Chargers pick corner, receiver in Day 2 of 2021 NFL draft

He was the eighth cornerback selected in the 2021 draft but the first standing less than 6 foot 1.

Asante Samuel Jr. now plans on raising above all the rest as a rookie with the Chargers.

“A lot of corners got picked before me because of size,” he said Friday. “I feel like I’m going to make them regret that sooner or later.”

The Chargers used a second-round pick — No. 47 overall — to secure the corner now expected to replace veteran Casey Hayward, who was released in March.

Samuel is 5-10, 180 pounds but is known for his playmaking and instincts. He admitted he doesn’t know a lot about the Chargers but does have a ready ally in safety Derwin James, who also played at Florida State.

In the third round Friday, the Chargers took wide receiver Josh Palmer out of Tennessee at No. 77 and tight end Tre’ McKitty out of Georgia at No. 97, trying to further build their offense around quarterback Justin Herbert.

Samuel joins a position group that includes Michael Davis and Chris Harris Jr. and a defense that is in transition under new head coach Brandon Staley.

The 2021 Chargers will employ more varied looks, emphasize the disguising of schemes and play more man-to-man pass coverage than in recent years.

As a freshman and sophomore with the Seminoles, Samuel said he played mostly inside cornerback before moving outside this past season. He’s expected to play outside with the Chargers.

In the first round Thursday, the Chargers drafted Rashawn Slater, a left tackle whose father, Reggie, played eight seasons in the NBA.

Samuel’s dad, Asante Sr., spent 11 years as an NFL cornerback, including an All-Pro season with the 2007 New England Patriots. He led the league in interceptions twice and won two Super Bowls.

Asked about going through the draft process with his father, Samuel said, “He just let me do my own thing and told me to stay grounded and stay humble.”

During his career, Asante Sr. was listed at 5-10, 185 pounds.

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco dismissed the notion that Samuel’s size will be an issue. Instead, he praised Samuel’s quickness, durability, explosiveness and ability to diagnose routes.

“He has all those traits and attributes you need to have at that position if you’re going to be a little bit size deficient,” Telesco said. “You’d love ’em all to be 6 foot, 6 foot 1…But he has everything we look for.”

Palmer was born and raised near Toronto but finished his high school career in south Florida at St. Thomas Aquinas, where he and Samuel were teammates.

In fact, Palmer recalled that the first route he ever ran in practice there came against Samuel. Now, the two will be reunited with the Chargers.

Telesco said he likes Palmer’s size — 6-1, 210 pounds — route-running and hands. Palmer attributed his pass-catching skills to his strength and a childhood of playing goalkeeper in soccer.

He said he’s eager to join his new teammates and begin learning from veteran receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

“I’m going to be in their back pocket like some spare change,” Palmer said.

“I’m going to try to learn as much as I can while I’m here and while they’re there.”

McKitty, who caught only six passes last year at Georgia, is a Charger today because of his blocking, something that will be particularly emphasized at the tight end position under Staley.

“One of the best things he does is really block at the line of scrimmage,” Telesco said. “He likes to do it and you can tell.”

The Chargers signed veteran tight end Jared Cook in March but have little proven depth at the position.

They also need more blocking, especially in the run game.

“Blocking, I think 80% of it is want-to,” McKitty said. “I think I have that. I have that dawg in me to want to go and put them on their back.”

The Chargers started Day 2 of the NFL draft by picking a potential starter on defense in the second round, a much-needed cornerback. Then they went offense, selecting a receiver and tight end in Round 3:

ASANTE SAMUEL JR., cornerback

5 feet 10, 180 pounds, Florida State, Round 2, Pick 47.

Notable: Samuel’s father, Asante Sr., played in the NFL for 11 seasons. He was an All-Pro corner for New England in 2007 and also played for Philadelphia and Atlanta, making four Pro Bowls.

Last season: Appearing in eight games for the Seminoles, Samuel finished with 30 tackles and three interceptions.

Why the Chargers drafted him: After addressing one starting need at left tackle (Rashawn Slater) in the first round Friday, the Chargers took care of their other starting need by adding Samuel. They needed a replacement for veteran Casey Hayward, who was cut in March after five seasons with the team. Samuel brings impressive bloodlines and an edge but also lacks the sort of size at corner some teams prefer.

Wide receiver Josh Palmer of Tennessee runs a drill during practice.

The Chargers added to their wide receiver corps by drafting Josh Palmer of Tennessee in the third round of the NFL draft.

(Matthew Hinton / Associated Press)

JOSH PALMER, wide receiver

6 feet 1, 210 pounds, Tennessee, Round 3, Pick 77.

Notable: Born in Canada, Palmer was known for his hands in college. He had no drops in 2020 and only four on 164 targets during his time with the Volunteers.

Last season: Palmer had 33 receptions for 475 yards and four touchdowns for a Tennessee team that struggled to a 3-7 finish.

Why the Chargers drafted him: With a quarterback such as Justin Herbert, a team can never have enough options at receiver. Behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, there is room for more production from the position and Palmer will be given an opportunity to prove he can make plays.

TRE’ McKITTY, tight end

Georgia tight end Tre McKitty of Georgia (87) makes a one-handed catch during practice.

The Chargers hope they have found a long-term replacement for departed tight end Henry Hunter with the selection of Tre’ McKitty.

(Rusty Costanza / Associated Press)

6 feet 4, 246 pounds, Georgia, Round 3, Pick 97.

Notable: McKitty played three seasons at Florida State before finishing his career at Georgia, where his pass-catching production fell off dramatically last year.

Last season: He caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in four games for the Bulldogs.

Why the Chargers drafted him: After the free-agency departure of Hunter Henry to New England, the Chargers signed veteran tight end Jared Cook. McKitty provides further depth and pass blocking immediately and could develop into a more significant offensive piece for Herbert.




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