Coming off of yet another disappointing season, the San Diego Chargers have finally freed themselves from the shackles that were Norv Turner and A.J. Smith, and look forward to a new regime. New head coach Mike McCoy and GM Tom Telesco have a lot of work to do to make this team a contender again, and the 2013 NFL draft is the first step in getting there.
As a historically terrible draft team, the last decade has not been kind to the Chargers. The previous ownership consistently made poor decisions, whether it be trading up too high to grab a prospect, or trying to be "too cute" and reaching for an unknown player from a little-known school.
The fans are quickly becoming impatient, especially with the playoff drought now entering its fourth year. The new management really needed to make a splash this weekend...
And boy did it.
The Chargers addressed their most glaring need right off the bat. The offensive line "protecting" Philip Rivers has been dreadful the last few seasons, contributing greatly to the quarterback's struggles. Whether it be injury, free agency or retirement, the line has slowly been picked apart since the mid-2000s, when it was as good a unit as any.
It had to be an offensive tackle. Unfortunately, after many early mock drafts had Lane Johnson (and even Eric Fisher at one time) still on the board at pick No. 11, the top three tackles went in the first four picks. Not only that, but the two best guards in the draft, Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack, went in the top 10 before the Chargers could even think about it.
Fluker was definitely rated a small step below Fisher, Joeckel, and Johnson, but this was the right pick given the situation. Fluker is a hulking beast of a man (6'5'', 339 lbs.), he started all 27 games over the past two seasons, in which he won back-to-back national championships at Alabama. His offensive line was indeed a star-studded bunch, but he played extremely well in big games, and let's be real: A.J. McCarron is not the reason for their success.
I like the pick; I will totally get behind Fluker. You really can't go wrong with an Alabama offensive lineman. The best part is that after years and years of Norv and A.J. picking players who no one has ever heard of, it's nice to draft the guy you're supposed to...and you know, have him actually want to play for you.
And then this happened.
Completely unexpected, for me at least, the Chargers jumped up six spots to grab much-maligned linebacker Manti Te'o. The place went nuts. Chargers fans went nuts. My Facebook feed went nuts. I had heard no rumors. It hadn't even crossed my mind that San Diego might end up as the team who drafted the guy with the imaginary girlfriend.
But it wasn't Te'o that bothered me. It wasn't him or his baggage. I just didn't want a linebacker—not at this point, at least. The front seven was the only good thing about last year's team. Takeo Spikes was released this offseason, so I suppose that opens up a spot for Te'o, but the Chargers have young guys in their linebacking corps ready to step in.
And gosh, does San Diego need a corner.
Besides their demolished O-line, cornerback is the major need. Longtime Charger Quentin Jammer is still wading the free-agency waters and is unlikely to be brought back for 2013. He's not getting any younger anyway.
In addition, 2008 first-round draft pick Antoine Cason is now an Arizona Cardinal. They weren't the greatest cornerback tandem in history, but they were better than Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright, one of whom would be guarding Andre Johnson if the season started today.
This was the time for defensive back picks. Only five cornerbacks had gone by this point, eight more would be gone by the time San Diego picked again.
All that being said, no one is going to argue that Manti Te'o isn't a talented football player. He led one of the staunchest defenses in college football. He carried a mediocre offense to the national championship game. He nearly won the Heisman Trophy—probably would have if it wasn't such an offense-centric award.
He will be a good fit in the 3-4 defense.
To be honest, there are worse vices than falling in love with fake women online. He doesn't have drug or attitude problems, to my knowledge. And besides, this is the kind of lesson you only need to learn once. I wouldn't expect more pretend girlfriends... I'm really hoping for no more pretend girlfriends.
With this pick, I officially endorse the Tom Telesco-Mike McCoy era in San Diego.
I absolutely love it. Not only did my favorite professional football team draft a player from my beloved college team, Keenan Allen is just a fantastic wide receiver regardless. And I don't just say that because I go to Cal.
Look at some of the early mock drafts, Allen was originally rated as the No. 1 receiver in the class and was slotted as a mid-first-round pick. I know that things can change a lot as the draft approaches, but San Diego snagged him 60 picks lower than his original spot.
It's not like the kid's leg fell off.
Let me get the negatives and concerns out of the way so we don't have to deal with them anymore.
First, Allen suffered a torn PCL toward the end of the 2012 season. His college career came to an abrupt end, and he started a lengthy recovery process. He was unable to attend the NFL combine due to lingering effects from the injury.
Second, he posted a 4.71 40 time at his pro day. Granted, this is not very good. Despite the medical clearance claiming that his knee is fully healed, it seems that he does not have all of his explosiveness back.
Basically, at this moment in time, he is not terribly fast, and he's a little banged up.
Alongside DeSean Jackson and Jahvid Best, Keenan Allen is one of the most electrifying players I have seen in a Cal jersey. He has great hands, he's going to catch anything you put near him. He is a great route-runner and eats up yardage in the secondary like nobody's business. He can go up and get passes; he'll jump over two or three guys to get there.
