Chargers could face challenge of picking between two playmaking safeties in draft

Facing out toward the StubHub Center field, which Monday was serving as the location for a diner commercial, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco opened his league-mandated pre-draft news conference with the most honest statement of the day.

He wasn’t going to say much, he said, almost apologizing to reporters. At draft time, every word, every thought might tip a team’s hand to the rest of the league. And instead of just boldly bluffing, saying as little as possible is probably the safer bet.

But in the course of his draft discussion, Telesco noted something that could give insight into the team’s thinking ahead of Thursday’s NFL draft.

“This year’s draft seems a little more [talented on] defense than offense,” he said.


While they have needs on both sides of the ball, a new coordinator (Gus Bradley) and a new scheme (the 4-3 defense) could make this a defensive draft for Telesco and the Chargers.

The Chargers could add playmakers in the first round, beginning in the secondary, where Bradley’s teams in Seattle set the tone.

Two safeties, Louisiana State’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, are expected to be picked in the top 10, and there are scenarios where both are on the board at No. 7, when the Chargers are on the clock.

Adams is regarded as one of the playerswith the least question marks. He’s a terrific tackler who can play near the line of scrimmage and help in run support. His coverage skills might even be underrated, and he is the kind of player who could play instantly.


Hooker, though, is a bigger wild card. Joey Bosa, a schoolmate at Ohio State, said he never played a snap while the two were Buckeyes. But while Bosa was a rookie with the Chargers, Hooker got on the field and starred for Ohio State. In one year as a starter, Hooker had seven interceptions.

While Hooker is more of a natural fit in Bradley’s defense with his ability to get from one sideline to the other, he’s a suspect tackler with some injury concerns from last season. Hooker didn’t participate in workouts because of a torn labrum in his hip and a sports hernia.

“Every year, we have players who have medical risks,” Telesco said. “The work with our doctors is just as important as the work with scouts. We’ll go through all of the players, what they have, what their short-term, long-term risks are — those are discussions that take a long time. If you’re not available for us, you can’t help us. We have to make good, educated decisions on injuries. These guys are playing football at the college level. You’re gonna have injuries, previous surgeries. You have to decide if that’s going to affect them down the road.”

There also is depth at this position with intriguing prospects possibly on the board — players such as Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, Conneticut’s Obi Melifonwu and Washington’s Budda Baker — when the Chargers pick in the second round.


Conventional wisdom says that you don’t need to take safeties early in the draft, though Hooker and Adams both could be special players.

Another signature of Bradley’s defenses with the Seahawks were bigger cornerbacks than the Chargers currently have. Considered to be a deep class of defensive backs, the Chargers could add a cornerback on the second or third day of the draft.

With teams spending more and more time in three- and four-cornerback defensive sets, getting players who can cover in space should be a priority even with Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett making Pro Bowl appearances in the past two seasons.

Adding playmakers on the back end of the defense would seem to be a top priority because the Chargers have Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front. However, Ingram doesn’t have a long-term deal, and teams never have enough pass rushers.


Alabama’s Jonathan Allen could slip to No. 7 and could play on the inside or outside of the line, and an edge rusher such as Tennessee’s Derek Barnett could be a player that Telesco and scouts have fallen for despite less athleticism than teams would typically seek.

Whether it’s in Round 1 or later, the Chargers need to add to the interior of their defensive live. And good, young talent at linebacker is never something a team will say “no” to, even if it’s not a top need.

Positional need, it appears, isn’t as important as top-end talent.

“There are positions on our team we would like to add to,” Telesco said, “but, we will never pass on a special player for a need.”


Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports