SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Chargers used their first three draft picks last spring on tackle DJ Fluker, linebacker Manti Te’o and receiver Keenan Allen. It appears they chose wisely.
At the midpoint of the season, I asked the three rookies – all starters at this point – to rank their own performance on a scale of 1-10.
“I’m probably my own biggest critic,” Fluker said. “I don’t rate myself above a five yet – until I arrive where I am trying to get.”
Fluker arrived as the 11th overall pick out of Alabama and immediately started at right tackle for the Chargers.
Fluker has shown strength, like when he body-slammed an Oakland Raider, and versatility, like going from right to left tackle in the Chargers most recent win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I feel as though I want to be the best lineman that plays the game right now,” Fluker said. “I want to go out there and bring that enthusiasm and that fire. I run downfield, hawking down interceptions, I have fun with it. You watch me on the field and you’re like, ‘this kid he’s going to go out there and play hard for 60 minutes,’ and that’s what I do.”
After a slow start due to injury, Te’o – the 38th overall pick from Notre Dame – has started the last four games and called the plays in the huddle during the last two – both wins.
“I have a lot to improve on,” Te’o said. “I have such a long way to go. I’m making some strides, I’m making the necessary improvements and it’s a slow process which is a little frustrating to be honest. But I’m getting better. So, on that scale, I’d say I’m at a six or a seven.”
Allen also rated himself a seven after he stepped into the starting line-up when injuries took down the Chargers two leading receivers.
The third-round pick from University of California, Berkeley ranks second on the team in receiving yards and leads the Chargers in yards per catch.
“I think we had a pretty good understanding that we could be the best draft class to come in,” Allen said. “We just all had the mindset that we wanted to play and we just happened to put it together on the field.”
The trio has helped the Chargers win four of their first seven games, and quarterback Philip Rivers said their impact has not surprised him.
“I think the first thing that stands out to me is their confidence,” Rivers said. “Their confidence from the very first day they walked in here. When Keenan got here, I remember seeing a quote of his that he said I didn’t just come here to play, I came to start. I remember thinking, ‘hey easy.’ But that’s his mentality. Look and seeing what he’s doing and he’s playing that way.”
“They know how to play, you know? They all have a mentality of being great,” he added.
That mentality will get tested in the second half of the season when the schedule gets much tougher, starting with the Washington Redskins on Sunday.