Taylor Lewan (77) is a top left tackle prospect.
Even though the 2013 draft choices are still getting acclimated to the NFL, it is never too early to look ahead.
With that in mind, here are five college football games San Diego Chargers fans should watch this season to keep an eye on potential rookies in 2014. The games feature top players at their positions going against top players at positions in direct opposition.
The games are listed in chronological order so you can start clearing your calendar now.
Jake Matthews (75) could help San Diego's offensive line.
The San Diego Chargers need to upgrade the offensive line. There really is no debate about that.
The run game got a nice boost with the addition of former Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker in April’s draft. Fluker has provided a nice push and a touch of nastiness in the run game through the preseason so far. He still needs to work on pass protection, but he has not been a total flop.
King Dunlap and Max Starks are battling for the starting left tackle spot. Eagles’ fans are surprised to hear former Philly punchline Dunlap is winning the competition. Starks has not looked good in the preseason, plain and simple.
There are a handful of left tackles the Chargers could be interested in next offseason, but one of the top coming out of college is Jake Matthews from Texas A&M. There was some debate how high he would have been selected if Matthews entered the draft last year. Matthews will switch to left tackle this year after manning the right side his first three years with the Aggies.
The Chargers may need to be in the Top 5 to have a chance at selecting Matthews, though.
One of the first tests to see if Matthews can handle the blindside will be against Alabama on Sept. 14. The Crimson Tide will be looking to avenge a shocking 29-24 loss against Texas A&M last year that ruined Alabama’s quest for an undefeated season.
Ed Stinson is Alabama’s lone returning defensive lineman after three of his linemates pursued professional careers (Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Quinton Dial are all on NFL preseason rosters). Stinson led all defensive linemen with 8.5 tackles for loss last year. The 6’4” and 292-pound Stinson is a great run defender, but also has four sacks and seven quarterback hurries while at Alabama.
The preseason has shown San Diego is in need of depth along the defensive line, and Stinson could be a mid- to late-round selection.
The battle between Matthews and Stinson could be a preview of two future Chargers come next offseason.
Johnson (1) had 9 tackles and a recovered fumble against UNC last year.
Philip Rivers may or may not be in the final throes of his career. He is 31 and will be 32 by the end of the season. Seventh-round pick Brad Sorensen has looked fantastic in the preseason, but it is undecided if the Southern Utah product is the heir-apparent to take over the offense.
Bryn Renner is entering his third year as the Tar Heels’ starting quarterback. He has amassed 6,456 passing yards with 54 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions while completing more than 66 percent of his passes.
Is Renner the quarterback to lead San Diego’s rebuilding process, or is Rivers still the guy for head coach Mike McCoy?
In this early ACC matchup, Renner will go against a tough Georgia Tech secondary. Corners Jemea Thomas and Louis Young are big (5’11” and 6’1”, respectively) but the Chargers think they have that position under control with Shareece Wright and Derek Cox. San Diego fans may want to keep an eye on Isaiah Johnson, though. The senior safety is a big hitter and has two touchdowns on interceptions. If Marcus Gilchrist, Darrell Stuckey or Brandon Taylor do not pan out for the Chargers, Johnson could be a candidate to play next to Eric Weddle in the defensive backfield.
Renner and Johnson are both late round prospects San Diego could be interested in come next April.
Sutton (90) is a top interior defensive lineman prospect.
Cam Thomas should be given the opportunity to be the starter. He has looked good in the preseason so far. Undrafted free agent Kwame Geathers out of Georgia has also made some plays from the nose tackle position. But depth has to be a concern for defensive coordinator John Pagano.
Arizona State’s Will Sutton is a beast. He was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and is expected to continue to dominate this season. Dan Greenspan with NFL.com said Sutton returned to ASU because the NFL Draft advisory committee gave him a fifth-round grade. So expect Sutton to come out and try to show scouts he has what it takes to play on Sundays.
He won’t have long to wait to go against top competition.
In the Sun Devils’ third game, Sutton will play against arguably the best offensive line in NCAA when they travel to Palo Alto and take on Stanford.
The Cardinal are talented in most positions, but especially loaded on the offensive line. Seniors Cameron Fleming (RT), Kevin Danser (RG) and Khalil Wilkes (C) are all worthy of NFL consideration, but the main man on the line is David Yankey.
Yankey (6’5” 311) played left tackle last year but is switching to left guard, which may be his better position. Chad Rinehart has played great during the preseason for San Diego, and Jeromey Clary has done an OK job at right guard (he did get bowled over for a sack against Chicago) after a career at right tackle, but Yankey would be an upgrade in the interior of the Chargers line. At the very least Yankey has the versatility to play multiple positions, which coaches love.
The battle between Sutton and Yankey (and Wilkes and Danser) is a fantastic matchup of future high draft picks.
Roby (1) is a great cover corner, but not afraid to offer run support.
The Chargers could be set at cornerback with Wright and Cox set in as the starters. The addition of Steve Williams in April’s draft seemed to solidify the nickel spot. But the truth is San Diego’s secondary is still a big question mark.
Bradley Roby is considered one of the best corners in college. The Ohio State junior is rated as the top cornerback prospect by CBS Sports. His 19 pass deflections were second-most in NCAA in 2012. At 5’11” and 193 pounds, he has the size to cover big receivers.
Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis is big (6’2”, 188 lbs) and could be Roby’s toughest test all season (Ohio State plays Allen Robinson and Penn State Oct. 26, but the Nittany Lions have a freshman quarterback). Abbrederis can also handle kickoff return duties, which may be a need in San Diego.
For Clowney to become a Charger, San Diego might have to have the worst NFL record.
Do the Chargers need a defensive end like Jadeveon Clowney? San Diego has Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes as defensive ends, and Clowney would probably have to convert to an outside linebacker in the 3-4 system.
But a talent like Clowney comes across once in a blue moon. The Chargers may need to have the worst record in the NFL and the No. 1 overall pick in order to draft Clowney, an idea most fans hate to consider.
Clowney will be a marked man the entire 2013 season, but the game against Tennessee should be especially entertaining.
As Bruce Feldman with CBS Sports points out, left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson pretty much shut Clowney down in the 2012 game between the Vols and Gamecocks. Clowney only got the best of Richardson on one play. That one play happened to be a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery that sealed South Carolina’s victory.
Clowney knows Richardson got the best of him that game. He told the reporters during SEC media day Richardson is good at getting away with holding. Richardson took it as a compliment, but according to Chase Goodbread with NFL.com, he added “sometimes you’ve got to stop crying and move on.”
This should be a fantastic and fun game watching these two NFL prospects battle it out.
Obviously the Chargers need a left tackle. Richardson could be one targeted by general manager Tom Telesco and company. Clowney could be the long-term fix to a pass rush in San Diego, even though the price (No. 1 overall pick) would be steep.