By Loren Casuto
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
<div class="alignright"><a href="http://images.athlonsports.com/d/16269-1/RyanMatthews.jpg"><img title="Ryan Mathews" src="http://images.athlonsports.com/d/16269-1/RyanMatthews.jpg" alt="" width="170" height="221" /></a></div>
The San Diego Chargers walk into the 2010 draft with more holes to fill then before. In a year with great success from a team showing great character and heart, the Chargers were exposed in a number of areas. Luckily for us the team made some good trades to secure that this year and next year the team has a solid base of picks to replenish the team.
Without question the two most obvious needs the Chargers have are nose tackle and running back. These are most likely the positions the Chargers will use their first two picks on, regardless of the order. The Chargers also have needs at right tackle, cornerback and defensive end. They also are looking for a third quarterback and will probably look to add depth to the wide receiver and maybe linebacker and safety.
The Chargers are most likely to use their first round selection on a nose tackle or a running back. If however the Chargers end up in a "doomsday" situation, as some mocks have predicted, where all the best nose tackles (Cody, D. Williams) and running backs (Spiller, Matthews, maybe Best) are off the board, the Chargers could look to secondary needs at offensive tackle, maybe safety, corner back and defensive end. However most mocks have the Chargers focusing laser like on defensive tackle and running back, and in the end Charger fans will be content if we end up with one of each by the end of the second round.
<strong>With the 28<sup>th</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers</strong> <strong>select</strong> <strong>Ryan Matthews, Running Back from Fresno State</strong>
For the first time in a decade the Chargers have to seriously consider a front line running back, but they also have to consider one that is a complimentary back to their $8 million running back, Darren Sproles. Since Sproles is a scat back who specialized in the screen game and runs on the outside, look for the Chargers to draft a stronger between the tackles running back.
The San Diego Chargers are clearly targeting Ryan Matthews out of Fresno St and everyone knows it. There are rumors of teams like the Texans (#20) and the Patriots (#22) targeting Matthews. I don't buy either because both teams have far more pressing needs then running back. Furthermore I think the Chargers are better off selecting Cody in the first round because of the teams selecting before San Diego in the second round, more have issues with defensive tackle (Kansas City, Cleveland, St. Louis if it goes QB with the first pick) then with running back (Detroit and Cleveland maybe, though both have much bigger issues)." There's a higher probability of Matthews being available in the second round then Terrance Cody, therefore you take the one most likely to be acquired and then wait for the other in the high second round.
Ryan Matthews burst onto the scene this year for Fresno State and showed himself to be the best all around runner in the draft. He got good size at 5'11, 218lbs and has good speed, burst and quickness for a bigger back. He's very effective as a downhill runner, charging through arm tackles with little problems and using a very effective stiff arm." Even with that he has good vision and is patient enough to let his blockers open holes for him. He also shows solid hands and a willingness to block. All in all he's a very Ladanian Tomlinson style running back and should flourish in this offense. On the downside he's never played a full season and has had numerous injuries throughout his career. He also lacks the speed to be a â€˜home run hitter' and needs to learn to be used in the passing game more effectively.
I think though if Charger fans walked out of the first two rounds with Cody and Matthews they'd be very happy and the Chargers will have fulfilled their top two needs immediately.
<em>Other Potential Picks: NT Terrance Cody (Alabama), SS Taylor Mays (USC), NT Dan Williams (Tennessee)</em>
<strong>With the 40<sup>th</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select Terrance Cody, Nose Tackle from Alabama</strong>
If the Chargers go running back in the first round, they will likely go nose tackle in the second. But whereas this year's draft has numerous high quality running backs scattered throughout the first three rounds, there are very few nose tackles available.
Personally I've been a huge Terrance Cody fan from the first time I saw him play at Alabama, and I'm not jumping off that bandwagon. His detractors make similar claims; he's a two down player, he's not a pass rusher, he might eat himself out of the league. To the first two claims, I'll note that that meets the description of every 3-4 nose tackle to ever come out of college. Look back at the scouting reports of guys like Casey Hampton, Shaun Rodgers and Vince Wilfork, guys who are some of the best nose tackles in the game. They are all two down players and they all are not good pass rushers. Even going further back to Ted Washington and even Jamal Williams, they were two down players that would not be in on passing downs. 3-4 Nose Tackles are designed to clog the middle and occupy blockers. As to the third claim, most nose tackles have similar issues (see Ted Washington, Shaun Rodgers, even Jamal Williams when he was drafted) and it's something that the Chargers will have to keep under control, but that doesn't mean it can't be or that there isn't incentive for Cody to do such. Critics might point to him ballooning after the National Championship but by the same token his dropping weight since the Senior Bowl suggests that he can and is able to keep it in check. It's unfair to damn him for ballooning and yet not mention his ability to get back into shape.