He has been the lone bright spot for Cal the last three years while the rest of the team has crumbled to pieces. He was a star on a lousy team with a lousy quarterback. You put him at a big-name school with a potent pass attack (like Georgia, West Virginia or Oklahoma) and he's a top-10 pick, no doubt in my mind.
He adds a much-needed dynamic element to a depleted receiving corps and will form a nice trio with Malcolm Floyd and Danario Alexander. He provides Rivers with a big, reliable target, something he desperately needs.
The Chargers haven't drafted many wide receivers lately. Buster Davis was their first-round pick in 2007 and Vincent Brown was a third-round selection in 2011. Davis was a massive failure, and high hopes for Brown are starting to waver as injuries continue to keep him sidelined.
I have never been more excited about a Chargers draft pick. NEVER. Keenan Allen is going to be a Pro Bowl wide receiver some day.
You heard it here first.
Well, I did say that the Chargers desperately needed a cornerback. Here it is.
For those of you counting at home, this is now two straight California Golden Bears selected by the Chargers. There would be only four of them taken in the entire draft. You do the math.
Normally, this is the part of the draft where my knowledge of players starts to waiver (or is completely gone). Fortunately, I have firsthand experience with Steve Williams, and I can decisively tell you that he is...well, umm...he's decent.
Williams isn't very big at just 5'9'', 181 pounds. But he's quick and can recover space in a hurry. He isn't going to snatch a whole lot of interceptions—he only had six in three years at Cal, but he has a knack for getting his hands on the ball, often making plays to break up passes against bigger receivers.
He's a scrappy player who won't be afraid to get in a guy's face. He could be a good fit in the Chargers defense to play opposite smaller slot receivers. Wes Welker is in the AFC West now, after all.
Be warned, though, Cal finished an abysmal 3-9 last season, seeing a lot of opposing offenses march up and down the field (they weren't all Stanford and Oregon mind you, one of them was Utah). The defense was truly awful for most of the year, which probably makes me more critical of this pick than I should be.
I will still contend that the corner should have been taken in the second round, but it could be worse.
This is that place I was talking about, where I no longer know who the draft picks are. I mean, if you're gonna take a defensive end in the sixth round, at least pick one from the SEC or something. I can safely say I watched zero Florida Atlantic football games during Williams' four-year career.
From what I have seen and heard in the last couple of hours, Tourek Williams is a relatively small and quick defensive end. He excels in rushing the passer off the corner, and he has great agility and athleticism. His raw ability is what many think will bring him success in the pros, and his size and speed may be easily transferable to a linebacker position, which is possibly what the Chargers have in mind for him.
The Chargers have built a solid foundation at the defensive end position, grabbing Kendall Reyes in the second round of last year's draft and Corey Liuget in the first in 2011. They both played well last season, and are part of a front seven unit on the rise.
However, another longtime Charger, Shaun Phillips, was signed mere hours before this draft pick by the division rival Denver Broncos, leaving a potential hole to fill. The Chargers might try to transition Williams into that outside linebacker position, as they have little depth following Phillips' departure. He could move into third on the depth chart behind Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram.
He may help the Chargers increase defensive pressure on the quarterback, to try to improve on middle-of-the-pack numbers for sacks, interceptions and points allowed in 2012.
I actually appreciate that they took a flyer on a quarterback in this draft. My patience with a quickly fading Philip Rivers is wearing thin, and even if a reinvigorated offensive line brings him back to prominence, he only has so many years left.
Believe it or not, I saw Brad Sorensen play when Cal invited Southern Utah in for the home opener at Memorial Stadium in 2012. I don't remember him in the slightest, but he was there. Cal won that game easily, but it wasn't a total massacre like these games can be.
Sorensen put up a really solid stat line in a mismatched contest. He went 31-of-45 for 292 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. And he left a bad taste in Cal fans' mouths by completing a 37-yard Hail Mary to close out the first half.
I had hoped that the Chargers would have pulled the trigger on a quarterback earlier, maybe in the fourth round when there was a mini-quarterback run (although they traded away their fourth-round pick for the opportunity to take Te'o). But it wasn't an immediate need position, as were offensive tackle, wide receiver and cornerback, so I understand waiting for a seventh-round long shot.
It still remains to be seen whether or not Sorensen will make himself a name in the NFL, but if McCoy and Telesco are planning some sort of Aaron Rodgers transition process, I'm all in. Let him take the next few years to learn behind an accomplished guy like Rivers, build the offensive line and skill players around him in the next couple of drafts, let the young defense coalesce into a legitimate unit, and bring him in in 2015 when Rivers can't go it anymore.
Overall, the Chargers addressed their major needs with what looks to be some great talent. Can't wait for the 2013 season. Only four more months until football.