2011 NFL Draft: Needs Vs. Wants

Perhaps the most difficult question for any team to weigh when it comes to the NFL Draft is the age-old query of want versus need. The San Diego Chargers are not exempt from this issue as they will most likely be forced to choose a player that fills a need rather than selecting the best available player regardless of position when put on the clock at Radio City Music Hall.

This offseason in particular will find many teams in this same predicament with the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) issues yet to be resolved meaning free agency has yet to take place. It could be argued that this is actually advantageous for teams providing them the freedom to draft the best player available rather than focusing on one specific position. Conversely, teams could feel even more pressure to address certain areas of need via the draft rather than rolling the dice in hopes of re-signing a player that eventually leaves when free agency takes place.

For the Chargers, the defensive end position is clearly the most in flux in 2011 with only two players currently signed on their depth chart which is a far cry from the eight or nine players who rotated along the defensive front over the past two seasons. This leaves a huge void needing to be filled prior to the start of the season with no means by which to do so in the foreseeable future aside from the draft.

Ever since the downfall of Shawne Merriman and his parabolic career path with the Bolts, San Diego has been looking for that standout pass rusher to go along with the steady production of Shaun Phillips at outside linebacker. This draft is filled with a number of possibilities to fit into the 3-4 scheme as pass rush specialists, but the team remains hopeful that 2009 first rounder Larry English will develop into that player sooner rather than later.

The final area of concern is at right tackle where the team has been getting along alright with Jeromey Clary over the past few seasons, but an upgrade would be preferable. That is the perspective from the majority of fans; however, General Manager A.J. Smith is quick to come to the defense of his incumbent right tackle saying that he is better than people think. There is a lot of gray area between better than people think and a solid starter, but that position seems like a stretch to address early in the draft.

When looking at the pick itself for what surely won’t be the last time between now and the draft, most analysts have the Chargers looking to add a defender to the league’s number one ranked unit from a season ago. Many feel the Bolts defense produced the bulk of their statistics with smoke and mirrors, but numbers don’t lie and San Diego was better than all of their competitors during the 2010 campaign.

It is highly likely that potential want areas rather than needs will be postponed until at least round two or even round three potentially so the list of candidates has been whittled down to just four names.

In order of infatuation level, this list has to begin with Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt who has been a fast riser on most draft boards and is likely to be long gone before the 18th overall selection rolls around. Still picturing Watt on the Bolts’ defensive line is a great vision if it doesn’t involve sacrificing additional precious draft choices to land the 6’6” 292 pounder who a capable pass rusher and run stopper at the defensive end spot.

Stunningly it seems that Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson has risen to the spot as the second most coveted player in San Diego. At 6’4” 315lbs. he has the physical stature to translate well in the 3-4 scheme and his experience lining up all along the defensive line gives him the necessary versatility to fit into any position. Wilkerson has a tremendous burst off of the line of scrimmage penetrating the backfield with ease and using great technique in leverage to overpower opposing offensive linemen.

Third in line would be Cameron Jordan of California and he is a player of interest for several teams picking just in front of the Chargers including the Jacksonville Jaguars at 16 as well as the New England Patriots at 17. Jordan has the size at 6’4” 287lbs. and the versatility to excel in any defensive formation, but he could be particularly effective in a 3-4 where he is able to hold the point of attack and flow down the line to make tackles.

Last but not least in the possibilities is Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn who has slipped down many draft boards due to an injury that you don’t hear of everyday. Clayborn’s injury didn’t occur on the field of play, but rather many years before he even knew what football was. He was born with Erb’s palsy which causes nerve damage from his neck down into his right arm which does not cause him any pain, but does limit his extension of that arm. The Hawkeye was considered by many a top ten talent heading into this collegiate season, but has slipped due to those concerns as well as a lackluster senior season in the Big Ten.

With a number of fits bound to be available when the Bolts are put on the clock later this month, the only thing that seems certain at this point is that they will have no shortage of options at pick number 18. Adding a defensive end would give this team the added toughness and depth needed up front to hopefully eliminate those unsightly performances like the week 13 debacle at the hands of the Oakland Raiders who rushed for 251 yards in that contest.

Now let’s hear from you. Do you think it is more important this year to fill a need early in the draft rather than taking the best player available or is it the same as years past? Would taking a pass rusher or right tackle in round one be considered a luxury pick or are those legitimate areas of need for the team? If defensive end is in fact the position most in need of a facelift for the Chargers, which of those mentioned above do you feel best fits with the team and why? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

April 6, 2011

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