NFL draft: Chargers’ defensive line needs help stopping the run


As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Times will examine their roster. Part 2 of 8: Defensive line.

Before the 2016 NFL draft, the Chargers sat in a position of control. They owned the No. 3 pick and knew — thanks to trades by the Rams and Eagles that landed those teams Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively — they’d have their choice of any non-quarterback available.

The pick was a well-kept secret, but the Chargers were sure who they wanted: defensive end Joey Bosa.


Two years later, Bosa has cemented himself as one of the league’s top pass rushers. He set an NFL record by recording 19 sacks in his first 20 games.

He plays opposite Melvin Ingram, a 2012 first-round pick who also has blossomed into a disruptive pass rusher.

Add a specialist such as Chris McCain and the Chargers have plenty of ways to apply pressure on quarterbacks without having to blitz.

Unfortunately for them, though, defenses have to do more than defend the pass.

The Chargers struggled to stop the run a year ago, particularly early in the season, making help on the interior of their defensive line a priority.

With Brandon Mebane well into the second half of his career and former first-round pick Corey Liuget facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, a defensive tackle should be on the Chargers’ shopping list, and could be addressed as soon as their No. 17 pick in the first round of the draft.

They’ve done a good job developing talent with Darius Philon and Damion Square becoming key parts of the rotation.

Last year’s seventh-round pick, Isaac Rochell, also showed enough flashes to garner optimism about his future.

But if Washington’s Vita Vea or Alabama’s Da’ron Payne is available when the Chargers pick, it’ll be difficult to look elsewhere.

Vea weighs nearly 350 pounds and still plays with speed, strength and agility normally reserved for players easier on the scales.

Payne was that size when he arrived at Alabama and trimmed down to become a dominant force on the Crimson Tide’s defensive line.

Either would give the Chargers some needed punch in their run defense.

Defensive linemen under contract: Melvin Ingram ($13.88 million), Joey Bosa ($7.06 million), Corey Liuget ($9.5 million) , Brandon Mebane ($5.5 million), Damion Square ($2.61 million), Darius Philon ($735,147) Isaac Rochell ($555,000), Christopher Landrum ($555,000), Whitney Richardson ($480,000).

Free agents: The Chargers sat out the chase for the top interior lineman available, Ndamukong Suh, who was scooped up by the Rams. This late in the process, the Chargers are shopping for bargains if they’re unable to solver their needs in the draft. Former Giants tackle Jay Bromley could be a name to watch.

Draft: Vea and Payne have both been tied to the Chargers in mock drafts, and both would make a lot of sense. A player such as USC defensive end Rasheem Green would give them some positional versatility up front, a trait they value increasingly as the rounds progress.

Roster decisions: The biggest dilemma will be Liuget, who was already a possibility for a camp cut before his suspension. He’s still a valuable piece up front, so the Chargers need to weigh whether his production matches his price tag.

NEXT: Defensive backs.

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports