Chargers draft Corey Liuget

Illinois junior defensive tackle Corey Liuget was selected No. 18 overall by the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

"I knew they needed a heck of a defensive player and that's why they drafted me," Liuget said. "I'm going to come in, play some hard-nosed football and help them win championships."

Liuget, who is 6-2 and 298 pounds, recorded 63 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries and three pass break-ups last season for the Illini. He had five tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one sack in Illinois' win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

"I think the thing I like the most about this guy is his finishing," ESPN NFL draft analyst Jon Gruden said. "He will stay active and finish every snap. He's good on the move. He can slant and move. I think he's active enough, athletic enough, big enough to play multiple positions."

Liuget is the earliest Illinois draft pick since Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice were taken No. 2 and 3 overall in 1996. Illinois has had 18 first-round picks in its program's history. Defensive back Vontae Davis (2009) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (2008) were their latest.

Liuget's most outstanding quality is toughness, said Jimmy Raye, the Chargers' director of player personnel.

"I think we were looking for a guy that had some edge," Raye said. "He's a guy that plays with a lot of passion. He is a physical player. He's one of those guys we thought could knock people back off the ball. We wanted to get a little more physical up front. We wanted to bring more of a presence to our defensive front at the end position and I think we addressed that."

Raye said Liuget can clog up the middle and free the outside pass rushers in the Chargers' 3-4 defense.

"We think he brings something to the table that we didn't have," Raye said.

Asked about his toughness, Liuget said: "On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 12."

Scott Powers covers college sports for ESPNChicago.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.