Cooper could be an option to help solidify San Diego's shaky o-line
At first glance, the San Diego Chargers are sitting in a pretty nice spot with the No. 11 draft pick in the first round on April 25.
But on closer inspection, the Bolts are in a tricky situation.
The team desperately needs to upgrade the offensive line, but the consensus top two tackles will almost certainly be off the board and ESPN’s Mel Kiper said the chance of Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson being available to the Chargers at No. 11 were “50/50” (h/t Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune).
If any of the top offensive tackles are available, San Diego should run to the podium with the selection at No. 11.
If all three are gone, which looks more and more the case, what should the Chargers do?
There are still plenty of needs and holes to address.
Even with the free-agent additions of King Dunlap, Chad Rinehart and Rich Ohrnberger, the offensive line is still far from a finished product.
Alabama’s Chance Warmack and University of North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper are the two top guards in the draft, but interior linemen are generally taken later in the draft. Arizona drafted Leonard Davis No. 2 overall in 2001, but he floated between guard and tackle in his NFL career. The last “pure guard” to be selected in the first 15 spots of the draft was Chris Naeole in 1997.
But just because it has not happened in the past 16 years does not mean San Diego should steer clear of the selection in 2013. San Francisco chose a guard in 2010 with the No. 17 overall pick, and Mike Iuptai turned into one of the best in the league and helped the 49ers become a dominating team.
Warmack was considered the best lineman on an Alabama team that had what was considered the best line in college football. He is exceptional in the run game and brilliant in pass protection. Many have said he could be the best overall player in the draft.
Cooper is more versatile than Warmack (the UNC product can play guard or center), which adds to his value. He is better at pass protection than run-blocking, but still talented on run plays. He is athletic and can pull, but that may not matter if San Diego switches to a zone-blocking scheme.
Those opposed to taking a guard will say the Chargers have pressing needs other than the interior line. They will point out Johnnie Troutman was drafted last year and deserves a chance to start. They will say Rinehart can be the other guard.
Who should the Chargers draft at No. 11?
The problem is, Warmack could be a once-in-a-decade type of player, and Cooper would be an improvement over Troutman or Rinehart. Are there other needs? Yes, but a lot of last year’s troubles came from the entire offensive line and not just from the tackles.
If new general manager does not want to take a guard at No. 11 (or if they are already off the board), things get a little tricky. It is easy for fans to wish the team trade down (or trade up), but it takes two teams for a trade to work. The Chargers have plenty of other positions in need of improvement, so taking the best available at No. 11 still seems like the best option.
Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei was once considered a lock as one of the top five players taken in the draft. A surprise heart condition hurt his draft stock following the NFL Scouting Combine, but a clean bill of health at his pro day seems to calm teams down a bit.
He might be available at No. 11, and he would fill a need, considering nose tackle Antonio Garay is now with the Jets. The option of having a young and talented defensive line (Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget at ends with Lotulelei in the middle) could be too promising to pass up.
The argument against Lotulelei is the defensive line is a strength of the team. Should the organization make the strength even stronger or try to improve and area of weakness? And that is assuming his health checks out fine.
The Chargers also need a pass-rusher from the edge. Antwan Barnes and Shaun Phillips are gone. Larry English has been a disappointment. Melvin Ingram is still developing. Barkevious Mingo from LSU could be on the board at No. 11. Mingo is athletic and fast. He can chase down ball-carriers running away from him. He has all of the ability to become the best pass-rusher to emerge from this draft class.
Nay-sayers will point out Mingo played defensive end, not outside linebacker, while at LSU. Some say he is too small to play OLB against the run, making him a one-dimensional player. Plus, do the Chargers want to spend a first-round draft pick on a player for a position he has not played before?
If the defensive front seven is not addressed, the defensive backfield could be. Derek Cox was brought in via free agency, but the other cornerback spot is still a question mark. Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist are next in line, but neither one was spectacular at nickel, so a shift to corner could be problematic.
Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes is big (6’1”, 210 lbs.) and physical. He can play press coverage, jamming wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. The problem with Rhodes is he hurt his knee in 2011, he is not great in zone coverage and he doesn’t have a ton of interceptions (eight) in the 43 collegiate games he played.
Staying in the defensive backfield, Kenny Vaccaro could be the most versatile defensive player in the draft. The safety out of Texas can play deep centerfield as a free safety or slide in as a nickel defender on a slot receiver.
Vaccaro is one of the hardest hitters in the draft and could remind Chargers fans of Rodney Harrison implementing punishment over the middle. Pairing Vaccaro with Eric Weddle could be a very impressive combination.
Detractors will argue San Diego is set at safety. Brandon Taylor should be recovered from a knee injury in time for the start of the season. Also, this is a fairly deep safety draft class. Another quality safety will be available late in the draft, allowing the No. 11 pick to be used on a different position.
What do you think? Who do you want the San Diego Chargers to pick in the first round? Obviously, Lane Johnson or any of the other left tackles would be the first choice, but who after that? Who should be the second option?