Chargers draft needs
By: Loren Casuto, Bolttalk Podcast co-host
With the month of April upon us, we have not only reached a quiet point in free agency but the time when draft talk heats up. The chargers have had their most active free agency since 2003 but still have needs to fill. With that in mind here are what I think are the most pressing needs for our Bolts.
Pass Rushing OLB: The Chargers desperately need a pass rush if they hope to compete, much less succeed. The team could argue though that their pass rush will be better next year already for two reasons. First is the removal of Greg Manusky as defensive coordinator, who played a very vanilla system, and the hiring of John Pagano who comes from a much more aggressive blitzing school. Remember that Ron Rivera took basically the same group in 2010 and turned them into a very good defense. Second is the addition of Jarrett Johnson, who will improve the play of Shaun Phillips and Antwaan Barnes by keeping them off the field on obvious running downs. Nevertheless the Chargers haven't had a playmaker since Merriman in 2007, they desperately need someone to be a game changer rushing from the outside. Larry English has been a disaster, Travis Laboy was a non factor, Shaun Phillips has had recent injury trouble and Barnes has played too many snaps. The Chargers must add an OLB pass rusher to even remotely consider this draft a success. However do not be surprised if the Chargers choose to address this on day two instead of in the first round, as the Chargers could fill other needs with the best player available.
Options: Nic Perry - USC, Melvin Ingram- South Carolina, Andre Branch - Clemson, Whitney Merclius - Illinois, Jonathan Massaquoi - Troy, Ronnell Lewis - Oklahoma
Strong Safety: Since the Chargers released Rodney Harrison in 2003, they have had no success filling this position. A parade of minor free agents including Bwahoh Jue, Marlon Mcree, Clinton Hart and Bob Sanders have been unable to hold the starting job. The Chargers drafted Darrell Stuckey and Paul Oliver hoping either could fill the need but the former is now a backup free safety and the latter is no longer a Charger. Recently the team brought in Atari Bigby but he should be seen in the same light as former Charger Steve Gregory; someone who can start if necessary but is not an ideal starter. The Chargers must find a running mate for Eric Weddle, someone who can play shorter zone and be a solid run stopper. This problem is furthered by the need of any strong safety to also cover tight ends due to the recent development of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. All of this must come from a weak safety class, a tall order for AJ Smith. Nevertheless this has to be met in the draft if the Chargers want to compete in an increasingly pass happy division with numerous talented quarterbacks.
Options: Mark Barron - Alabama, Harrison Smith - Notre Dame, Markelle Martin - Oklahoma State, George Iloka - Boise State, Duke Ihenacho - San Jose State
Maybe priority, maybe Need
Left Guard: This is one I had a hard time categorizing; the chargers lost Kris Dielman to retirement and have publicly stated that Ty Green, who filled in well after Dielman went down, will be the starting left guard. Though Green played well it is still a big drop off from Dielman to him. This is furthered by the fact there are two very good guards potentially available in the first round; David Decastro from Stanford and Cordy Glenn from Georgia. This would be out of character for AJ who has spent a second and a third on offensive linemen but never a first. While the Chargers offensive line is solid, selecting a guard would thoroughly improve it and ensure that their top investment, Philip Rivers, remains well protected. Over the last two years Rivers has been sacked far more than in years past and while defense is a must in this draft, the first pick could go to the trenches. It should be noted the Chargers have good depth at this position with Stephen Schilling and Scott Mrzucowski, this is a pick for an immediate starter or someone to groom to start
Options: Decastro, Glenn, Tom Compton - South Dakota, Brandon Brooks - Miami (OH), Amini Silatolu - Midwestern State, Kevin Zeitler - Wisconsin
Defensive End: While the Chargers have partially addressed this position last year with the drafting of Corey Liuget and the continued development of Vaughn Martin, the team has not gotten much production from this position since Luis Castillo's rookie year. Even knowing a 3-4 defensive end is not a glamorous position that rarely produces stats, the Chargers must get something more out of their line than they have. While Liuget and Martin are the likely starters the Chargers do need depth at this position behind them. Jacque Cesaire is a solid backup but will never be more than that, and Tommie Harris was primarily a nickel inside rusher. The Chargers need someone either to fill that other backup role or to push Martin/Liuget as a starter.
Options: Michael Brockers - LSU, Trevor Guyton - California, Mike Martin – Michigan, Derek Wolfe – Cincinnati, Jared Crick - Nebraska
Offensive Tackle: I've written that the Chargers have needed an upgrade at right tackle for four years now in addition to putting a right tackle in every mock draft I've written in my time at bolttalk. Nevertheless the Chargers have not drafted a right tackle since 2006 and Jeromey Clary. Despite the almost unanimous opinions of pundits, analysts and scouts the Chargers have continued to back Clary. As such while I continue to believe the chargers would be better for replacing Clary, I believe the Chargers won't select a right tackle in the draft. However the Chargers would be smart to draft a backup left tackle. Jared Gaither is locked in at left tackle but has had injury problems with his back in addition to a poor work history. Gaither has said all the right things since re-signing but it is risky to not have a viable backup on the staff. Brandon Dombrowski, while retained by the Chargers, has emphatically shown he is not a capable left tackle.
Options: Jon Martin (L/R) - Stanford, Nate Potter (L) - Boise State, Mitchell Schwartz (R) - California, Marcel Jones (R) - Nebraska, Cordy Glenn (R) - Georgia, James Brown (L) - Troy.
Nose Tackle: This might seem like an odd need considering the Chargers have two players on the depth chart already. The first is Cam Thomas, the 2010 5th rounder has shown improvement over the last two years and has fans among the coaching staff. The second is Antoio Garay, the 32 yr old veteran and fan favorite who signed a 2 yr contract with the team in April. What makes this a need is Garay’s contract; while it is 2 years, it guarantees Garay $5 million at the start of the 2013 season in March. That is basically a one year contract, it is doubtful the team would pay a nose tackle, over 30yrs old with an injury history that much money. As such the question becomes are the Chargers looking for a starter or someone who can back up Thomas. Unfortunately that is a question that likely can’t be answered until after the 2012 season when we see Thomas get more playing time. Either way the team will look for someone
Options: Josh Chapman – Alabama, Brandon Thompson – Clemson, Akiem Hicks – Regina (Canada), Asa Chapman – Liberty, Ricky Jean-Baptiste – Baylor, Loni Fangupo – BYU.
Cornerback: The Chargers face a conundrum at this position. While the chargers drafted two cornerbacks in last years draft at the same time they received little production from their starting duo, the front office and coaching has publicly supported both Quentin Jammer and Antonine Cason. The Chargers need Cason and Jammer to step up in addition to seeing improved play and production from Gilchrist and Wright. However the Chargers could see a very rich draft of cornerbacks and decide to upgrade, and this could happen in the first round if someone like Dre Kirkpatrick falls to 18.
Backup Quarterback: After a two year hiatus, the original "Clipboard Jesus" Charlie Whitehurst returns and takes over for the recently released Billy Volek. While I have my own doubts that two subpar years in Seattle makes him a good second quarterback, that is the decision the team made in part based on money. The chargers have been hunting for a good third quarterback for two years having spent a draft pick on Jonathan Crompton in 2010 and trying to sneak Scott Tolzien onto the practice squad last year. The team needs to groom a third quarterback and this is a draft that has some very interesting and accomplished quarterbacks late from both division I and II college teams. Look for the team to grab someone late or make a push for someone undrafted.
Third Running back: The reason I put this as a maybe is that the Chargers might not need a third running back. The coaching staff has made it clear they plan on using Ryan Mathews as their primary runner and with the loss of Mike Tolbert, there is no more competition for carries. The team signed Le'Ron McClain as a combination fullback/halfback but they will primarily use him as a lead blocker, and Curtis Brinkley remains under contract. Charger fans might continue to dream of a group similar to the glory days of Tomlinson, turner and Sproles but with the kick/punt return role filled, and Mathews becoming the primary runner, there really isn't a need for that. Still if the chargers go running back it will be on day three and would be someone who can fill that special team role like a Ronnie Hillman from SDSU or a Chris Rainey from Florida.
Tight End: I would have put this under the need section prior to free agency. With the resigning of both Kory Sperry and Randy McMichael, who earned it through his play and dedication, as well as the signing of Dante Rosario, I don't see a place for any tight ends. More likely the depth chart will be Gates/McMichael/Rosario which will give the team two solid pass catchers and a third tight end that is solid at both catching and blocking. As such I don't see the chargers drafting anyone unless someone really catches their eye.
Wide Receiver: The chargers might have lost Vincent Jackson but they added two good receivers in Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem. With those two, a (hopefully) healthy Malcolm Floyd and the continued development of Vincent Brown, the Chargers might not be as talent but are definitely deeper than last year. The chargers also still have Richard Goodman as well newcomer Roscoe Parrish, who didn't play last year but has been successful in limited time with the Bills. Either way I can't imagine the team using a pick here.
Inside Linebacker: The Chargers committed a cardinal sin last year by running a 3-4 with only three real linebackers (Takeo Spikes, Donald Butler & Na'il Diggs). They will get back Jonas Mouton from injury and added Demorrio Williams early in free agency in addition to special teamer Andrew Gachkar. Now the Chargers have a full deck to run a proper 3-4 in addition to potentially rotating Jarrett Johnson inside. With this group, there's no room for another body.
Punt/Kick Returner: The chargers already added Eddie Royal, as mentioned above. But within two days in April the chargers added backup WRs and return men Michael Spurlock and Roscoe Parrish. This is in addition to Richard Goodman and potential returners Marcus Gilchrist and Antonine Cason. If there was any chance the Bolts would look to add a returner, within 24 hrs in April, that was thrown out the window. There's too many people and too much competition.