Corey Liuget, No. 18 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers, holds up a jersey on stage during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.
Corey Liuget leaned toward a web camera, wildly bulged his eyes, and from inside the Radio City Music Hall in New York, goofily grinned an animated smile beneath a white-billed powder blue Chargers hat.
“See this face right here?” Liuget said in a Skype video call. “I'm very excited … I don't think it gets any better than utopia San Diego. It doesn't get any better than that.”
The Chargers patiently waited Thursday, at times with giddy excitement as quarterbacks flew off the board in the first round, before drafting the charismatic and wide-eyed Illinois defensive lineman with the No. 18 overall pick.
At 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, Liuget (pronounced lee-jit) may not be the bonafide pass rusher some anticipated the Chargers to select, but the team believes it improved its pass rush by adding a player whom Jimmy Raye, team director of player personnel, said adds toughness and power to the defensive line.
“He's got good quickness off the ball, he can get up the field, and if he gets in the gap, he can penetrate,” Raye said. “He'll put a lot of pressure on the guards and the tackles rushing from the five-technique position, and I think that will free up our outside rushers.”
Liuget, 21, shed about 30 pounds prior to his final junior year at Illinois. He jumped onto the Chargers' radar after the breakout campaign, although Liuget said he never heard from the team during the pre-draft process.
As a strong-side defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, the Miami native totaled a career-high 63 tackles (29 solo), 4.5 sacks, 12.5 stops for loss and 10 pressures.
Liuget's ability to push offensive linemen backward jumped out on tape, Raye said.
Coach Norv Turner called Liuget's upside “outstanding.”
While he doesn't expect the rookie defensive end to start in the team's Sept. 11 season opener, Turner anticipates him to compete for the job and handle significant snaps.
“He has played with great stamina,” Turner said. “He's played 60 plays in a game, and his best plays came in the fourth quarter, so he'll bring that to our team, too.”
The Chargers did not necessarily expect Liuget to be available at pick 18, but the draft took a fortunate turn.
Three quarterbacks flew off the board between picks eight and 12 after Auburn quarterback Cam Newton went first overall.
“We were pleasantly surprised with some of the guys who were still there,” Raye said. “They got knocked down with the quarterbacks going so early.”
Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith, who says Liuget has a "nasty, mean streak," placed a phone call to an expectedly emotional Liuget.
The phone then worked its way around the team's draft room, including to first-year defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
“They told me they're happy to have me, and I'm happy to be out there in Southern California,” said Liuget, who will make his first ever trip to San Diego on Friday and address team media in the afternoon. "San Diego: Here I come."