San Diego Chargers Draft

Okay, it’s a bit of a change of pace, but with the NFL draft going down in a couple of days I’ve gotta throw my two cents into the ring.

The San Diego Chargers have been hot and cold in the draft.  Lately, it’s been cold in the early rounds.  General manager A.J. Smith could care less what the consensus might be around the league.  He has his own player rankings and he sticks to them.  It makes for some unpredictable drafts.  While most fans cheer–or boo–their team’s draft selections, Charger fans tend to respond with “uhh…okay…” or “what?!”  Overall the Chargers have drafted well, especially in the later rounds, so I can’t complain too much.

The Chargers need to get better on defense.  They have had a top 5 offense for nearly a decade.  Meanwhile the other side of the ball has been inconsistent to unreliable.  I think the first two, or even three picks in this draft should go to the defensive side of the ball.  With that in mind, this is what I would do if I was running the show (round 1 only).

Option 1:  Move up and pick SS Mark Barron.

Alabama safety Mark Barron

The Cowboys want him at 14 from what I hear, so the Chargers would have to move up 5 spots to get him.  That could be a pricey move, but one I’m okay with.  SS is a need position and I think Barron is special. He has excellent hands, is smart, rangy, and scheme diverse.  He can play deep or in the box, cover man or zone, and intimidate in the middle.  Barron does need to work on his tackling technique, but that’s definitely something that can be coached.  He is also a little stiff in his hips apparently, limiting his man cover abilities, but unless he’s covering wide receivers one-on-one, it doesn’t appear to be a real issue.   Pairing him with Eric Weddle could give the Bolts the best safety duo in the league.

Option 2:  Stay put and pick  the best player available.

Illinois DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus

Someone always falls and that way the Bolts get the best value for the pick whereas filling a need might be a reach.  OLB Whitney Mercilus would be my choice, but again, it’s wide open here.

Besides having possibly the best defensive player name ever, Illinois DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus has all the traits and measurables of a premier pass rusher.  He’s in the mold of Demarcus Ware and Aldon Smith.  He led the nation in sacks with 16 and added 9 forced fumbles to boot.  He’s a physical, high motor player with good production.  The knock against him is that he’s a one-year wonder so he does have boom/bust potential.

Option 3:  Trade Down and pick Harrison Smith, Shea McClellin, Chandler Jones, or Courtney Upshaw.

Notre Dame Strong Safety Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith is the 2nd best safety in the draft and after him the fall is precipitous.  I think Smith brings to the SS position what Eric Weddle brings to FS: intelligence, range, athleticism, and sound technique. Plus Smith is a pretty big hitter.  In fact, I don’t think there’s too big a gap between Smith and Mark Barron.  Barron is more of a play-maker and has better field vision, but they’re within spittin’ distance.

Boise State OLB/DE Shea ("shay") McClellin

DE/OLB Shea McClellin is being compared to Mike Vrabel and that alone is reason enough to draft him.  The guy can play almost anywhere in the defensive front 7.  He can chase and tackle, cover, and rush the passer–inside or out.  McClellin was a captain and a play-maker on Boise State’s nationally ranked football team that’s so good no one wants to even let them in their conference, much less play them.   I am a little concerned about his functional strength; he had the fewest bench press reps of any defensive lineman at the combine and had a tendency to get swallowed up in the run game from time to time.  I don’t know enough to say whether that’s an issue of technique or strength or even scheme but it should be correctable with coaching and conditioning.

'Bama DE/OLB/ILB Courtney Upshaw (#41)

OLB Courtney Upshaw looks to drop (possibly out of the first round) due to disappointing offseason workouts.  He’s what scouts call “a football player,” meaning a guy who may not run fast or lift a lot of weight, but still performs well on the football field.  Unfortunately, he’s also considered a ‘tweener, meaning there is no position he is ideally suited for.  Another Alabama team captain, Upshaw had 6 tackles and a sack in the Tide’s 21-0 lambasting of LSU in the national championship game.  He could turn out to be a steal.

Syracuse DE/OLB Chandler Jones

Syracuse DE/OLB Chandler Jones has seen his stock rise as scouts have gone back to the game tapes.  I think he has a lot of Shaun Phillips’ qualities but he’s  not nearly as fast out the gate, which is huge.  It doesn’t hurt that his big brothers are UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon “Bones” Jones and Baltimore Raven DL Arthur Jones.  Bloodlines help but they don’t guarantee success (ask Casey Matthews).  Still, I think he can be a good player; I’m just not overly-excited about him.

