What we learned from the Chargers’ picks in the NFL draft

A Chargers fan puts a lightning bolt necklace around the neck of Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater.
A Chargers fan puts a lightning bolt necklace around the neck of Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater after he was selected by the team in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night in Cleveland.
(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

The Chargers continued their attempted rebound from a 7-9 finish in 2020 by drafting nine players over the weekend.

Here are five takeaways from that process:

1) Making the best of a (very) bad situation

The Chargers have received glowing reviews leaguewide for their draft, the high marks starting with first-round pick Rashawn Slater.


Not only was Slater regarded as one of the two best offensive linemen available, but he also filled a screaming need for the Chargers at left tackle.

Slater’s NFL stock received a major boost during Northwestern’s 2019 season when he limited then-Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young to two tackles and one sack in a mid-October game.

The Chargers got the big prize they wanted in Round 1 of the NFL draft in Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater. After that, Chargers said it all came easy.

May 1, 2021

Six months later, Washington made Young the second player drafted overall, and he responded by becoming the 2020 NFL defensive rookie of the year.

“That’s a game that a lot of people look at to prove that I can play tackle at the next level, with him being who he is,” Slater said. “I was thankful for that opportunity.”

Chargers coach Brandon Staley, recalling that performance, said: “Certainly, Chase is held in high regard — rightfully so. I felt like Rashawn Slater played like a first-round pick against him.”


That big step came in a game Slater and the Wildcats lost, and convincingly so. The final score: 52-3.

Then again, Slater made it to the Big Ten Conference playing in Sugar Land, Texas, for a Clements High team that during his three varsity seasons went 3-27.

2) Like father, like son

The Chargers added one of the most recognizable names — and coveted cornerbacks — in the second round Friday with the selection of Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr.

His father, Asante Sr., played corner in the NFL for 11 years, including an All-Pro season with New England in 2007. He also won two Super Bowls and was a Pro Bowler four times.

A pick-by-pick breakdown of the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, which opened with three quarterbacks being selected by the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers.

April 29, 2021

General Tom Telesco said father and son Samuel are comparable in at least one regard.

“The definite carryover is the instincts,” Telesco explained. “His dad just had incredible instincts and feel for the position and how to play it — route combinations and everything. Asante Samuel Jr. plays very similar to that. He’s very football smart.”

The knock against Samuel is his size. He’s 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds. His very accomplished father was listed at 5-10, 185.

Staley also praised Samuel’s instincts as well as pretty much everything else about his game.

“This guy has a really good feel for route concepts,” Staley said. “You really see a guy that can key-diagnose. That really jumps off the page.”


Dismissing the question of size, Staley said Samuel makes up for what he lacks in height by producing momentum-swinging plays.

“The one thing we really value with this guy is that he can get you the ball,” Staley said. “He has those instincts, that processor, that concept trigger that can get you the football.”

3) A receiver in the third round?

The Chargers produced their biggest surprise pick of 2021 on Friday when they went with Tennessee’s Josh Palmer at No. 77.

Staley raved about Palmer’s versatility, strength and route-running. He also referenced his size — 6-1, 210 pounds.

“It gives us a bigger-bodied guy that can match up against smaller nickel-type people or a linebacker to be able to get that separation,” Staley said. “[We] feel like he’s a complete player. … He really showed up a lot in the evaluation process.”


The surprise was that receiver wasn’t viewed as a need for the Chargers. Picking Palmer instead reinforced Telesco’s mantra about drafting players over positions.

Despite the retirements of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, the Saints and Colts were well-stocked at quarterback before adding more in the NFL draft.

May 1, 2021

He’s serious. At that point, the Chargers had used three of their previous six picks — going back to last year — on wide receivers.

While discussing the selection of Palmer, Telesco stopped himself before he appeared ready to compare him to Keenan Allen. The apparent near-miss was notable, particularly given how much Staley talked about Palmer’s route-running, which is Allen’s most celebrated strength.

In 2013, Telesco drafted Allen in the third round, at No. 76.

4) Another Tranquill-type?

With a fourth-round pick in 2019, the Chargers drafted a smart and productive defender in Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill.


He established himself as a special teams star as a rookie and, by November, was a regular contributor at linebacker.

On Saturday, the Chargers used a fourth-round pick on another smart and productive defender in Duke’s Chris Rumph II. He was taken at No. 118 overall, 12 spots before Tranquill was drafted.

Rumph is an edge rusher as opposed to Tranquill, who plays inside. But Rumph arrives under similar conditions and expectations.

Telesco noted Rumph’s “speed and explosiveness,” adding that “he just plays with a relentless motor and hustle.” Telesco also said Rumph possesses “some high-level special-teams traits.”

The Chargers need major help on special teams, and Rumph might be an answer, just like Tranquill was in 2019.

5) Brandon Staley, football-coaching machine

At the conclusion of the draft Saturday, Telesco met via videoconference with the media and joked about being “fried” and having not eaten since Thursday.

At one point, he lost his train of thought in mid-answer and could only laugh at himself.

A few minutes later, Staley met with the same media and sounded as if he could have kept drafting players for another three days.

“Great competitors, man, we’re ready to go,” he said. “I gotta get ready for meetings on Monday. This gives you something to be even more excited about, on-boarding guys that you believe in. …


“It’s on to the next thing. If you love it … I told these players, ‘Get ready, guys. If you think we’re gonna wear out, you’re going to be disappointed …’ That’s a big hallmark of how we want to operate here with consistency.”