A handful of veteran signings by the San Diego Chargers in free agency didn't send shock waves through the NFL, but certain needs were addressed. Now San Diego must complement those acquisitions with players through the 2012 draft.
Of the mentioned needs San Diego addressed, left tackle and wide receiver were the most notable signings. Tackle Jared Gaither re-signed with the Chargers after filling in for Marcus McNeill during 2011, and receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal were brought in to lessen the blow of losing Vincent Jackson. Other notable signings were fullback Le'Ron McClain and linebacker Jarret Johnson. In typical A.J. Smith fashion, the San Diego general manager managed to make moves that didn't wow fans but definitely upgraded positions and filled big holes.
The next step in preparing for the 2012 season after the recent signings will be deciding on players to be selected in the draft. San Diego's needs have changed slightly on offense but similar issues on defense still remain.
Here are five picks who will complement the awesome Chargers' offseason.
A sleeper pick the Chargers should be looking more closely at is Nebraska's Jared Crick. Injuries have really clouded Crick's career at Nebraska and it's easy to forget he was once regarded as a future first-round pick.
Playing in the shadow of Ndamukong Suh prevented Crick from really getting the exposure he deserved at Nebraska, and injuries also contributed to his lack of acknowledgment, but a strong pass-rushing background before then had him atop many draft boards.
Crick had back-to-back 9.5-sack seasons in 2009 and 2010 before he was lost for the season in 2011. Crick is expected to play defensive tackle in the NFL, but he could easily transition to the end as well. Primarily a bull-rusher, Crick uses his strength to get by O-linemen and wreak havoc in the backfield.
Crick could have trouble on the edge because he lacks the speed to blow by offensive tackles, but San Diego could use him in stunts inside to utilize that strength. Because of his injuries, Crick is probably a middle- or late-round pick, which isn't asking a lot from the Chargers.
The loss of running back Mike Tolbert to free agency didn't seem like a big blow initially, but injury-prone starter Ryan Mathews will need a backup. San Diego could look into getting another bruising back similar to Tolbert, but new acquisition Le'Ron McClain could easily fill that need. Instead, drafting a third-down back in the middle rounds would be a better choice.
San Diego hasn't recovered from losing Darren Sproles in 2010, and it's apparent it misses his production in the backfield and the return game. A player that best matches Sproles' style of play is Florida running back Chris Rainey. A top performer at the combine in every speed and quickness drill, Rainey ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and is a former track star.
With Rainey, the Chargers get a speed back who can pick up third downs running and catching as well as be a potential returner. The only downside with Rainey is the fact that he won't be an every-down back. His size and inability to run between the tackles makes him solely a speed specialist.
If Stanford guard David DeCastro were to fall to the Chargers at No.18, it would be like Christmas in April. While San Diego is desperate for a pass-rusher, there is still a big hole to fill at guard after the retirement of veteran Kris Dielman.
Fourth-year man Tyronne Green is the likely favorite to take over left guard with 2011 sixth-round draft pick Stephen Schilling right behind him. Another possible option could be third-year player Brandyn Dombrowski. The re-signing of tackle Jared Gaither makes Dombrowski a second option for now, but his versatility on the line could put him in a position to compete with Green for the open guard spot.
Essentially, the Chargers have a decision to make if DeCastro becomes available when they're on the clock. Having faith in the players they already have is a definite option, but DeCastro's scouting report is too appealing to pass up. Considered an NFL-ready player by many, DeCastro could take over left guard by the start of the 2012 season.
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was already given an early Christmas present when the team signed fullback Le'Ron McClain to clear the way for him next season, but getting DeCastro would be the icing on the cake.
Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus didn't get as high a grade at the combine that scouts expected, but 13.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 2011 say otherwise. Mercilus is another early-entry junior who comes highly recommended and the Chargers should take into consideration the limited number of defensive ends with first-round potential.
Mercilus excels against the run and is a decent pass-rusher right now but could develop more into that role with time. San Diego is still waiting for 2011 first-rounder Corey Liuget to meet his expectations and Vaughn Martin hasn't shown he's the answer to a weak pass rush.
As far as pass-rushing defensive ends go, Mercilus is an ideal choice judging from his track record and his availability. Mercilus is an inch taller than USC's Nick Perry and lighter in weight, but unlike Perry he plays more like a traditional defensive end with a well-rounded base and ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer.
USC standout Nick Perry really shined at the combine and his strength as a pass-rusher makes him a very really possibility for the Chargers on draft day. There is one small concern, though, regarding Perry: his size.
At 6'3", 271 pounds, Perry is undersized to be a true defensive end at the next level taking on much bigger NFL O-linemen. Scouts worry he may be overpowered by offensive tackles despite his impressive combination of speed and strength. In fact, some scouts are projecting Perry to move to outside linebacker once he reaches the NFL. A 4.64 40-yard dash time insists he will be a quality edge-rusher at linebacker, but is he ready to drop back in coverage as well?
Considering San Diego already has sufficient outside linebackers in Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes, Perry would likely stay at defensive end with the Chargers if drafted.
I personally don't have a problem with Perry's size, but it does make sense for him to fit better as a linebacker in the NFL.