Ranking San Diego Chargers' Biggest Needs to Address in 2014 NFL Draft
Now that the free-agency dust has settled, all the focus is on which positions the San Diego Chargers need to upgrade through the 2014 NFL draft in order to complete their roster and relieve any fan's anxiety over just how the Bolts will best Peyton Manning in 2014.
There are still plenty of positional needs on roster for the San Diego Chargers, ones that they will be forced to fill with rookies due to the fact that they are bumping up against the salary-cap ceiling. Some positions leave the Chargers more vulnerable to heartbreak than others, and it is important to clarify which ones are most important for Tom Telesco and his brain trust to address in the upcoming draft.
These rankings are based primarily on which positions, if upgraded through the draft, would allow the Chargers to improve on their weaknesses from last year. Expect the defense to get a thorough examination.
Other factors include the number of players on the roster and whether or not these units have key contributors with injuries or expiring contracts. The number of players at a given position doesn't hold much sway, nor does one player make a group an area of strength (except quarterback, for obvious reasons).
This exercise is sort of like constructing Maslow's hierarchy of needs, deciphering what needs the Chargers must satisfy in order to complete their self-actualization process and access their true identity of Super Bowl champions. If Abraham Maslow were an advanced-metric-hungry general manager instead of a psychology professor, this is how he would prepare for the draft.
The Chargers recently re-signed Rich Ohrnberger in order to flesh out the guard spot this season, but Jeromey Clary's contract is up in 2015, and he has been a mainstay in San Diego, dependable but not spectacular.
Johnnie Troutman is a solid option and could develop into a great guard, but the Chargers may want to groom young talent to replace Louis Vasquez, who bolted for the Denver Broncos and was an All-Pro selection in 2013.
Nick Hardwick's contract is also set to expire in 2015, and the last time he re-upped with the Chargers, he stuck to a short-term contract (three-year deal, according to Spotrac).
The glue of the offensive line for the past decade in San Diego, the possibility of his departure looms large. Whether it is through retirement or free agency, the Chargers could invest in a backup plan if Nick McDonald doesn't show signs of panning out as a starting-caliber NFL center.
4. Wide Receiver
Can the fourth-ranked passing attack (270.5 yards per game) really have a question mark at wide receiver? A group spearheaded by the sensational Keenan Allen, who posted an almost unheard of 1,000-yard season in his rookie year?
Yes, because instability and inefficiency lurk in the depths of the Bolts' wide receiver chart.
The Chargers lacked a deep threat in 2013, as Allen proved to be more of a possession receiver and lacks top-tier size or speed. Vincent Brown was a solid option as a secondary threat, but he managed to find the end zone just once in 41 receptions last year. Eddie Royal scored eight touchdowns last season, but he managed just 10 over the course of his first five seasons and could be set to come back to earth.
There is some room for optimism. Malcom Floyd will be able to join the Chargers for voluntary offseason workouts, per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, as he continues the long journey back to health from his 2013 neck injury. Brown is just 25 years old and could still develop into a solid receiving option.
Even if Floyd doesn't pan out and remains on the sidelines, the Chargers receiving corps is a solid bunch, and Philip Rivers still has receiving options at tight end (Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green) and out of the backfield (Danny Woodhead). If the Chargers fail to improve at wide receiver through the draft, they still look set to have a high-octane offense this season.
3. Outside Linebacker
The Bolts produced just 35 sacks last season, tied with Tampa Bay for 23rd in the league. That's cause for concern, as the pass-rushing task force didn't help the Chargers' weak secondary by holding up its end of the bargain. Outside linebacker is a premium position in a 3-4 defense, and the Chargers would be wise to add a quality player in the upcoming draft.
Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN has the Chargers selecting Anthony Barr out of UCLA in the first round of his latest mock draft (subscription required). It would a shocking move for Telesco, but the Chargers suffered without Shaun Phillips (10 sacks for the Broncos in 2013) last season, and their secondary could benefit if a few more quarterbacks are eating gridiron in 2014.
Any cause for deep concern can be assuaged by the fact that the Chargers have two players this season who were essentially non-entities last year due to injuries: Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram.
Ingram was the Bolts' first-round pick in 2012, but so far he has managed just two sacks in 20 career games. It's too early to tell if he will be a bust, but even the much-maligned Larry English got off to a hotter start in San Diego (3.5 sacks in his first 20 games).
Freeney was injured by the fourth game of the season, but he had managed just a half-sack up to that point. The legendary defensive end/outside linebacker hasn't recorded double-digit sacks in a season since 2010, and at 34 years old, he can provide some value, but the Chargers can't expect too much. Plus, his contract is up after this season.
Outside linebacker isn't higher on the list of needs due to the potential play of Freeney and Ingram. Thomas Keiser, Tourek Williams and Jarret Johnson are all solid backups at this point, although it is worth mentioning Keiser managed 4.5 sacks last season in just three starts.
If either Freeney or Ingram can hit their quarterback-menacing stride in 2014, the position looks safe for the time being and doesn't suffer from a lack of experienced options such as the next two positions.
2. Defensive Tackle
The Chargers have just two defensive tackles, Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers, on their roster heading into the 2014 draft, and haven't hinted at any plans to pick up another interior defensive lineman before the NFL draft.
Lissemore showed promise in his short stint as the Chargers' starting defensive tackle in 2013, finishing the season with a respectable 24 tackles and two sacks in 15 games (two starts). Geathers is still an unknown commodity at this point in his young career, but he has monstrous size at 6'6" and 335 pounds.
That being said, if size were all it took to play nose tackle in the NFL, "Butterbean" would have found a second career once he got tired of four-round boxing on various undercards. The Chargers are dangerously thin at the focal point of their 3-4 defense.
Should the Chargers' interior lineman succumb to injuries, big heavies like Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes could step in at defensive tackle in a pinch. This still ranks as a definite need for San Diego, as Lissemore and Geathers are a seventh-round pick and undrafted free agent, respectively. The two lack both starting experience and pedigree.
A talented player such as Ra'Shede Hageman out of Minnesota would be a good value pick for the Chargers in the upcoming draft if they decide to address the final position on the rankings in the first round.
At last, we come to the Chargers' most glaring weakness on the roster, cornerback.
The Chargers finished with the least efficient defense in 2013, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. They finished 29th in pass yards allowed. Derek Cox failed as a starting cornerback in first and last season in San Diego. The Bolts need a cornerback in a bad way, as they have a double-dose of Peyton Manning again this season, as they run through the gauntlet that the NFC West has recently become.
Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall are the only veteran cornerbacks on the roster, and they combined for a grand total of one interception in 2013. Not to mention, there's the fact that both of their contracts expire in 2015, which would leave the team absolutely bereft of any proven NFL talent at that position.
This position is in need of serious upgrade, and thus that makes it the Chargers' top need heading into the draft.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com spotlighted the Chargers and profiled the gritty Jaylen Watkins of Florida as a potential pick. Should the Chargers try to grab a corner in the first round, Kyle Fuller has been garnering a lot of attention lately and would be a great selection at the 25th pick.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Fuller has official visits lined up with the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Broncos so far. No meeting with the Chargers, but where there is hype, there is hope.
Defensive tackle might rank higher if teams ran the ball more, but as the league shifts to aerated offenses, cornerbacks become prized possessions in the NFL. Look for Telesco to address this need early in the 2014 draft if he finds a cornerback he thinks can improve the team from day one.