L.A. Chargers took big step forward in AFC West in 2021 NFL Draft

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 29: Rashawn Slater poses onstage after being selected 13th by the Los Angeles Chargers during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 29, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 29: Rashawn Slater poses onstage after being selected 13th by the Los Angeles Chargers during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 29, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

With an extremely difficult task of taking down the K.C. Chiefs in the AFC West before them, the Los Angeles Chargers have done all they could this offseason to close the gap.

The Chargers maintained their momentum from the free agency period through the 2021 NFL Draft. The weekend draft for the Chargers was highlighted by highly touted players at positions of need falling to their selections. While many teams moved up and down the draft boards to secure their preferred prospects or gather extra picks, the Chargers stood pat and found themselves in very beneficial situations, starting in the first round.

Best Pick

Having Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater fall to the Chargers was the perfect situation for the Chiefs rival. While quarterback Justin Herbert publicly campaigned for the Chargers to select his former college teammate, Oregon OT Penei Sewell (drafted 7th by the Detroit Lions), the consensus highest rated tackle in the draft, Slater falling to the 13th pick was a blessing for the Chargers. Being the consensus second highest rated tackle in the draft, most mock drafts didn’t have Slater falling to the Chargers. Slaters fall was very unlikely, and took all three of the top defensive prospects to go in the top 12 along with a trade up by the Chicago Bears for QB Justin Fields. These picks all helped the Chargers land one of the steals of the first round.

Slater’s addition will greatly benefit Herbert after his stellar rookie season. The 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year was protected by the worst offensive line last year according to PFF. The Chargers’ offseason plans started in free agency with the signing of center Corey Linsley, who is now the highest paid center in the NFL. Continuing to improve the interior of the offensive line, guard Matt Feiler was signed to help protect the young gunslinger. With the left tackle position still open, Slater’s selection was perfect as he will look to fill that void for the Chargers, improving their line drastically.

Slater opted out of the 2020 college football season, but his performance in 2019 kept his draft value high. Transitioning from right tackle to left tackle in 2019, the Northwestern prospect was credited with allowing zero sacks, one quarterback hit, and five quarterback hurries. Slater’s name started to rise more and more and was capped off by a now highly talked about performance against Ohio State, where Slater had a greatly acclaimed performance against this year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Chase Young.

Slater has also shown the ability to play along different positions of the offensive line and has been able to hold up against some of the best pass rushers in college. The Chargers look to have their left tackle of the future to protect their franchise quarterback.

Worst Pick

While the Chargers have been thought to have a great draft, one player they reached on was Georgia tight end Tre’ McKitty. The Chargers took McKitty with their second pick in the third round at the 97th pick. The third round seemed quite high for the former four-star recruit, as NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein projected McKitty to be selected in rounds six or seven.

The Chargers lost tight end Hunter Henry in free agency this year to the New England Patriots. To fill the gap, they signed veteran Jared Cook to a one year deal. Cook looks to be a quick rental for the Chargers, which could explain the selection of McKitty. Cook and Henry have had similar production in the last few years, so Cook would seem to have an easy grasp on the starting role. McKitty appears to be a developmental project who has been said to have athletic potential by NFL Draft experts. The Chargers fourth selection in the 2021 NFL Draft will most likely have little to no effect on the team this year, as he is considered more of a receiving tight end and not as much a blocker.

While McKitty has shown upside, his production in college has not correlated with his athleticism. Starting his first three years at Florida State, McKitty appeared in 20 games and only had a little more than 500 receiving yards, with only two touchdowns, both in his sophomore year. After back-to-back seasons with around 250 yards with the Seminoles, McKitty transferred to Georgia to play for the Bulldogs. After an early season procedure on his knee, McKitty only appeared in four games and caught 6 passes for 108 yards and 1 touchdown.

With little production at the college level, the Chargers are putting a great amount of faith into the athletic potential of McKitty.


The draft as a whole has greatly improved the Chargers roster. After having Slater fall in the first round, the Chargers found themselves taking Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., the son of former four-time Pro Bowler Asante Samuel, falling to them at the 47th pick. Samuel Jr. was considered a late first to early second round selection, and was ranked as the fifth corner by PFF, and ended up being the eighth corner taken in the draft. Samuel’s ball-hawking skills were on display for the Seminoles, with three interceptions with six passes defended this season, while also recording 14 passes defended in 2019. He looks to fill in their need at cornerback after the release of veteran Casey Hayward this offseason.

Before their selection of McKitty in the third round, their first third round pick was used on Tennessee wide receiver Josh Palmer. Palmer’s statline for the Volunteers would make him seem to be nearly undraftable. Many experts have pointed to the lack of quality quarterback play in Tennessee to explain his low production. His film caught the eye of many talent evaluators, where they say his size and improved route running are shown. Palmer will look to compete for the WR3 position behind Kennan Allen and Mike Williams.

On Day 3 of the draft, the Chargers made multiple selections that have potential to make an impact soon. Duke edge rusher Chris Rumph and Nebraska OT Brenden Jaimes each have a chance to help contribute soon. After the selection, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah described Rumph as a “slippery” pass rusher and believes he could have the chance to produce with some added strength. After the fourth round selection of Rumph, the Chargers followed it up with Jaimes in the fifth round. Jaimes showed versatility at Nebraska, playing at both left tackle and right tackle, and has a chance to find a role along the newly improved Chargers offensive line.

The Chargers ended the day with the selections of Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann, the brother of Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann, Missouri running back Larry Rountree III, and Georgia safety Mark Webb.

The Chargers placed themselves in position to improve off of last year’s 7-9 record with a strong showing in free agency and the NFL Draft. With the Las Vegas Raiders continuing to provide questions about their team building strategies and the Denver Broncos facing questions at quarterback, the Aaron Rodgers rumors to Denver are the only thing that stands in the Chargers’ way of being the top competitor to the Chiefs for the AFC West title.