The one issue that is of note is that Cody was a rotational player, playing a bare majority of snaps if that. There's two positives to that; one is that conditioning is something that can be worked on, whereas size, and massive strength can't be. The Chargers can work with him to build up his conditioning so that he learns to play more snaps. The second is that the Chargers have a solid rotation at nose tackle already with Travis Johnson, Ian Scott, Ogemdi Nwabuo and maybe Vaughn Martin. This group performed solidly throughout the year and adding a two down space eater will make them even more effective.
Cody is and has been a monster in the middle of Nick Saban's 3-4 schemes since he enrolled at Alabama. Cody is monstrously strong and massive with good weight distribution and strength in both his upper and lower body and long arms with massive hands. At 6'5, 358lbs, he constantly demands double teams and regularly beats them. He also shows surprising lateral quickness, being able to move and re-establish a front line quickly." Finally he has great awareness in run stopping. These are all elements that are essential to an outstanding nose tackle in a 3-4. Even at" the senior bowl where he was overweight, Cody flashed great power and ability to hold the line of scrimmage. " Adding him to the middle of the Chargers defense will make everyone else around him better and will prevent those long runs up the middle
<em>Other Potential Picks: RB Toby Gerhart (Stanford), NT Cam Thomas (North Carolina), DE Corey Wooten (Northwestern)</em>
<strong>With the 91<sup>st</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select Brandon Spikes, inside linebacker from Florida</strong>.
I mentioned the Chargers might need depth at linebacker but if what I think happens to Spikes occurs, the Chargers could be in position to pick up a steal. Inside linebacker is especially interesting because while the Chargers have four quality middle linebackers, they are all free agents after this year. The Chargers could use a draft pick to acquire someone to ensure they at least have one middle linebacker under contract after 2010. Spikes began the off-season as the best inside linebacker in the draft, but after not working out at the combine and having a poor performance at Florida's pro day, Spikes has gone from a first rounder to a likely third rounder.
Spikes was a vocal and emotional defensive captain on one of the best teams in the country. He has outstanding instincts and doesn't get fooled by misdirection or trick plays. His bread and butter is run stopping where he pursues aggressively both between the tackles and outside. His tackling is outstanding and he doesn't miss. He's also an effective blitzer and pass rusher, even rushing from a three point stance at times. He also is very effective in zone coverage. On the downside he is not very fast (though in his defense he plays a lot faster than he was timed) or athletic, so in one-on-one coverage he'll have problems. He also is not very strong and needs to commit to the weight room and needs to control his emotions better, as they sometimes get out of control.
While other teams will get hung up on his lack of speed, that can be effectively covered in a 3-4 where his size, strength and blitzing would shine in Ron Rivera's system. Combining him and Brandon Siler (another Florida linebacker that dropped during the draft) would give us two outstanding run stoppers in the middle, especially when paired with a big new defensive tackle.
<em>Other potential picks: RB Ben Tate (Auburn) and Montario Hardesty (Tennessee), DE Alex Carrington (Arkansas St), CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Indiana PA)</em>
<strong>With the 126<sup>th</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select Kam Chancellor, Safety from Virginia Tech</strong>
Since the trade of Antonio Cromartie to the Jersey Shore (aka New York) Jets, numerous pundits have suggested that the Chargers would be targeting cornerbacks in the draft. I'd say that the Chargers tipped their hand by their most recent moves. The Chargers are not a team that does much in free agency, so it's interesting that their only two moves have been to acquire backup cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Donald Strickland. My belief is that the Chargers are happy with Cason and Gregory as 2-3 corners, and with Vasher and Strickland backing them up the Chargers have enough solid cornerbacks to make it through this year. As such, they don't need any more cornerbacks on the roster.
Safety is another issue entirely; Eric Weddle appears to be set at free safety with Paul Oliver a capable back up. The Chargers acquired Kevin Ellison in the sixth round last year and he filled in well when Clinton Hart was released. But Ellison has a decided lack of speed and a very long injury history, something the Chargers would consider especially because there is no one backing him up.
Kam Chancellor can be thought of as a poor man's Taylor Mays. At 6'3, 231, he's one of the biggest safeties in the draft and, like Mays, is built like a linebacker and hits like a freight train. While he has played numerous positions in the backfield at Virginia Tech, he would be a solid fit at strong safety where his solid zone coverage ability and good run support would fit in perfectly. Chancellor is also well known for being high character, a vocal leader and a motivated individual. Chancellor has also spent time with the Chargers staff and at Chargers park, suggesting that the Bolts do have interest in him. The only thing that could hold him back are issues with man coverage and very tight hips, which causes problems with both deep coverage and some open field tackling.
With Weddle playing deep coverage (where he's at his best) and Chancellor covering the zone in front of him and providing run support, the Chargers safety duo looks a lot better.