So that’s my take, I guess.  We’ll find out this Thursday just how wrong I actually am!  😀

Back at Zero!

Eli bitch-slaps the Pats for his 2nd ring.

The Giants won again.  The Patriots lost again.  (Whew!  I was not ready to hear about Tom Brady being the greatest quarterback of all time for the rest of my life.  It’s bad enough hearing how Eli Manning is suddenly better than Peyton.  Saying Tom Brady is one of the greatest?  Okay.  The greatest? Ugh.)  Outside of wanting the Patriots to lose I wasn’t particularly invested in the game.  My brother is a huge Giants fan, though.  So he’s ecstatic.

Tom Bundchen dejected

If you’re a football junkie like me you’re now chomping at the bit for the combine, free agency, and the draft.  The best part of the Super Bowl being over is that everyone’s record goes back to 0-0.  It was another excellent finale to the football season.  And now everybody gets to look forward to their team making a run.

As a Chargers fan, there’s less off-season upheaval than I’d hoped considering the way the season went.  I fully expected head coach Norv Turner to be fired–with GM A.J. Smith possibly getting his walking papers as well.   That didn’t happen.  So now Turner, who has watched his teams slip into mediocrity, and Smith, who has arguably let more talent walk out the door in the last eight years than any other GM in the league, both begin their 2012 campaign on the hot seat.  The pressure is on Smith early.  His draft needs to be gangbusters.  He probably needs at least two immediate play-makers out of it.  He also needs to make a mark in free agency.

It’s still early for the draft, but free agency is right around the corner.  And the Chargers will need both to stock a somewhat depleted roster.

Superhuman specimen Vincent Jackson

The team’s 1st priority should be retaining Vincent Jackson.  If they let him test the free agency waters the price could get steep.  Unfortunately, Smith is notorious for dragging his feet when the time comes to re-sign players.

The next priority is the offensive line.  Oft-injured left tackle Marcus McNeill, guard Kris Dielman, and center Nick Hardwick could all be gone next year due to injury or (in Hardwick’s case) retirement.  Jared Gaither played well in place of McNeill this year and could probably be retained at a reasonable price.  If Dielman does retire, the team should make a run at one of the better guards available in free agency like Carl Nicks or maybe Ben GrubbsTyronne Green could step in for Hardwick if necessary.  No matter what, a lineman should be drafted in the first three rounds.

The third biggest team need is an outside pass rusher.  I would expect improvement from rookie DE Corey Liuget, but the Chargers need an OLB opposite Shaun PhillipsAntwan Barnes played extremely well last year but is more of a situational player than an every down starter.  At the very least, the team needs to find someone to compete with him.  Depending on who’s available, this is the position I think the team should probably draft with its 1st round pick.  Alabama’s Courtney Uphaw, USC’s Nick Perry, and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram would be choice.  I also like Andre Branch out of Clemson and Vinny Curry coming out of Marshall in the 2nd round.

Eric Weddle needs help in the defensive backfield.

The final hole on the Chargers roster is a safety to start opposite Pro Bowler Eric WeddleLaRon Landry could be an impact player, but he’s got serious injury questions that need to be answered.  Steve Gregory should be affordable if the Chargers want to retain him…but only for a back up role.

The Chargers have a lot of potential free agents on the roster, including Mike Tolbert among others.  It should be interesting to see what direction they decide to take.

LaRon Landry is bad for opposing offenses' health.

(Giants win image from: http://aroundthenetworks.com/super-bowl-mvp-eli-manning-late-show-david-letterman-tonight-february-6th/  Sad Tom Brady image from:  http://www.wina.com/Brady-laments–missed-opportunities–in-Super-Bowl/11459010?newsId=126317  Chargers logo from: http://abcnewsradioonline.com/sports-news/tag/san-diego-chargers  Eric Weddle image from: http://profootballzone.com/tag/eric-weddle/  LaRon Landry image from: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/dec/13/redskins-landry-done-season/  Vincent Jackson image from: http://newshopper.sulekha.com/vincent-jackson-mike-jenkins_photo_1091520.htm)