The 2012 draft was one of the most pivotal in recent Chargers history. Injuries and age have wreaked havoc on the Chargers roster, while past drafts have failed to back-fill key positions and provide the depth needed to last a full 16-game season.
Following a free agent frenzy unseen before in AJ Smith's tenure as GM, will this draft class be enough to put the Chargers back atop the AFC West? Here's a look at how the Chargers rate at a number of positions that got a lot of attention this offseason.
After a busy free agent signing period, the Chargers found themselves with basically the same offensive line group with which they ended last season. That's not necessarily a bad thing seeing as the team could have lost both their starting center in Nick Hardwick (however unlikely) and their new-found starting left tackle in Jared Gaither. The permanent loss of left guard Kris Dielman to retirement definitely stung, leaving a hole in the offensive line that would be tough to fill regardless of the player waiting in the wings. Given the options the Chargers had on their roster, a new left guard was at the top of many lists heading into the draft.
The Chargers passed on one of the top guard prospects in the draft in the first round, albeit for one of the top outside linebacker prospects. In the second round they passed on the top center prospect in the draft. In the fifth round they drafted a guard who they knew was recovering from multiple injuries and has little chance of being active in 2012, let alone replacing Dielman in the near future. Center David Molk was selected in the 7th round and seems to stand a good chance of making the roster if he can prove to be versatile enough in a backup role. After the draft the Chargers are really no better off on the offensive line than they were last year...yet, they are also no worse.
This grade is helped by having a Pro Bowler on one side, but hurt by having really nothing on the other side (again, prior to the draft). The Chargers entered free agency with a big hole at strong safety, and after making little attempt to improve upon last year's starting SS in the free agent market, all eyes turned towards the draft.
Everyone knew the Chargers had to find a safety in the draft; the only question was in what round would they find him? The Chargers missed out on the top-rated safety near the beginning of the first round, and by the end of the first round the consensus #2 safety was gone as well. After contemplating pulling the trigger on Eric Weddle's new counterpart in the second round, AJ got his man in the third. Brandon Taylor, who I tagged as the third best option at safety prior to the draft, is not being viewed as the immediate starting strong safety heading into training camp but he will be the man sooner rather than later.
Outside linebacker might be the most difficult position to grade pre-draft. The Chargers pass-rush problems were not exactly due to a lack of talent but more a lack of health. The lack of depth after injuries took a toll on Larry English and Shaun Philips, leading to the wearing down of the rest of the linebacker unit, provided a great opportunity for Antwan Barnes but little else to get excited about. Arguably AJ's biggest free agent acquisition (not previously on the team) was Jarret Johnson, the run stuffing OLB formerly with Baltimore. With Johnson and some health related luck, this unit could be on its way to becoming dominant once again.
Take a unit with a lot of potential heading into the 2012 season, then add first round pick Melvin Ingram, and you have a pass rush that may suddenly become one of the best in the league. There is still a lot to be proved, but expect Ingram to dominate on third downs early in the season and eventually work his way into an even larger roll on the team.
Corey Liuget...Vaughn Martin...they aren't pushovers, but they don't strike fear in the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators. Add Antonio Garay back into the mix and the make-up of the defensive line becomes more respectable. This unit is made up of a bunch of role players who together may be stronger than the individual pieces.
Second round pick Kendall Reyes should be an immediate improvement to a unit lacking big play makers. Adding a quality player like Reyes into a rotation that otherwise will look very similar to the 2011 unit makes everyone around him better.
How do you rate the changes to the Chargers roster this offseason? Are we being too hard on the Chargers or too optimistic? Sound off in the comments section now!
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