Los Angeles Chargers 2021 NFL Draft Recapby James Dudko May 4, 2021 1 comment
Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco rolled the dice on a few projects in the early rounds of the 2021 NFL draft. Fortunately, Telesco also came away with some bargains during the middle rounds and onwards. Specifically, the Chargers found a replacement for Hunter Henry in Round three and even added a potential starter at inside linebacker in the sixth.
Make sure to check out all of our 2021 NFL Draft Team Recaps.
Best Pick: Tre’ McKitty (Round 3, Pick 97)
McKitty went under the radar among tight ends in this class because of a lack of production. He caught just six passes in 2020 after transferring to Georgia from Florida State. It’s worth noting, though, McKitty did make 49 receptions during the previous two years. There are also mitigating factors for the downturn in the numbers. Chiefly, Georgia operated a run-first offense that called for McKitty to be a blocker.
While his catch numbers aren’t gaudy, scouts should have been wowed by what McKitty can do with the ball in his hands. He’s exceptional after the catch, possessing the acceleration and power to turn short catches into big gains. McKitty’s also adept at stretching the seams. Those are the things Henry used to do before he joined the New England Patriots in free agency.
The Chargers have a strong history of developing unheralded tight ends into playmakers. Antonio Gates was undrafted in 2003, while Ladarius Green was a fourth-round pick in 2012. Henry outplayed his status as a second-rounder four years later.
For more on McKitty, check out our scouting report on him here.
Worst Pick: Josh Palmer (Round 3, Pick 77)
The Chargers naturally want to surround Justin Herbert with more weapons, but Palmer may have a tough time making the grade. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will remain the premier options at wide receiver, while Jalen Guyton topped 500 yards in 2020. That’s something Palmer couldn’t manage in four seasons at Tennessee.
Palmer’s chances of making a bigger splash in the pros look slim. Not only does Herbert have a cadre of talented wideouts, tight ends McKitty and Jared Cook will also see plenty of the ball. Palmer likely won’t have a future as a deep threat after Tyron Johnson wasn’t too shabby in this area last season, averaging 19.9 yards per catch.
Teams don’t usually use a third-round pick on a player not expected to contribute. The problem, in this case, is the Chargers expended valuable draft capital on a raw prospect who needs to add a lot to his stats to be the kind of contributor Telesco expects.
For more on Palmer, check out our scouting report on him here.
Sleeper Pick: Nick Niemann (Round 6, Pick 185)
Niemann has the potential to become a starter as a rookie. Head coach Brandon Staley used unheralded but active inside linebackers like Kenny Young to underpin the Los Angeles Rams’ top-ranked defense in 2020. Staley will quickly appreciate Niemann’s intelligence, as well as his willingness to fly to the ball. Niemann doesn’t waste time making up his mind to play downhill and he covers ground in a hurry. Those traits will be assets in a front seven where linebackers are kept clean by Linval Joseph absorbing double teams in the trenches.
The Chargers are banking on their ability to get more from their draft picks than appearances would indicate. Even the top two picks will require some work. Rashawn Slater‘s a mauler, but he’s also a little on the short side for the role of Herbert’s blindside protector. Asante Samuel Jr. is undersized to play cornerback on the outside, but the 5’10” cover man lacks experience in the slot and might be too handsy to scrap inside.
Slater and Samuel are boom or bust, but the mid to late-rounders like McKitty offer greater value. If Telesco hits on even a couple of his selections from Days 2 and 3 this class won’t be judged on how Slater and Samuel perform.
Overall Grade: C+