In an interview with CBS Sports, Chargers' General Manager A.J. Smith said: “I believe you have to have dominating, dictating defense to win a world championship. We have to put that together.” If that doesn’t go a long way in hinting at just which direction the team may be leaning in the early rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft, I don’t know what else will.
Clearly the Chargers have several need areas on each level defensively and they can’t address all of those issues with one pick. Still the idea of maximizing draft choices and taking value choices in every round of next month’s selection process is one that the team must enact. Let’s take a look at each big need for the Bolts on the defensive side of the football and determine which prospects in what particular rounds may appeal to the team.
Obviously obtaining a pass rusher tops the list of needs for San Diego this offseason and there are plenty of options in the upcoming draft. Many analysts believe that the first round will be where the club chooses to address this need with either Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or more likely Illinois sack machine Whitney Mercilus. Still later on the team could find some value in rounds two or three if they choose to forgo that position in round one.
Andre Branch from Clemson would make a lot of sense in the second round as a fit in the 3-4 scheme. He has the size to fight off blockers at 6’5” 260lbs. along with the agility to stick with receivers and the athleticism to drop back in coverage. Shea McClellin of Boise State could also be a possibility in either the second or potentially even the third round. His productivity was solid in Boise and he has drawn comparisons to last year’s first round pick Aldon Smith in terms of potential. With a great first step and a real blue collar work ethic, McClellin would be a great fit for the Bolts at some point during the second day of the draft.
The safety spot opposite Eric Weddle is in flux and the team needs to find a real solution at that position this offseason. The addition of Atari Bigby in free agency provides some flexibility and depth, but not a real difference maker. Many believe that GM A.J. Smith has serious interest in Notre Dame product Harrison Smith and he seems like the only true blue chip prospect at the position in this year’s class.
Certainly the option of moving Quentin Jammer from corner to safety makes a lot of sense in so many ways, but Jammer’s pride will likely prevent that from occurring at least in the coming season. If the team decided to go in that direction however, drafting a corner early like Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina or Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama could be the pick in round two.
Really defensive line in general just needs a bit more depth and whichever position the Bolts choose to fill would be a good addition. This spot may wait until a bit later in the draft however so for this spot, some deepsleepers will be examined as potential fits.
Kheeston Randall of Texas has the ideal skill set and size at 6’5” 293lbs. to become a part of the defensive end rotation from day one. He was asked to occupy space mainly with the Longhorns and would excel if given the same job description with the Bolts. Regina’s Akiem Hicks has already visited the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 3-4 team, in the pre-draft process and he wouldn’t be the first Canadian collegiate prospect the Bolts took a look at. He and Vaughn Martin could make a nice north of the border pair with the team if he is still around in the fifth round.
There is still plenty of work to be done for the Chargers’ personnel department in determining just which players fit best with the team’s scheme. The guys mentioned could be looked at as possibilities or GM Smith could again go with an under the radar prospect that has yet to be mentioned as an option at this point. If the team does go in the defensive direction as expected however, this will likely be a draft class expected to make an immediate on-field impact in 2012.
Now it’s your turn! Do you see defense as the main focus for the Bolts in the upcoming draft? Will the team be able to find that difference making pass rusher in this year’s draft class or will GM Smith again swing and miss? Can management find a top notch safety to pair with Weddle in this class or will they be forced to deal with what is on their current roster? Does the lack of depth on the defensive line concern you or would it be okay if the team neglected to pick a lineman in this year’s draft? What is your gut feeling on who A.J. Smith is targeting at this point and will that ultimately be the team’s pick? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts on everything draft related!
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