Needs: The Chargers had terrible luck in 2016, suffering a number of crucial injuries on both sides of the ball. They were much better than their 5-11 record indicated, but their down year will allow them to pick a dynamic player in the top 10. Whether it’s at No. 7 or in the middle rounds, the Chargers will look to add a safety, defensive lineman, tackle and wide receiver. A third-down back is an option, too.
Picks: First round (7), second round (38), third round (71), fourth round (113), fifth round (151), sixth round (190), seventh round (225).
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
The Chargers clearly let Eric Weddle go too soon, as he turned out to be one of the NFL’s best safeties last season. Now, they have a chance to fix that mistake by taking the best free safety in the class. Hooker has the ceiling of someone like Earl Thomas and Ed Reed, excelling as a single-high safety in the middle of the field. That’s something the Chargers seriously lack after letting Weddle go.
There are concerns about Hooker’s shoulder injury and his ability to help against the run, but you’re not drafting him to play in the box. You take him to patrol the middle of the field and pick off four-plus passes a year.
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Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
Allen is one of the top defensive players in the draft and is deserving of a top-five pick. A shoulder issue could cause him to drop a bit, but the Chargers shouldn’t let him slip past the seventh spot if he’s there and Hooker is gone. Pairing him with Joey Bosa on the defensive line would help the Chargers’ pass rush and run defense, while also having Melvin Ingram on the edge.
The defense was a serious weak spot last year, and adding a playmaker like Allen would do wonders for the front seven. He’s an elite defensive lineman, whether he plays tackle or end.
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Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Wide receiver isn’t a huge need for the Chargers, but Keenan Allen’s injury history and the lack of depth behind him is a bit of a concern. Williams is a different type of receiver than Allen and would give Philip Rivers the big possession receiver he’s lacked since Vincent Jackson left.
Williams may not have elite speed or the quickness to separate with ease on intermediate routes, but he can dominate with his strength and ability to high-point the ball in the air. That’s not something the Chargers currently have on the roster, and it’s a void they’ve tried to fill for some time. Allen and Williams on the outside would be a dangerous duo.
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Zach Banner, OT, USC
Banner is a big, big man. At 6-foot-8, 353 pounds, he doesn’t have the quickness or feet to hold up as a left tackle, but on the right side or inside as a guard, Banner can have success in a year or two. It’ll take some work, and he’ll likely need to shed a few pounds to increase his mobility if he does play tackle in the NFL, but the Chargers should take a chance on Day 3.
They can use help at both tackle and guard, so in the event that he doesn’t pan out at one spot, he can try to work at the other.
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Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Melvin Gordon is entrenched as the No. 1 back in L.A., but Danny Woodhead is gone and the Chargers don’t have a viable backup besides Branden Oliver. Pumphrey can replace Woodhead as a third-down receiving back, and he’ll likely only cost the Chargers a mid- to late-round pick.
He’s not the biggest back (5-foot-8) and doesn’t have elite speed, but his hands are great and he has the quickness to separate from defenders as a receiver out of the backfield. In open space, he can make guys miss and gain yards after the catch. That’s what makes him so valuable.
Josh Jones, S, N.C. State
If the Chargers pass on a safety early in the draft, Jones should be a second- or third-round target. He has the speed and instincts to play free safety in the Chargers’ defense, playing alongside Dwight Lowery on the back end. Of course, he’s not Malik Hooker, but he’d be a good value on the second day of the draft.
In coverage, he does need to be more disciplined and less aggressive, but his willingness to take chances is partially what makes him such an intriguing prospect.