There is an air of uncertainty surrounding the Chargers and just which direction the team will go in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft. General Manager A.J. Smith is well-known for his unconventional draft picks and his propensity of trading up in pursuit of a player he believes could immediately improve the team. Of all years in the past however, this time is arguably the most unsettled that the organization has ever seemed with the big day just around the corner.
Areas of need are fairly obvious to Bolts’ fans who watched the team struggle in 2011 and pass protection, defending the pass, and getting pressure on the quarterback certainly headline that list of concerns. It’s impossible to address each of these needs in round one however, so the team will have to prioritize these trouble spots from a season ago and choose a player best equipped to eliminate those issues in the coming year.
As if the stats themselves couldn’t paint an accurate portrayal of just how under duress quarterback Philip Rivers was at times last season, the team lost guard Kris Dielman to forced retirement this offseason and released starter Marcus McNeill at left tackle. Jared Gaither was signed to fill the void on the left side, but he too has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career.
Since taking over the job at quarterback, Rivers has never thrown as many picks or attempted as many passes as he did in 2011. His number of attempts has increased every single year he has been the starter in San Diego. Keeping him upright has to be a primary focus for next season and that means addressing the team’s deficiencies along the offensive line.
One player in this year’s draft who could immediately upgrade the line is Stanford’s David DeCastro. His athleticism is the perfect fit for a team that likes to throw the ball as he shows tremendous lateral agility and has the uncanny ability to mirror defenders. Even though he possesses this skill set, that doesn’t mean he can’t get nasty in the trenches and run block with the best of them. DeCastro has a mean streak and plays low to the ground with a real feisty temperament. Many have called him the best guard prospect in a decade so if the Chargers could land him at their current draft position, there should be very little hesitation.
DEFENDING THE PASS
The secondary may have ranked 13th in terms of pass yards allowed, but big plays continued to haunt the Bolts’ final level of defense. Struggles to find a consistent starter at the safety spot opposite Eric Weddle along with the erratic play of Antoine Cason and signs of age from Quentin Jammer hampered the guys responsible for stopping the ball from moving through the air.
Getting off of the field on third down was a huge problem as well for the Chargers last year and that can also be attributed to a pass defense with some glaring holes. It certainly isn’t time to give up on Cason or send Jammer packing just yet, but adding some depth to the corner spot and trying to find an elite player to pair with Weddle would be a real positive step toward improving this porous area of the defense.
GM Smith has professed an affinity this offseason for Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith and even though he grades as a borderline first rounder, some believe the quirky GM may take him at pick number 18. His football IQ and hard-hitting abilities have him in the Chargers’ sights and although trading down to land him makes the most sense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him picked at 18th overall.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is yet another possibility as the team had him in for a pre-draft visit and has to like his upside potential. GM Smith is always drawn to players who could hit it big and Kirkpatrick certainly fits the bill at 6’2” 190 lbs. His size and speed combination is a rarity and his physical style of play is definitely appealing to a team like the Bolts with their defensive scheme.
PRESSURING THE QUARTERBACK
While signing Jarret Johnson in the offseason adds some depth to the outside linebacker spot, the club still needs more capable bodies at rushing the passer. Both he and Shaun Phillips are north of 30 years old and Larry English is pretty much an afterthought for the team at this point. The Chargers had just 32.0 sacks during the 2011 year which ranked 23rd in the league and in a 3-4 defense, that just won’t cut it.
Greg Manusky may have had a lot to do with those issues in attempting to replace Ron Rivera, but he is gone now. John Pagano has been with the Bolts over the past decade and saw the schemes that excelled from Rivera while grooming linebackers in the past. This may be the ideal time to draft a big-time pass rusher to develop under Pagano’s tutelage as defensive coordinator.
The two names that make the most sense are Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram, but many have Ingram projected in the top ten picks while Upshaw figures to be gone at or near the Bolts’ selection. Ingram could be a target in a trade-up scenario as GM Smith has shown the ability to make that happen in the past. With Upshaw, his production speaks for itself even though some question whether or not he can play effectively in space. His motor never stops and his thick build allows him to play low with real power and get to the quarterback routinely.
As for Ingram, his size is nearly identical to Upshaw as both are right around 6’2” 270lbs. and his power rivals the Bama defender as well. What sets him apart is his natural athleticism featuring fluid movement and quick hands to get around offensive linemen and take down the QB. Inconsistencies raise questions for Ingram however as only a one-year starter with some immaturity issues. Still his upside potential will likely push him up draft boards and force GMs to weigh the good against the bad before making a final determination.
It may not be the sexist pick, but my heart says offensive line is the way to go if DeCastro is available. With the way corners and pass rushers tend to rise in the closing days leading up to the draft, it is highly possible that he will still be there when the Chargers are on the clock. If DeCastro is gone, trading down and taking Smith in the mid-20s would be a great fall-back scenario as well.
Fill up the comments section with your suggestions, thoughts, commentary, and more about just what you think the Chargers could do, should do, and will do in Thursday’s 1st round of the NFL Draft. Please hold nothing back! Tell us who you think the Bolts should choose!
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