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Alabama Prospect Courtney Upshaw is sure to be on the Chargers radar as the NFL Draft approaches.
It is no secret in San Diego and the rest of the league for that matter that the San Diego Chargers are missing a player capable of providing a consistent and threatening pass rush.
For the past five seasons, OLB Shaun Phillips has been the most talented player on the Chargers front seven, but hewas limited due to injury for much of the past season and was only able to record three sacks.
The Chargers are desperately need a dominant player to pair with Phillips, as former first round pick Larry English has proven to be a major disappointment, missing a total of 19 of his past 32 games, including all of last year due to injury.
In the 29 games English has played in, he has only been able to produce 7 sacks and while there have been flashes, he has never asserted himself to be the replacement for Shawne Merriman he was supposed to be.
Travis Laboy was brought over from San Francisco along with recently fired Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky and underwhelmed as much as the Colts new defensive coordinator did.
While Laboy was hampered with injuries throughout the season, he was largely ineffective when he did play, and was a non-factor in a position that demands impact and production in the 3-4 system.
Perhaps the lone bright spot among the Chargers outside linebackers was Antwan Barnes, who led the team with 11 sacks last season, including a four-sack performance against the Ravens in Week 15.
Barnes, a pass rush specialist who possesses one of the fastest first steps in the NFL, played much more snaps than the Chargers had anticipated going into the season, but played admirably despite not being the greatest at run support or in coverage.
That is not to say Barnes is incapable of playing the run or dropping into coverage, but that he excels at rushing the passer and would benefit greatly by being in a rotation with another great pass rusher who is able to play every down, allowing Barnes to be fresher throughout the season.
Luckily for the Chargers, there exists a variety of options this offseason in how to address what is arguably the team's greatest question mark, and undoubtedly their biggest missing piece.
In free agency, the Chargers could target Dallas Cowboy Anthony Spencer. He played under former Chargers DC Wade Phillips, who runs a very similar scheme to new Chargers DC John Pagano, who has been with the team since 2002.
Bengal Manny Lawson also has experience in the 3-4 and could receive attention from the Chargers. There is some speculation that the free agent Colts defensive end Robert Mathis could make the transition to the 3-4, as he has the size to at 6'2 245 pounds.
However, despite having obvious skill, Mathis is up there in age, and his ability to drop into coverage and his willingness to play in the 3-4 are both unknowns. The Colts are also expected to make the move to the 3-4 this year and letting Mathis walk could be seen as a strike against his ability to play within the system.
Speaking of converted outside linebackers, Houston Texan and former first overall pick Mario Williams is likely to be the crown jewel of this year's free agent class.
While many were concerned as to how Williams would transition to the 3-4, Williams produced five sacks in the first five games of last season before succumbing to a torn pectoral muscle.
Despite the injury, Williams is expected to command top dollar if he is allowed to hit the open market, which remains a distinct possibility given the number of Texans free agents.
However, the Chargers will probably not offer Williams the guaranteed money or long contract he is likely to command, as AJ Smith does not have a history of bringing in high-priced free agents, especially those coming off an injury.
The first round of the NFL Draft is the most likely place where the Chargers will find the pass rusher they need, as the Draft is stocked with numerous players who could fit the bill.
Alabama's Courtney Upshaw is seen as the safest pick, as he has experience standing up and playing with his hand on the ground for the Tide and has produced in both.
USC's Nick Perry possesses the most potential and pass rushing skill among those who have received a first round grade, and could possibly fall to 18th.
At 6'2, 276 pounds, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram blends great size and athleticism, which teams covet.