<em>Other potential Picks: CB Syd'Quan Thompson (California), OT Jason Fox (Miami FL), DE/OLB Greg Hardy (Mississippi), DE C.J. Wilson (East Carolina)</em>
<strong>With the 159<sup>th</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select LeGarette Blount, Running Back from Oregon</strong>
Surprised? You shouldn't be. The Chargers also released Michael Bennett and as it stands have two fullbacks and one scat back on the roster. While Mike Tolbert has seen time at running back, as has Jacob Hester, both of them are seen as fullbacks not as full time running backs. And while the Chargers are primarily a passing team, that isn't through lack of trying. Norv Turner prefers to have a solid running game to go with a dynamic passing game: he had Emmitt Smith in Dallas, Stephen Davis in Washington, Frank Gore in San Francisco and the first year of L.T. in San Diego.
Blount is a prototypical sledgehammer running back at 6'0, 241lbs. He has light feet and very good instincts to follow his blockers and let the offensive line open holes. Once there's a gap Blount charges through with brute force and can barrel through tackles or stiff arm them with ease. He refuses to go down easy and fights hard for yardage. He does need to lose some weight (he should probably be around 230) and needs work on his pass catching and blocking. Nevertheless combined with Matthews and Sproles, Blount is a wonderful compliment as the sledgehammer in a three headed monster.
Blount is a very interesting choice because of what he is most famously known for. Blount gained infamy by punching a Boise State player in the face at the nationally televised college football opener. He was suspended for the entire year but after compliance with a series of conditions set by his Chip Kelly (Oregon's head coach) he was permitted to return for the final two games. While that's something that should be reviewed heavily, I see a positive in his experience. Many people faced with a tough road to return to football would give up, but Blount worked through all the conditions and earned a great deal of respect from both his teammates and the coach. Walking into a strong offensive locker room with Rivers, Gates and others, Blount could find a good veteran preference and a strong defined role for himself.
<strong>With the 168<sup>th</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select Levi Brown, Quarterback from Troy</strong>
One of the most surprising trades of the off-season came when the Chargers traded backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2011 third round selection and switching second rounders, moving the Chargers up twenty spots in the second round. While the trade has Charger fans excited (and Seahawk fans scratching their heads), that trade opened up a depth issue. Philip Rivers is the man, Billy Volek is a very good backup (see Indianapolis) though he's also in his mid 30s. The Chargers have been linked to Levi Brown; a transfer from Richmond to Troy, Brown is a solid short-to-intermediate passer with coolness under pressure, a quick release and a great work effort. He won't be confused for Stan Humphries with his arm strength and needs to learn how to take snaps under center, but he has the make up to be a solid developmental prospect and a good #3 quarterback.
<strong>With the 235<sup>th</sup> pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select O'Brien Schofield, Defensive End from Wisconsin.</strong>
Well the Chargers did it last year, why wouldn't they do it again? In 2009 the Chargers used their last pick on WR Demitrius Byrd, drafting a player a few weeks after he suffered major injuries in a car crash. The move was seen as one part charity and one part optimism that Byrd would regain his playing ability and contribute next year. Schofield is not as extreme of a case as Byrd; a potential mid round pick Schofield tore his ACL at a Senior Bowl Practice and will be inactive for the 2010 season. A team captain at Wisconsin, Schofield is undersized for a 3-4 LB at 6'2, 221lbs. However he has incredible athletic ability, great speed (especially off the snap and in closing on a quarterback) and a good mix of pass rushing skills. He's definitely a project but a year working with the Chargers training staff in rehab and of bulking up could leave him ready for 2011, the year Shawne Merriman becomes an unrestricted free agent. I'm not suggesting Schofield can replace Merriman but it never hurts to have some more depth at that position.
One of the most obvious questions that someone will ask upon seeing this group is why there were no offensive linemen selected. After the first five tackles in the first round (among which the Chargers have no chance of acquiring any of them), the quality of offensive tackles is very poor. The leftovers are a mix of try hard players with limited physical talent (e.g. Kyle Calloway, Jason Fox, Sam Young) or players with some physical talent who are unable to use it well (e.g. Ciron Black, Mike Johnson). While there are some interesting developmental picks available deep in the draft, it's a toss up whether any of them are on the Chargers roster. Furthermore the Chargers are well set at guard and center with Mrzucowski, Greene and even Dombrowski backing up Dielman, Hardwick and Vasquez.
I do want to note one other potential plan of attack that A.J. Smith might be considering. If A.J. is content with Ian Scott, Travis Johnson and Vaughn Martin (who it was assumed would be a nose tackle) as a rotational group at nose tackle, he could decide to focus on defensive end. If that's the case he'd target someone like Jared Odrick in the first round or Tyson Alualu in the second. As the Chargers do also need improvement at defensive end, this is a position the Chargers could be focusing on.
While the Chargers have holes to fill this year, and they are important deficiencies to correct, they are few in number and can be easily filled. Pundits who see the Chargers as in need of major rebuilding are wrong; with a new nose tackle and a stronger running game the Chargers can be very effective against anybody. Whether they are a championship team will be determined in 2010. And with this sort of a draft, I think the Chargers could be in great shape.