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Chargers Mailbag: Which Rookies Can Make an Immediate Impact?


Welcome to an offseason edition of the Chargers Mailbag!

Off we go...

Yep, as Lindsey alludes to, Joe Alt is the obvious choice here.

I'd also put Ladd McConkey and Junior Colson in that category, too.

McConkey is part of a crowded wide receiver room but is polished as a route runner and had plenty of quickness, so I expect him to became fast friends with Justin Herbert.

Colson, as we all know, played for Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and Chargers Defensive Coordinator at Michigan. He enters the NFL with a strong baseline knowledge of the Bolts defensive scheme and potential starting spots at linebacker.

With those three guys off the board, I'm going to go with Brenden Rice, the seventh-round wide receiver out of USC.

Rice joins a very crowded wide receiver room that features Joshua Palmer, Quentin Johnston, DJ Chark and numerous others.

But with roster spots up for grabs, he certainly has an opportunity to carve out a role for himself early on.

I'm not going to sit here and predict he becomes a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie or anything. But there's no reason to believe Rice can't make the 53-man roster and then contribute early and often in his first year.

Perhaps Rice shouldn't be viewed as a true underdog given his production last season (12 touchdown catches) or his bloodlines (you've probably heard of his dad), but we'll go with him here because he ended up being a seventh-round pick.

I initially wanted a WR at 5 instead of OL. But after some thought, I can see why we took Alt. (Brian via email)

I tried to tell you guys! (sarcasm font)

Look, I have no doubt the Chargers had that trio of wide receivers ranked high on their board entering the draft.

But Alt was also a highly-prized prospect, too, and the clear No. 1 player at his position.

And when Harbaugh and Chargers GM Joe Hortiz spent three months telling us that they want to build the Bolts through the trenches, it was all right there in front of us.

To me, the debate was obviously between protecting Herbert or giving him another option in the passing game.

My view of it is this: we've seen Herbert elevate pass catchers around him over four years, but he wouldn't be able to do that if the line doesn't hold up in front of him. Pairing Alt and Rashawn Slater together for the next decade or so is a boon for Herbert.

There's also the fact that the offensive tackle class was fairly top heavy, so perhaps the Bolts felt like they had to get the best one at the top of the first round and then circle back to wide receiver later on.

Let's dive into the numbers real quick.

There were nine offensive linemen taken in the first round and the Chargers took the No. 1 prospect.

The Cowboys took the last of those linemen at No. 29 and the next tackle wasn't taken until No. 55, so the options for a lineman early in the second round were slim.

McConkey, meanwhile, was the ninth receiver taken overall. In essence, the Bolts opted for the top tackle and a solid wide receiver in a deep class rather than an elite wide receiver prospect and a much lesser tackle prospect.

Given how Harbaugh and Hortiz said they want to build the roster, that line of thinking made perfect sense to me.

Why didn't we draft more offensive linemen? (Orlando Sotelo via email)

A valid question here from Orlando.

The Bolts took Alt at No. 5 but then didn't double dip at offensive line the rest of the way.

I covered the current state of the offensive line in this article, but the main reason is that the Chargers likely feel good about their depth up front right now.

Slater will man the left tackle spot while Zion Johnson is a good bet to start at left guard. Veteran Bradley Bozeman is in line to be the starting center but Jordan McFadden and Brendein Jaimes could also factor in there, too.

Jamaree Salyer and Trey Pipkins III started on the right side last year but we'll have to see how that all shakes out with the addition of Alt. Foster Sarell has starting experience, too, and could be a swing tackle option.

That's nine offensive lineman right there not counting any undrafted free agents who could surprise us in the coming months.

I'll answer the second question first here.

No, I don't specifically root for any one person more than I root for every one ... if that makes sense.

Whether a player is a first-round pick, sixth-round pick or undrafted free agent, they have all worked their entire lives to get to this point.

Some stories are more intriguing than others, sure, but the end goal is the same: field the best 53-man roster (and practice squad) possible to help the Bolts win games.

As for UDFAs I'm watching out for, Florida State safety Akeem Dent could be a name to watch.

He had a solid college career and played both cornerback and safety over a whopping 59 total games at FSU.

That's a ton of experience for Dent, who figures to battle for a roster spot behind starters Derwin James, Jr. and Alohi Gilman at safety.

Rice seems to be the presumptive pick as the fan favorite even though he was a seventh-round selection.

I can't tell you why he lasted that long though, as the Bolts (and other teams) are going to reveal where they had him slotted.

Generally speaking though, it appears the Chargers got great value by taking him in Round 7.

ESPN's Jordan Reid ranked Rice at No. 135 overall, which would have been the final pick of the fourth round. And Dane Brugler of The Athletic projected Rice to get taken in the third or fourth round.

Sometimes players fall for one reason or another but end up making it in the NFL nonetheless.

Rice offers an NFL-ready frame at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, something Chargers Assistant General Manager Chad Alexander said after the draft.

Alexander said offered this on Rice:

"Brenden has a lot of explosive plays down the field, long touchdown production — Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, these games," Alexander said. "He can really stretch the field vertically. He does a lot of things that you really, really like. He blocks and does a really good job."

There's so much hype and hoopla around the draft and rightfully so, but a player's draft status hardly matters once they arrive later this week for rookie minicamp.

It's now up to Rice and everyone else to find their role with the Bolts and carve out a productive career.

But if Rice succeeds early on, perhaps we'll look back and wonder how he was available in the seventh round.

Where does the team feel it still needs to add depth? There seems to be some areas where they could use another veteran (safety, outside corner). Also, are they looking at adding to the OL? (Todd Smith via email)

We'll end with this one from Todd.

I touched on the offensive line above, and there is a chance the Chargers do add another veteran body or two there in the coming weeks.

But I do think Todd is onto something when he mentions the secondary.

At safety, it's mostly JT Woods and A.J. Finely behind James and Gilman, so more depth could be on the way there.

And I'd put cornerback in the same boat. Rookies Tarheeb Still and Cam Hart could fight for playing time behind veterans Asante Samuel, Jr., Kristian Fulton and Ja'Sir Taylor, but adding players to this room wouldn't be a surprise.

Hortiz has said all along that he will always be looking to churn over the roster to get as much competition as possible no matter what time of year it is.

So, even though the Bolts drafted two cornerbacks and agreed to terms with two more cornerbacks as undrafted free agents, that position group could be a bit more crowded by the time training camp rolls around.

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