Chargers Draft 2011: Turning A Negative Trend Into Positive Results

This year is perhaps the most promising draft for the Chargers in terms of assets heading into the late April festivities in a long time as the holders of eight picks in total with five of those choices falling in the top 89 selections overall. Despite being loaded with a wealth of possible options each time they are put on the clock this April, that doesn’t automatically produce results on the field of play from the players who are drafted.

Case in point came this past season when the Chargers got the least out of their draft class of any team in the league. The Bolts made six picks in 2010’s draft with only four of those choices actually making the 53-man roster and only two playing even one snap last season. Ryan Mathews and Cam Thomas were the only two Bolts’ rookies to hit the field in 2010 and their combined 370 snaps played was the lowest total of any team in the NFL among drafted rookies.

Unforeseen issues from linebacker Donald Butler’s season ending Achilles injury in training camp to the number of contests missed by Mathews who was nicked up all season as well can excuse some of the lack of production via the draft, but injuries were only one side of the story.

The Bolts were well positioned heading into last year’s draft as the holders of the 28th and 40th overall picks in rounds one and two respectively. What General Manager A.J. Smith decided to do with those picks was assemble a hefty package in a trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up and draft Mathews at number 12 overall. Although this made sense on the surface and had good intentions, it left the Bolts with only two picks in the first four rounds of the draft as a result.

San Diego’s mere six picks in the first four rounds since the 2008 draft is tied for the second fewest in the NFL more than only the Washington Redskins over that time period. And as we all know, any time you find yourself associated with the Redskins on a list when it comes to the draft in the past decade, it’s usually a bad thing.

The impressive stockpile of picks that A.J. Smith has to work with this offseason is even more crucial than normal with the uncertainty surrounding the CBA as free agents are left in limbo for the time being. Head Coach Norv Turner has expressed his excitement for the multitude of possibilities that are at the Bolts’ disposal as he said: “I think we’ll get some guys that have an impact on this season, that can come in and help us.”

The consensus wisdom around the league says that players taken in the first three rounds of the draft have a much higher chance of being impact players from day one as opposed to later rounds and undrafted free agents. On average, players drafted in the first three rounds play four times as much as those selected in the fourth round or beyond. What this statistic does is simply magnify the importance of this year’s draft and further illustrate just how crucial it is for the Chargers to find legitimate contributors with their bounty of picks in the first three rounds.

It seems that the possibilities have been whittled down to two options if the team decides to stay put at 18th overall and find an immediate starter. The defense had a commendable season in 2010, but they will be missing several key components of that unit including defensive coordinator Ron Rivera who has moved on and taken the head coaching position with the Carolina Panthers. His replacement is former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive guru Greg Manusky and he is a 3-4 style of coordinator as well.

With all signs pointing to the team remaining in a 3-4 configuration given the fact that their remaining personnel is most comfortable in that alignment, the Bolts need to focus on the reconstruction of their defensive front.

Defensive end has been a revolving door over the last handful of years as has the defensive line as a whole with Rivera choosing to employ a ‘by committee’ strategy with the team during his tenure. It is about time for the Bolts to find an every down player at the defensive end spot versatile enough to plug up running lanes when necessary yet still having the agility to apply pressure to the passer as well.

Opinions are still quite varied on just where particular players will be slotted come draft day, but there are two ideal fits for the Bolts defense that could be sitting on the board when the Commissioner puts them on the clock at pick 18.

The first option would be J.J. Watt who has been nothing short of astounding in all of his workouts not to mention just how dominating he was on Saturdays this past fall with the Wisconsin Badgers. Watt is a natural fit as a 5-technique defensive end and could compete for a starting gig from day one with the Bolts.

The other attractive possibility is Cameron Jordan and he can offer nearly identical measurables to Watt, but has that extra gear to get upfield and rush the passer relentlessly. Granted there is some give and take between the two with Watt being a bit more polished as a stay at home defender against the run, but Jordan has the athleticism to get down the line and make critical tackles on running downs as well.

Landing one of these highly sought after names by teams utilizing the 3-4 system is paramount to reversing what has been a sub par trend in the NFL Draft over the past handful of years for the Bolts. It remains to be seen whether that will require a trade or if the team lucks out and has one of those two names still on the board when their pick comes around at 18th overall.

Here’s your chance to be heard. It may be too early to call the Chargers’ 2010 draft class a failure, but do the Bolts need a more immediate impact from this year’s draftees if they want to return to the top of the AFC West standings? How disturbing is it to see the Chargers in the same sentence as the Redskins when it comes to NFL Draft success? Do you see more diverse defensive schemes this year out of necessity or will the team stick to their guns and run primarily a 3-4 set? Do you agree that the 18th pick is basically limited to either J.J. Watt or Cameron Jordan at this point, or are there other options for the team if they choose to stay put in the draft order? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

April 1, 2011

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muckt said... Apr 13, 2011, 7:50:00 PM

The Chargers have a great oportunity to return to the loaded LB 3-4 of the past.1st get Ayers for the outside in the 1st and wait till the secound 2nd rounder to pickup Casey Mathews. That with English coming back and Butler yet to see loads us with talent. Shoot for one DE with the 1st pick in the 2nd.Then in the 3rd you have 2 picks to either concentrate on the O-line, or if Jaquisse Rogers or Taiwan Jones is available grab them. 6,6,&7 can be used on a reciever ( don't forget both those RB's can catch and run). Or a Great Blocking TE, a ,backup center & Another ackle that can play both sides. Letting Manusking turn his dogs loose on the opposition and having a line that can protect and run block spells SUPERBOWL!!!!!!

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