The San Diego Chargers have at least five top needs in the 2014 draft, but only the right prospects will help fill those needs come draft day.
Tom Telesco nailed his first draft as GM of the Chargers, so expectations are high for him to hit the jackpot yet again. With seven picks altogether, it shouldn't be too hard finding value and playing the draft board as it develops.
The following is a series of positional units that need upgrading and the top player fits are included to help give an idea of what the Chargers should be looking for at each position. A handful of these prospects will more than likely be Day 1 selections, but pay attention more so to the type of player rather than the name.
Here is a quick look at the top needs in 2014 along with players that fit what San Diego is looking for.
Analysis: The Chargers ranked 29th in pass defense during the 2013 regular season, giving up close to 259 yards a game through the air. Naturally, some adjustments need to be made in the secondary and that's where Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner comes in.
Why Joyner: A unanimous All-American that started 27 consecutive games at safety his previous two seasons, Joyner made the transition to corner in 2013 and put together his best campaign yet. The senior finished second on the team in total tackles with 69, including seven tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and 5.5 sacks—the most in the nation by a defensive back.
What Joyner brings to the table is simply playmaking ability—something that was rarely seen from San Diego's defense during the course of the season.
Other Possible Fits: Jason Verrett, TCU
Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as voted on by conference coaches that started 34 of the 37 games he played in at TCU. Finishes his collegiate career with 160 total tackles and nine interceptions in three seasons. Doesn't have the same versatility as Joyner but makes up for it with added size.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Had a setback year with injuries and a one-game suspension to start the season but still made plays defensively. Totaled 16 passes defended, three interceptions, two blocked punts and two touchdowns in 2013. Suspension may raise red flags but a gifted athlete, nonetheless.
Analysis: The Chargers offensive line managed to improve in 2013, but injuries wreaked havoc at all five spots. What San Diego lacks is consistency along the O-line and Baylor's Cyril Richardson can provide that.
Why Richardson: A two-time Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and Unanimous First-Team All-American in 2013, Richardson has solidified himself as one of the top guard prospects in the draft. The senior started 25 of his 26 games at left guard and explored the left tackle spot in his sophomore season, starting 13 games.
With veteran Chad Rinehart set to become an unrestricted free agent in the coming months, the Chargers could be in the market for a new starter at left guard—a spot Richardson knows well.
Other Possible Fits: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
A three-year starter at left guard for the Bulldogs and helped make up an O-line that had the second-fewest sacks in the SEC in 2013. With the San Diego offense pushing the run game last season, the need for maulers like Richardson and Jackson has become increasingly noted.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
Could easily be the first guard taken in the draft, having started at left tackle and guard for the Bruins. 23 years of age as a result of a two-year Mormon mission, but that shouldn't affect his stock. Plenty of upside and he'll be desired by a number of teams.
Analysis: Getting off the field on third-down was difficult for San Diego's defense in 2013 and the lacking pass rush was clearly the reason why. With Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram gone for the majority of the year due to injury, the Chargers totaled just 35 sacks—three less than the previous season.
As Freeney and Jarret Johnson continue to play well into their 30's, the time to add young blood at outside linebacker is quickly approaching and BYU's Kyle Van Noy would be everything the Chargers needed and more.
Why Van Noy: The FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Year had 70 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions in his senior season. The year prior, Van Noy had a career-best 13 sacks and six forced fumbles.
What makes Van Noy so special is his ability to disrupt the passing game from the edge while also stopping the run or dropping back in coverage. With Van Noy, the Chargers would gain a three-down linebacker and the help they need in the pass rush.
Other Possible Fits: Michael Sam, Missouri
Yet another unanimous All-American and Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year as voted on by the conference coaches. Sam led the SEC with 11.5 sacks in 2013 and is arguably one of the draft's most aggressive pass-rushers. A "tweener" of sorts with experience at defensive end but better size for outside linebacker at the next level.
Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Leaves Georgia Tech as the career sacks leader with 31.5 in 49 games played. Another "tweener" with playing experience at both linebacker and defensive end, Attaochu finished second in the ACC with 12.5 sacks. Makes plays in the backfield as demonstrated by his 43.5 tackles for loss at Georgia Tech.
Analysis: Depth along the O-line was pretty sparse during the regular season. Believe it or not, there was one week during the year when San Diego dressed seven offensive linemen and ended up using all seven due to injuries. D.J. Fluker was even forced to slide over to left tackle because of multiple concussions to King Dunlap.
Fluker was a spot-on selection by GM Tom Telesco in the 2013 draft, but there's still a lingering need for a franchise left tackle. Dunlap performed well when healthy, but he has yet to consistently stay on the field and that alone should be a reason to look at Antonio Richardson from Tennessee.
Why Richardson: Richardson started 24 consecutive games at left tackle for the Volunteers and held his own in a conference with fierce pass-rushers. Tall, with long arms and a good frame, Richardson is a massive prospect with upside at the next level.
Other Possible Fits: Billy Turner, North Dakota State
Started 56 of the 57 games he played in at North Dakota State, including 15 starts at left tackle in 2013. Despite being a small-school prospect, Turner is viewed as potential Day 2 selection according to CBS Sports and was invited to the Senior Bowl where he turned heads in practice, per Eric Peterson of Inforum.com.
Joel Bitonio, Nevada
Played left tackle at Nevada but looked at as more of an inside prospect because of his stature. If he's able to transition to guard successfully, then he's more valuable to the Chargers, who need versatile O-linemen.
Analysis: The defensive line talent in this year's draft class is tempting to pass up, especially for a San Diego team that has only two defensive tackles under contract heading into next season. Cam Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and it remains to be seen if he'll be one of the very few that receive a new contract.
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman is a hit-or-miss prospect that is rising up draft boards thanks to a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl, per Chase Goodbread of College Football 24/7. A player with his dominance could easily make an impact with the Bolts, aiding in the run and getting penetration in the opposing backfield.
Why Hageman: At 6'6" and nearly 300 pounds, Hageman has the girth to plug up the inside running lanes while still applying pressure as a pass-rusher. The senior finished 2013 with 38 tackles, 13 for loss, two sacks and batted down nine passes.
It's been a long time since the Chargers could boast about an imposing defensive tackle, you'd have to go to the early 2000's when Jamaal Williams was recognized for three consecutive Pro Bowls.
Other Possible Fits: Will Sutton, Arizona State
All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year two times running. 48 tackles, 13.5 for loss and four sacks in 2013 for the former Sun Devil. Sutton came into Senior Bowl practices a little heavier than usual according to Goodbread but still practiced well.