknowns: Football IQ when it comes to an intricate playbook and reading blitzes; Also, while he specifically worked on pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield his senior year, he doesn’t have a high level of experience in either (but does have the “want-to” and effort).
The Chargers ranked 30th in the league in rushing last season and needed to give their franchise quarterback some balance with a ground game. Gordon should be a good addition, provided he’s as advertised and the offensive line is improved. While there were other solid RBs in the draft, this was the guy Telesco wanted.
Round two: Denzel Perryman, linebacker (Miami)
Perryman is a physical presence and a Butkus Award finalist. He led Miami with 110 tackles and is described as “burly, with an old-school linebacker build” by scouts. He’s known for his jarring punches and angry, tough play.
Unknowns: Speed and burst could be an issue.
The Chargers could use a physical, violent player at inside linebacker. Last season, ILB Donald Butler ranked as the second worst linebacker in the league by Pro Football Focus. Manti Te’o showed improvement last season but was largely used in nickel and dime formations so the addition of Perryman could benefit the Chargers in early downs. Not sure it was the best “need” as a second-round pick, but perhaps Perryman brings some competition and edge to the linebacker corps?
Round three: Craig Mager, cornerback (Texas State)
Mager started all four years at Texas State and was named Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference with three interceptions and 10 passes broken up in 2014. Scouts say he’s a “quick-twitch athlete who loves to hit and plays with burst.” Toughness is part of his game and his physicality is something Telesco praised repeatedly.
Like Perryman, Mager can play special teams, which is a benefit to the Chargers.
Mager lost his mother when he was 15 and raised his three younger sisters pretty much on his own, and learned to channel his emotions into productive play on the football field. That intangible – mental toughness, responsibility, dealing with adversity – is something that can’t be ignored.
Unknowns: Some scouts describe his instincts as “average” and say he allows too much separation in space and doesn’t carry deep speed. Also needs to get bigger and stronger.
The cornerback corps isn’t as diluted as other positions on the Chargers roster, so this was a case of “best player available” for Telesco. Still, it’s somewhat puzzling, considering it would seem the Chargers need players who can make an impact quickly. Mager is somewhat of a “project” pick, meaning it’s likely he wouldn’t be an immediate contributor. He himself expected to go in the later rounds or even as an undrafted rookie. Telesco must have seen something special to grab him in the second round.
Fifth round: Kyle Emanuel, outside linebacker (North Dakota State)
Emanual is productive, having played 61 games during his four-year college career. He had a dominant senior season, recording 19.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss and was selected as Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year. Like Telesco’s second and third round picks, Emanuel has also played special teams.
Scouts say he has good hips and a low center of gravity and plays with quick feet, and that his effort and skill should be enough to make the jump to the next level, provided he has good coaching.
Unknowns: Hails from a small school, so the level of competition will be much greater at the next level. Also needs to get used to a 3-4 defense and being comfortable with dropping back and playing with his hand off the ground (though that shouldn’t be too much of a problem).
Average grade because who knows? Emanuel seems highly motivated, smart and coachable. He should be able to make the transition mentally to the next level, but whether his skill set is strong enough remains to be seen. He’s tough, physical and productive, which fits Telesco’s theme this draft, but he will be a project.
Sixth round: Darius Philon, defensive tackle (University of Arkansas)
Philon red-shirted his first year at Arkansas and appeared in 12 games the following year. He started all 13 games in 2014. He was named an AP second team All-SEC selection and recorded 46 tackles (11.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, six quarterback hurries and two batted-down passes. His three fumble recoveries tied for the conference lead and ranked tenth in the nation for defensive tackles.
Scouts describe him as a penetrator who has outstanding burst. Telesco praised his quickness off the snap, which is crucial at this position.
Unknown: He might need to add muscle, bulk to his 6’1, 298-lb frame. Some questioned whether he should have declared earlier given his relatively short college career.
Huge question mark. He’s young and hasn’t played a ton of football; plus, sixth-round picks are a shot in the dark. Seems motivated to succeed and physical enough to make a difference.