Chargers Draft 2011: Only As Strong As The Weakest Link

The age old saying that a team is only as good as its weakest link has been a time-tested mantra that seems to resurface on a regular basis throughout the NFL. Given the Bolts statistical superiority over the majority of the league in most categories last season, it is a difficult process to try and identify just where the team’s weakest links lie. Even with their remarkable achievements as a team last year, there are plenty of areas where the club could use an upgrade if they want to take the next step to an elite level.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the defensive front seven where the team performed admirably in stretches yet showed some extreme inadequacies through the latter half of their schedule. The drubbing at the hands of the divisional rival Oakland Raiders was perhaps the most extreme and embarrassing of these deficiencies when the Bolts surrendered 251 yards in a 28-13 defeat week 13 at home.

Antonio Garay held down the nose tackle position for the majority of the year in 2010 and figures to get the bulk of the snaps again in 2011, but the defensive ends are a position in flux. Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson are both free agents and likely to be playing elsewhere next season while Luis Castillo remains the only constant on the defensive line. After some near Pro Bowl level seasons during his first handful of years in the league, Castillo has leveled off and subsequently dropped in terms of production for the Bolts. Even during injury plagued years in 2006 and 2007 he managed bigger numbers than in both 2009 and 2010 in terms of tackles and just overall performance. Castillo may be the only constant on this team on the first line of defense, but his play really needs to improve in 2011 or he could find himself falling out of favor on the depth chart.

The same could be said on the offensive side for right tackle Jeromey Clary who has basically been the starter on the right side by default over the past few years and has proven to be a liability in pass protection. Even his strength as a run blocker has seen a dip recently with the team not being nearly as productive on the ground in recent years. Granted some of that is due to a philosophical shift more toward an aerial attack recently, but Clary’s been penalty-prone at inopportune times in addition to his decline as a run blocker which makes him a prime candidate for an overhaul.

It is highly likely that the Chargers will come into the 2011 season with both of these guys on the roster, but their positions on the depth chart aren’t nearly as cemented as they have been in years past.

That brings us to the idea of upgrading at both defensive end and offensive tackle as the Bolts are in prime position to do just that in round one of the NFL Draft in a little over a week. Beginning with defensive end, the Chargers have been linked to two main possibilities at 18th overall in the first round hoping that either Cameron Jordan of California or J.J. Watt of Wisconsin falls into their lap at that position. Both have experience in the five-technique and offer a tremendous amount of scheme versatility should the Bolts choose to mix it up under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky at times.

Chances are great that either one of these guys would be a starter from day one given the current uncertain free agent climate in the league and the Bolts’ lack of bodies on their depth chart on the end. Adding a versatile difference maker to a defensive line considered to be in decline over the past few seasons is just what the team needs to rectify their issues in stopping the run.

Moving on to offensive tackle, many believe that it is a toss-up between Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Boston College alum Anthony Castonzo for the most pro-ready tackle in this year’s draft class. Most scouts feel that either one comes equipped ready to start from day one on the right side and could quickly be groomed into a Pro Bowl level blindside protector. The Bolts don’t really need help on the left side now that Marcus McNeill is signed long-term, but depth and versatility is always a nice asset to have in your back pocket during a long and taxing NFL season.

With the average performance that Clary has given on the right side during his career with the Chargers, Carimi or Castonzo would provide an immediate upgrade at that position. The upside that each possesses is much greater than that of Clary as well which gives the Bolts a legitimate draft option if all of their desired targets at 3-4 defensive end are off of the board by pick number 18 overall.

The possibilities with the first round selection are still limitless if you listen to General Manager A.J. Smith discuss which direction the Bolts may go during this year’s draft. According to Smith: “The only positions I've closed out, as I've done for a while now, are kickers and punters. We're doing just fine there. Everything else is possible. When I used to say that in the past, people thought I was filling notebooks with GM-speak. But now, because of the circumstances, there are a lot of people who believe that's truly the case."

