2012 NFL Draft | San Diego Chargers Team Needs
The San Diego Chargers underachieved yet again in 2011, going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were again retained after the season despite rampant speculation to the contrary, but 2012 may be their last chance to keep their jobs and the pressure to fill holes on the roster is likely to be high.
The Chargers lost star wide receiver Vincent Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, but they have attempted to replace him by signing Robert Meachem along with Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock. That should take away one of their most urgent needs heading into this month’s draft, but there are still plenty of spots on the roster that need attention.
There will be a significant changing of the guard along the San Diego offensive line, particularly on the left side, as left guard Kris Dielman has retired after suffering a severe concussion last season and left tackle Marcus McNeill was released and will not return. The Chargers did re-sign center Nick Hardwick to keep some stability, but there is little else in terms of proven talent elsewhere on the line with Jared Gaither a possibility to take over for McNeill and 2011 draft pick Stephen Schilling possibly having an opportunity to earn a greater role in 2012. It would not be a surprise to see San Diego use their first round pick (No.18 overall) on an offensive lineman, with Stanford guard David DeCastro and Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, who can play guard or tackle, among the possible options.
The Chargers have attempted to replace Vincent Jackson with quantity during free agency, with Robert Meachem likely to assume his role as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. But the other options, including incumbent Malcom Floyd and the other free agent signings, are either unproven (Vincent Brown) or have not been productive pass catchers (Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish), so adding a young player to the mix may be something the team looks hard at somewhere in the early rounds. If the Chargers do use an early pick on a wide receiver, perhaps in the second round, players like South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, LSU’s Reuben Randle or Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers may come into play.
Antonio Gates is still among the elite tight ends in the NFL, but injuries in recent years have helped limit his effectiveness and keep him off the field. The Chargers re-signed Randy McMichael and signed Donte Rosario in free agency, but a young player who could become Gates’ successor stands to qualify as an upgrade over both guys. Tight end is not the most urgent need on the San Diego roster, but if a talented player is on the board in the middle rounds the Chargers may have to take him.
Shaun Phillips had a career-low 3.5 sacks in 2011, as he also missed four games due to injury. The Chargers have tried to find a capable pass rusher opposite Phillips since Shaun Merriman’s decline, and 2009 first-round pick Larry English has not stepped up in that regard. Jarret Johnson was signed away from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency and he will bring an aggressive edge to the Chargers’ defense, but he is not an elite pass rusher. Finding a young and dynamic outside pass rusher may be the team’s top priority in the draft, and USC’s Nick Perry, Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus and Clemson’s Andre Branch all qualify as possible options with the 18th overall pick.
Luis Castillo suffered a broken leg in Week 1 and missed the rest of the season, which exposed the Chargers’ lack of depth and talent at defensive end. Castillo was re-signed recently and that should help, but adding some depth looks absolutely necessary and finding one or more young players to go along with 2011 first round pick Corey Liuget stands to benefit the entire defense. Finding a player who fits San Diego’s 3-4 defense could be a challenge, but a few players that could be on the radar in the early rounds of the draft include LSU’s Michael Brockers, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox and Syracuse’s Chandler Jones.
The Bob Sanders Experiment did not work at strong safety in San Diego, and backup Steve Gregory signed with the New England Patriots during free agency. Atari Bigby was signed as a free agent as a potential replacement, but he has been injury prone and finding a versatile player that can play close to the line of scrimmage as well as be effective in coverage would help add some juice to a largely unspectacular secondary. This year’s safety class is not particularly strong once again, which may cause the Chargers to take Alabama’s Mark Barron in the first round so as not to risk having to settle for a much less-talented player.