Gus Bradley said it plainly when asked what position group on defense had the most depth in this year's draft.
"Especially early I think the linebacker group," the Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator told reporters Monday. "Sometimes you look at the linebackers and you feel like there's a couple that fit your scheme, or that intrigue you. And I think this year, especially in the early rounds, it seems like a good group of linebackers."
The Chargers allowed a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry in 2017 and according to ESPN Stats & Information gave up a league-high 994 rushing yards after contact.
For those reasons, I selected Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans at No. 17 for the Chargers in our ESPN NFL Nation mock draft. Evans can play all three linebacker spots and gives the Bolts a player of impact who can contribute immediately
Rated as the No. 23 player in this year's draft class by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., Evans had 15 career sacks at Alabama and finished the 2017 season with 13 tackles for loss.
At 6-3 and 232 pounds, Evans offers versatility because of his ability to rush the passer.
"I think in your base package I'd play him inside," said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, who studied Evans on tape. "I think he has the ability to [be a] Will linebacker. And that's going to show up most importantly in your sub packages in nickel and dime because of his speed, his ability to get sideline to sideline.
"He's got enough power to come downhill and play the run all day. He's really good at slipping blocks -- not running around blocks. He was able to do that much more at the college level than he would in the NFL, where he'll have to take on blockers more. But he was extremely explosive at the point of attack, whether he was using his pads tackling, tracking down a ball carrier and finishing on a tackle."
Bowen said Evans adds value because of his ability to rush the passer. And with the Chargers losing Jerry Attaochu to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency and not rescinding Chris McCain's restricted tender offer, they need more depth at that position behind Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
"The thing that I like that's unique to him is Bama used him as a situational pass-rusher," Bowen said. "Now, at a place like L.A., I'm not saying they need another pass-rusher, because they don't. But he has that quick-twitch ability. He's got good hands. He's got a spin move, and he's pretty well developed for a college linebacker to be able to transition down to stand-up defensive end rushing the passer.
"He's an excellent delayed blitzer. I'm not saying he's perfect in coverage, but he has the skill sets and traits that you look for that pop on film. Can he match up with a back out of the backfield? Sure. Now Roquan Smith I think is in the upper tier, and I think he's in the next tier right behind him in terms of off-the-ball linebacker."
Evans is not a slam-dunk, first-round prospect. He dealt with a groin injury last season and did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine or his pro day, which bothered some scouts.
But Bowen said he sees 4.5, 40-yard play speed by Evans on tape.
"I think for a prospect with upside, speed and fit for the modern game, Rashaan Evans is that back-half of the first round player," Bowen said.
Bowen said it helps that Evans played for coach Nick Saban because Alabama plays a pro-style defense.
"Almost everything is a pattern match with Saban," Bowen said. "And the upper-level accountability that comes with playing in that program, that would be big for me as a coach. And not because they've won a lot of national championships, but how they've built that winning culture down there and how those guys are expected to perform."