In an attempt to help Smith out just a bit, it seems the deliberation has been narrowed down to four viable candidates. Without any unforeseen curveballs it seems highly probable that one of these players will be putting on a Chargers cap on April 28th. Whether it is one of the defensive ends in Jordan or Watt or one of the two offensive tackles in Carimi or Castonzo, the Bolts really need their first round selection to provide an instant impact on their 2011 roster. That is the only thing not up for debate at this point.

Now for your take. Do you agree with these two perceived weakest links for the Bolts or are there different areas you feel need to be addressed? Do you believe GM Smith when he says that every position aside from kicker and punter are up for consideration or is he simply giving some misdirection to his fellow GM’s around the league? Of the four players mentioned, which do you feel is the most ideal fit on this Chargers team and why? If you would rather see the team go in a different direction, what area do you feel is a bigger need and which player would you target? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

April 19, 2011

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Jeff Williams said... Apr 19, 2011, 7:42:00 AM

The logic behind these four options leads me to believe that AJ will go in a different direction. I don't know why, but AJ rarely makes the "logical" pick. I could easily see AJ going linebacker in the first round, with Akeem Ayers, Ryan Kerrigan, or Brooks Reed.

Anthony M. Blake said... Apr 19, 2011, 8:18:00 AM

There's no doubt that A.J.'s logic (or lack thereof) in the draft has been an issue in recent years. And granted the outside linebacker spot does need some help, but there will be plenty of guys available in round two to fill that need like Justin Houston of Georgia or Jabaal Sheard from Pitt. Prioritizing needs to be A.J.'s top concern in this draft and defensive end or offensive tackle must take precedence over outside linebacker.

cczer08 said... Apr 19, 2011, 10:59:00 AM

There seems to be a disconnect between how the fans view Jeromey Clary and how the team/local media view him. Most of the fans have been calling for his head for years, and with five picks in the first 3 rounds, it seems like there has never been a better time to find a long-term upgrade. However, everything I hear coming from the Chargers and the local media is that Clary had "his best season" in 2010 and they really want to retain him. Given that information and the fact that AJ will probably unload at least one of the five early picks in a trade up, I would not be at all surprised if right tackle doesn't get addressed until the 6th or 7th round rolls around, which basically means you are probably drafting another Jeromey Clary. That would be a big disappointment, but not a surprise.

donzietgr said... Apr 19, 2011, 11:35:00 AM

I may be wrong but do not see AJ taking a OL in 1st round. No one has mentioned B. Dombrowski
who filled in for M.McNeil last season. I prefer A.Smith over Watt or Jordan. One other possibility,what
do the Chargers do if D.Bowers falls to18 ? How many of you remember Warren Sapp falling to Tampa
or Aaron Rodgers sitting there in the Green Room.

Jeff Williams said... Apr 19, 2011, 12:18:00 PM

I agree with you. And if I agree and you agree and most fans agree, I would almost guarantee that AJ does something different- Ha!

Today said... Apr 19, 2011, 1:10:00 PM

I am for DE with the first pick and if we can get a starting RT in the second round - unreal! Totally agree with you Anthony - Clary got smoked too much last year. I wonder about RG too. Picking up a starting LB in the second or third round would be killer. Lots of uncertainly with our WRs due to free agency, so do not be surprised if AJ grabs one in the first 3 rounds.

Brian said... Apr 19, 2011, 3:58:00 PM

Landing one of these 4 would be ideal. The Chargers also have a history of drafting CBs in the 1st, and Jammer is getting long in the tooth. Any chance they reach or trade down for Jimmy Smith, a big press corner in the model of Jammer?

Anthony M. Blake said... Apr 19, 2011, 5:06:00 PM

I have been beginning to lean in that direction as well, Brian. The Bolts do love to get corners early in drafts and it seems like the off-field baggage that had plagued Jimmy Smith early in the pre-draft process is much less relevant than anticipated. At pick 18 he probably isn't a reach and his physique is similar to that of Antonio Cromartie with off the charts athleticism.

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