With outstanding wide receiver Vincent Jackson seemingly headed towards free agency, the San Diego Chargers should start to cast an eye towards the upcoming 2012 NFL draft and the exceptional WR prospects available there.
While there is still a real possibility that the Chargers management and VJax will sort out some kind of deal before March, it seems increasingly more likely with each approaching day that Jackson will look to dip his toes in the free agency waters.
The 6'5" WR is now 29 years old, and this maybe his last realistic chance of obtaining that high dollar contract that he's always believed his stock is worth. VJax has never shied away from talking numbers, and before the start of last season wanted $10 million a year.
The Chargers are unlikely to meet Jackson's demands if his figures are still in that same sort of ballpark, but there are enough teams out there who will. A number of teams are seeking a proven wideout, and the St. Louis Rams look to be one of the favorites to try and land the two-time Pro Bowler.
Jackson would sorely be missed by the Bolts offense. Last season he amassed a team-high 1,106 yards on receiving and scored nine touchdowns to lead all San Diego scorers. However, Jackson has been a controversial figure in the past, and now might be the time to offload him.
If Malcolm Floyd can stay healthy and the Chargers pick up an experienced WR in free agency (Randy Moss is back, though obviously he's no stranger when it comes to controversy), then San Diego could look to introduce a rookie in the rotation.
The draft is packed with talented wide receivers, and the Chargers should consider making a move for one or more of the following.
Easily best wide receiver in the 2012 draft. If there were any questions about Blackmon and whether he would be able to cut it in the NFL, he answered them all with a dazzling display in this year's Fiesta Bowl.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys defeated Stanford 41–38 in overtime on the back of another strong performance by Blackmon. The 6'1" 22-year-old caught eight passes for 186 yards and scored three touchdowns. Blackmon was named the offensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl and even stole the limelight from predicted No.1 draft selection, Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Justin Blackmon is a local lad as well, hailing from Oceanside.
The Chargers would need to move up the draft to select him, and it's possible the Rams might take him as the second overall pick. If the Rams land Blackmon and snap up Jackson, they would have a great one-two receiving tandem, though the rest of that team still needs a lot of help.
The University of South Carolina Gamecocks man has the size and strength that would make him very appealing to the Chargers. Similar in build and height to Jackson, with great athleticism, Jeffery would make a big target downfield for San Diego QB Philip Rivers.
Jeffrey is not projected to get picked until late in the first round of draft, maybe not even until deep into the second round. This would be good for the Chargers as they could address their defensive frailties in the first round by selecting either a defensive end or linebacker and still get that useful ready-to-start replacement for VJax they are going to need.
Stephen Hill out of Georgia Tech is another who fits the Chargers requirements with regard to size and strength. The 6'5" Yellow Jacket finished the 2011 season 28 catches for 820 yards, five touchdowns and set a school record with an average of 29.3 per reception.
Those kind of stats would usually have teams looking for a WR chomping at the bit, but the draft this year is knee-deep in talent, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Hill still up for grabs late into the second round.
All of this is good news for a Chargers team who only need a few additions to make them a strong playoff side again. Hill could be one of those additions, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him pulling on a Bolts jersey and getting an extended run with the San Diego offense.
Wildcat Criner's career stats are 209 receptions, 2,859 yards and 32 touchdowns. The 6'4" Criner may lack the explosive pace of a Justin Blackmon, but if he can get separation and steal a yard on the cornerback, the long striding WR is hard to catch.
Injuries have been a problem in the past for Criner, and this may stop possible suitors from calling. With the class available in this year's draft and other wide receivers from bigger name schools getting all the attention, Criner may go as low as the third round. This would be ideal for the Chargers.
The Bolts already have Malcom Floyd, Bryan Walters and Patrick Crayton in the wideout slots. If they were to add another no-nonsense player who could get the job done and not create a ton of back-page-grabbing drama, then the Chargers could focus on the big stuff like winning the AFC West.
Let other teams deal with the Ochocincos and TO's of the NFL world.
The LSU tiger looks like another solid second round pick. The 6' 4" wide receiver finished playing in the Southeastern West Conference with career stats of 94 receptions, 1,621 yards and 13 touchdowns. Playing for LSU who went 13-1 last year, losing only in the BSC title game 21-0 to Alabama, has enabled scouts to get a good look at Randle.
Randle could easily fit to the Changers offensive and along with any of the other possible selection choices could help San Diego forget about the loss of Vincent Jackson.
VJax can expect to receive interest from the Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens, amongst others. It will only take one good offer to see him left. He'll be missed if he goes. This season it seemed like he wants to play more than anything else. The door will be open for him if he wants to stay at the Chargers but if VJax's demands are too high then there is a whole class of good young wide receivers just waiting to get their chance.