Chargers Rookie Class In Review

One season removed from an NFL Draft is considered too early to effectively evaluate an NFL draft class. There is still plenty of time for draft picks from 2011 to grow into successful NFL players, or to completely fall on their faces, rarely contributing on the playing field. That doesn’t change the fact that the Chargers need impact players now. Did they select any impact players in the 2011 draft? Let’s take a look at the Chargers first three-rounds and find out.

1st Round (18 overall): Corey Liuget DE
No one had Liuget pegged to go to the Chargers in the first round, mostly because no one had Liuget dropping past the middle of the first round, and also because he was deemed a better fit at defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. Leave it to the unconventional AJ Smith to select an inside DT and ask him to play defensive end in a 3-4.

Liuget performed well enough in his first season to be considered the definite starter heading into 2012, but he has a lot of room to improve his game. He had a sack, occasionally got into the backfield to disrupt things, but mostly spent his time clogging a gap, allowing linebackers to make a play. You can’t call him an impact player based on his 2011 performance, but he was another guy to add to the defensive line rotation. Still, I have to ask if he is a significant improvement over anyone else on the defensive line. And you have to wonder, could he be more effective in a 4-3 defense? Someday we may find out.

2nd Round (50): Marcus Gilchrist CB
Gilchrist did not receive a lot of attention in the draft, with “experts” pegging him to go anywhere from the 2nd to 4th rounds. In training camp he showed he was a quick learner and a smart player, and when given an opportunity to play he played surprisingly well in one game, dominating the Dolphins early in the season, but later was consistently toasted in starts against the Chiefs and Packers. An inconsistent year from a rookie cornerback is hardly cause for alarm, especially when the secondary as a whole seemed to take a step backwards. Gilchrist could be starting again sooner rather than later.

2nd Round (61): Jonas Mouton LB
The linebacker from Michigan was considered by many to be the biggest reach by Smith in the entire draft. Draft analysts gave him low scores for beating blockers and being an effective run stopper, but the game tape suggested he was a solid college level performer on a bad defense. Mouton was seen by Chargers staff to have tremendous upside, but an early injury shelved him for the year.

At this point it’s hard to tell if Mouton was worthy of a 2nd round selection, but consider some players who were selected after him:
Marcus Gilbert: 13 game starter at right tackle, and is projected to move to left tackle as soon as next season.
Randal Cobb: Solid contributor to the Packers offense in his rookie season, especially on special teams (2 TD kick/punt return).
Justin Houston: 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season, coming on very strong at the end of the season
Martez Wilson: 10 tackles and a sack, not a major contributor to the Saints defense.

3rd Round (82): Vincent Brown WR
The SDSU alum was a favorite of San Diego sports fans, and after battling through injuries in training camp he showed he can hold his own in the pro’s. If he can shed that injury bug, he will receive a lot of playing time next season as either the slot receiver or the starter when Malcolm Floyd inevitably gets hurt.

3rd Round (89): Shareece Wright CB
Wright overcame a lot in college to earn his 3rd round selection. He proved to be a hard worker in camp but failed to make a significant contribution on defense. Wright’s biggest headlines came from comments he made on Twitter that seemed to encourage the team to move to Los Angeles (his hometown). While his contributions were fairly insignificant, were there other players more worthy of a late 3rd round pick? Linebacker Sam Acho, had a solid rookie season for the Cardinals; linebacker Casey Matthews did little for the Eagles. I’m not sure that either of them would have fared much better on this Chargers defense.

2011 may turn out to be a solid, yet unspectacular draft for the Chargers. Luiget should start for years but may never reach impact-player status. Gilchrist will likely be a future starter at cornerback or safety depending on the team’s needs. Could he be another Quentin Jammer, who needed a few years to grow into his position? Mouton has a lot of potential, and you have to hope that he can improve under the tutelage of Takeo Spikes. He has the potential to play inside or outside, although the team seems to have him pegged for an inside role. Brown has great hands and may have been the highlight of the Chargers’ draft in the 3rd round. And I’m not expecting a lot from Wright, but the Chargers have had worse players in their secondary.

One year removed from the 2011 draft, what is your opinion of the Chargers most recent rookie class?

Follow me on Twitter: @JSWilliams75

January 20, 2012

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