As Chargers prepare for NFL draft, linebackers will be one of their top priorities


As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Times will examine their roster. Part 1 of 8: Linebackers.

While their neighbors in Los Angeles, the Rams, stole headlines by amassing big names through trades and free agency, the Chargers took a different approach, making smaller moves.

And in the case of linebackers, the Chargers made none at all.


But April 26-28, when the Chargers make their picks in the NFL Draft or when they add depth with undrafted rookies and post-market free agents, this is an area they need to improve.

Regardless of how or when they do it, it’s abundantly clear that the team needs to add linebackers. The Chargers’ run defense was the weakest part of an overall-sound unit.

An early-season injury to Denzel Perryman exposed the lack of depth at the position and, starting with the first day of the draft, the Chargers will be examining options to add talent.

They could add help at all three linebacker positions, with only Perryman locked in as a starter next season. While he is seen as a middle linebacker, Perryman has shown he’s capable of moving outside when necessary.

The top-tier linebackers in the draft — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia’s Roquan Smith — very well could be off the board when the team picks 17th, forcing general manager Tom Telesco to move up if he’s fallen for Edmunds’ generational size and athleticism or Smith’s mixture of polish and speed.

Luckily for the Chargers, Alabama’s Rashaan Evans and Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch are first-round talents that should be on the board when the Chargers’ make their pick.

Evans seems to be a fit because of his production in a Power Five conference (the team’s last seven first-round picks have been from power conferences). Vander Esch, whose stock has been rising, is seen as more of a project after having spent more time on a basketball court than a football field.

Whatever the Chargers decide, they need help here.

Linebackers under contract: Denzel Perryman ($1.52 million), Jatavis Brown ($676,096), Kyle Emmanuel ($1.96 million), Nick Dzubnar ($1.13 million), Hayes Pullard ($705,000), Mike Moore ($483,333).

Free agents: It wasn’t considered an overly strong free-agent class at linebacker, and the team lost depth when inside linebacker Korey Toomer signed with the 49ers. With a limited amount of cap space, the Chargers will be bargain hunting at the position without a clear target remaining on the market.

Draft: The Chargers will have to decide how quickly they want to address the position on draft day. If the team wants to be aggressive in pursuing one of the best linebackers in the class, a player such as Edmunds or Smith could end up playing in multiple Pro Bowls. If the team decides to address linebackers in a middle round, Iowa’s Josey Jewell and Central Florida’s Shaquem Griffin, who had one hand amputated as a child, could be possibilities.

Roster decisions: Perryman will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and the Chargers will have to decide whether or not he’s their long-term middle linebacker. The team also will have to make decisions on the back end of their roster. A player such as former USC star Hayes Pullard could be on the outs if the team adds numbers through the draft or free agency.

NEXT: Defensive line.

Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports