The San Diego Chargers have been quiet this offseason so far, but have given the fact that they have big name players such as Vincent Jackson, Mike Tolbert and Nick Hardwick all up for free agency this year, they will have to make moves soon.
It is unlikely that the team which surrounded four-time pro bowl quarterback Philip Rivers last season will look in that in 2012. Salary cap, personalities and a disappointing 2011 will all weigh in as A.J. Smith moves the pieces around to help out their superstar.
Discussion about who the Chargers will pick up in free agency has been swirling with names like DeSean Jackson and Mario Williams, but Smith has never been known for chasing after big names who want big contracts. He has established himself (for better or worse) as a top GM by what he has been able to do through the draft.
All signs point to the Chargers relying on this philosophy again to rebuild their squad.
Here is a list of five realistic prospects the Chargers can get from the draft to help Rivers out.
Rivers had his worst statistical season of his career this past season as his 20-plus turnovers was among the league’s worst. It also inevitably kept the Chargers out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
However, it would be foolish to point to Rivers as the main catalyst to his mistakes.
For much of the early part of the season when these turnovers came, he was under duress from the defensive line.
It is no far-fetched conspiracy to suggest that the Chargers early season injuries to key offensive linemen got them off on the wrong foot, most notably on the left side.
Both left tackle Marcus McNeil’s and Kris Dielman’s future with the team is uncertain. Both are prone to injury with Dielman contemplating retirement after suffering a serious concussion last season.
Either way, Rivers blindside does not look any safer next season than it did the last one.
Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin could be the answer to that problem.
The 6’3” 300 pound Cardinal, had perhaps the most important job in all of college football–protecting the interests of the much over-hyped Andrew Luck. Luck cannot attribute his success directly to Martin, who protected him excellently his entire career, but also would not be the prospect he is without him.
With quick hands and agile feet, he is an above average pass blocker who really relies on his understanding of the game to make him more effective. He gets to his spot as quick as anyone in college and reads the snap better than most.
He is not exactly the best blocker in the run game, but the Chargers are no longer a running team and need someone who will keep Rivers safe.
Currently the third-ranked left tackle in the draft, he has a good chance of falling to the Chargers. I would also perhaps elevate him to being better than he is ranked as Riley Reiff, the left tackle out of Iowa, never faced the kind of athleticism and pressure Martin faced in the Pac-12.
Vincent Jackson, Patrick Crayton and Kelly Washington will all be free agents come March 13th. While Jackson may be the only one who actually has a consistent impact on the field, all three gong could create an issue in terms of depth at the position
But even if they break the bank to keep Jackson, then the other two would surely be out and depth would still be a concern.
Malcolm Floyd has shown that he can be a threat, only if there is another homerun hitter to take the defensive pressure off of him. Vincent Brown has surprisingly developed into a strong young prospect for the future.
But Rivers would still like a fourth option to throw at especially given the frequency the other three seem to go down due to injury.
In Smith’s eight drafts he has been hit-and-miss with receivers. Drafting the likes of Vincent Jackson and Legedu Nanee were spot on, but since his first-round bust of Craig Davis, he has backed off on the wideout position.
This needs to be the year that he gets over that fear and looks to take Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd early on.
Floyd is 6’3” 225 pound bull of a receiver. He does not necessarily flow with the grace and ease of a Larry Fitzgerald, nor does he have the unhinged speed of Victor Cruz.
But what he will do is put his head down and plow through any defender to get to his mark and do everything he can to get the ball.
With strong hands, he represents the prototypical receiver that Rivers prefers to throw to. Like Jackson, Floyd is the kind of player that will go up for the ball in a crowded area and be the one that comes down with it. It plays well into Rivers challenge all on comers approach to throwing down field.
He also can be an adequate replacement for Jackson should he leave. Odds are Floyd won’t be a replacement right away, but his kind of abilities cannot be taught and a season or two with Rivers could leave us all forgetting the name Jackson.
Mike Tolbert is another name up for free agency and though his end zone antics and bowling ball style of running have made him a fan favorite, the odds are looking more and more likely that Tolbert may be gone.
With Ryan Matthews the leading the future of the Chargers backfield, a still-talented Tolbert may just seem as like unnecessary spending the same way Michael Turner was when Ladanian Tomlinson backed Rivers.
Jacob Hester is also a free agent, but the former LSU running back has adapted well into a blocking fullback and progresses more each season. Add in the fact that he will be less harsh on the checkbook, and he figures to stay over Tolbert.
However, Rivers would not be filled with confidence knowing that he know lacks that big strong short yardage back he had in Tolbert.
David Wilson offers a solution to this issue.
Wilson comes out of Virginia Tech as a mini Tolbert of sorts. At 5’10” 205 pounds he does not resemble him in appearance, but he plays the same head down and run through people way Tolbert has made a living.
He has good hands for a back and is used to catching the ball out of the backfield. Bubble screens are what he prefers and ideally the kind of play Rivers likes to call to keep the oppositions linebackers honest. A perfect fit for one another.
He is a very raw prospect who is too indecisive at times to be an every down back right now. But the Chargers would not have to worry about that as Matthews will always be their first and second down back.
Wilson will be a short-yardage type guy and then the decision will always be easy–put your head down and run over everyone you can.
Since Antonio Gates joined the team as an undrafted free agent, the Chargers have had the best tight end in the game. A matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators, too big for a defensive back to cover him and too fast for a linebacker, he has helped revolutionize the way the position is played today.
But at 31, the hits and beatings are starting to catch up with him. Injuries have plagued his last two seasons and even when playing it was obvious he was not 100 percent healthy.
With every NFL team and its mother in search of a game changing tight end to mimic what Gates has done over his career, good ones are hard to come by.
Randy McMichael has always done a decent job of backing up Gates, but will never be a consistent starter on this team as long as Gates is around. A free agent in March, he may personally want to give his last few years a real go with a side that is further along than the Chargers.
The fact is that the Chargers hopes of retaining an elite tight end for the future must be addressed now and Michael Egnew could be that player.
Egnew is not the most starred tight end coming out of a draft that does not feature any exceptional players at the position. But a 6’5” 250 pound frame that can run the 40 in 4.60 is not something you can teach to any player.
He is taller than Gates, faster than Gates and give him a month a training camp and he will be as big as him as well.
Yes, according to scouting reports, he does not have the instincts, the NFL speed or hands you would expect from a future star. But then again what do you think they said about a basketball player out of Kent State with no college football experience?
All the short comings he has can be adjusted over time and with Gates still playing, there is no reason to rush.
But planning for the future is sometimes the best thing you can do for your quarterback
You might not remember who Joe Adams is, and you might be scratching your head over how an unrecognizable wide receiver would be of bigger help to Rivers than a superstar of college. But that is because you are still looking at him as wide receiver.
The Chargers could chalk up missing the playoffs in 2010-11 season to poor special teams play. In 2011-12 it was improved, but still not to the level required of a playoff team.
The decision to let Darren Sproles go last off season was of course felt on the offense, but completely diminished any big play hopes in the return game.
This past season, the Chargers rotated players in taking turns in the return game, but it often fell to the likes of Richard Goodman, Marcus Gilchrist and Jacob Hester. All did a fine job, but none had the speed or creativity to turn the average return into a huge one.
Joe Adams has this ability, just watch the video above. Now I bet you remember him.
The senior out of Arkansas is not expected to make an impact at the wide out level, but plays like the one above shows he has a future in the league.
Much like Devin Hester can flip a field for the Chicago Bears, Adams has a innate ability to elude tacklers and eat up yardage to hand the ball to the offense in favorable field position.
The Chargers were No. 17 in average starting field position last season, making Rivers usually having to carry his team out of a hole. Adams could greatly improve that, thus giving Rivers a better chance of creating.
Finally, there is also the notion of momentum. Whether you believe in it or not, big plays out of the return game can invigorate a fan base and sway momentum in the offenses favor. The Chargers have played well for years without this perk. Just imagine what they could look like with it.
This may not be the deepest draft ever, but this is the exact kind of time where A.J. Smith needs to prove his viability and surround Rivers with players that can make him great.
Skill position players are always hit or miss, but smart analysis will lead you to those who can truly be special.
The players I have mentioned are no more than a few I like and prefer. I have been wrong in the past (thought Davis would be a stud) as many times as I have been right (the Vincent Brown naysayers can eat crow!), but that just goes to prove the roulette-style affair of the NFL draft.
So, who do you think the Chargers should look at to help out Rivers and the offense? Try and be reasonable, while we would all love Justin Blackmon, odds are he is not falling that deep. But perhaps you can propose a trade?
All comments, concerns and ideas are welcomed so let’s have them!
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