No team has found success with undrafted free agents quite like the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Bolts have struck it rich repeatedly, unearthing gems such as noted alumni Malcom Floyd and Kris Dielman among others. In fact, at least one undrafted free agent has made the 53-man roster to start the season for 20 straight years, including 14 currently on the team.
Most notably, future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Fourteen years later, he enters 2017 tied for the most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history (111).
This weekend, 15 undrafted free agents begin their quest to become the newest success story. It was one year ago that Chris Landrum was in their shoes. He vividly recalls what it felt like to be a wide-eyed edge rusher out of tiny Jacksonville State looking to prove himself next to defensive players the team drafted in Joey Bosa, Joshua Perry and Jatavis Brown.
“I had big eyes,” Landrum said. “I wanted to go out there and prove myself. Show the coaches I could play and that I belonged. That was my main goal. Just prove myself and show I should have been drafted. I knew I could do it. It’s just that when you get the opportunity, you have to go full speed. I had to make sure I knew the plays and the playbook so I could play fast. When I got there, I knew all that. It didn’t hold me back. When they called the play I knew it, so I was able to go out there and play fast.”
Once rookie camp ends, Landrum has keen advice for this year’s crop of college free agents.
“Come in and find a guy to learn how to be a pro from. That’s what I did. Coming in I didn’t know how to be a pro, so I found Melvin (Ingram) and did everything he did. I tried to mimic him. Practice like him. Work like him. I started to understand the game from him. So try to find a guy who you want to be like, and mimic him to become a pro.”
That worked for Landrum a year ago as he made the Bolts initial 53-man roster. He bounced back and forth between the active roster and practice squad throughout 2016, ending the year with seven tackles, one sack, six pressures and five QB hits in 10 games.
Making the feat more impressive, Landrum not only had to transition from Jacksonville State to the NFL, but also from defensive end to outside linebacker. However, he’ll return to his more natural position as the LEO in Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley’s system in 2017.
“I’m very excited to be back there,” he said, unable to contain his smile. “It’s just put your hand in the ground and go get after it. It’s what I’m used to. I can do linebacker, but I am more comfortable with putting my hand down and going. The LEO position is a pass rush position. It allows you to just get after the quarterback and rush a lot more. I’ve been busy working on my craft.”
Landrum’s taste of success leaves him hungry for more. He knows he continuously has to prove himself if he wants to be known in the same regard as Ingram and Jerry Attaochu. As such, he identified areas to focus on heading into his sophomore campaign.
“There are areas I know I have to get better at, such as (recognizing) the play. Sitting in the room with those vets, they see those things and can call out the play before it’s snapped. They’ll know it’s a run. They’ll know its pass. It’s like, ‘Wow! If I can just get that down (I could be so much better).’ I’ve talked to coach about it. He explained it comes with time. It’s experience. I’m working to get to that point. When you know your plays, and you know what they are going to do too, then you can play so much faster. So I’m working on getting that down. So I’ll keep doing what I did last year and watch those vets. See how they know it’s a run or a pass. That’s my next step.”