San Diego Chargers Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer
The draft boards have been set for months, but as expected, the late buzz is still making its way into the headlines. Will the Houston Texans stun us all by passing over Jadeveon Clowney? Will Johnny Manziel fall out of the first round? Will Michael Sam be drafted?
All of these questions and more will be answered at Radio City Music Hall Thursday night. For Chargers fans, the 2013 draft was a big success in the first round. D.J. Fluker was selected with the 11th pick overall and ended up starting all 15 of the games he played last season.
Can the Chargers hit it big in the first round again?
Departures and Additions
Free agency didn't produce any big names for the Chargers, and cap space was to blame for so few signings. While the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders were throwing cash at players in March, San Diego did the best it could with the restrictions.
- Derek Cox, CB
Tom Telesco's first major signing in free agency resulted in a bust, but he humbly admitted to his error by releasing Derek Cox promptly after the season ended instead of waiting out the situation. The Chargers cleared $1.65 million in cap space by cutting Cox, but he'll cost them $3.9 million in dead money.
- Johnny Patrick, CB
Johnny Patrick appeared in 13 games for San Diego before an ankle injury forced him to IR. The 457 snaps Patrick played in 2013 was a career high, but his production fell short of meeting expectations.
- Le'Ron McClain, FB
The Chargers sparingly used Le'Ron McClain on offense as his snap count topped out at just 129.
- Donald Brown, RB
Donald Brown rushed for more than 500 yards in a limited role with the Indianapolis Colts and produced a career-high six touchdowns. His 5.3 yards per carry was one of the best in the league last season, and he'll bring that same effort to a backfield that combined for just nine touchdowns and four yards per carry.
- Kellen Clemens, QB
Kellen Clemens started nine games for the St. Louis Rams and threw for over 1,600 yards when Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending injury. San Diego wasn't able to keep backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, but bringing in Clemens satisfied that hole on the depth chart.
- Kavell Conner, LB
Kavell Conner started 36 games his first three seasons with the Colts, but Jerrell Freeman's emergence cost him a starting job. Conner's best year, in 2011, saw him register more than 100 tackles.
- David Johnson, TE/FB
A blocking specialist with experience at tight end and fullback, David Johnson may be the new lead-blocker for Ryan Mathews.
- Brandon Ghee, CB
Brandon Ghee is a former third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals who has played in just 23 games his first three seasons. Injuries have plagued Ghee's career, but he'll get a fresh start in San Diego.
In re-signing most of his own players in free agency, Telesco prevented what could have been a major needs list for the Chargers. Bringing back Donald Butler kept one of the young leaders in place for the defense, and less advertised signings like Chad Rinehart and Richard Marshall keeps veterans with playing experience in place for next season.
The 29th-ranked pass defense in 2013 surrendered nearly 260 yards a game and held just three teams under 200 yards during the regular season. Despite facing the Denver Broncos twice, it was Michael Vick not Peyton Manning who torched the Chargers for a season-high 422 yards. The second-highest of 329 yards came by Matt Schaub—it was that bad.
Shareece Wright started the year as the team's No. 2 corner but quickly found himself to be the top dog when Cox started to struggle. Marshall, who filled in on the opposite side, played well in relief of Cox, finishing his eighth season with 71 tackles and six deflected passes. Between the two, just one interception was made.
The Chargers didn't make a run at any of the top corners in free agency, but they'll have an opportunity to add a playmaker in the early rounds of the draft.
Cam Thomas and Sean Lissemore combined for 47 tackles along the interior of the defensive line, but the decision was made to let Thomas walk in free agency. Lissemore, who was acquired via trade last September, didn't have the benefit of a full offseason with the Chargers in 2013, but he'll get that in his second year as he prepares to take over the workload left by Thomas.
Kwame Geathers, an undrafted free agent who played in seven games last season, will also see an increased workload. A third member could be added to that rotation in the draft.
Keenan Allen shined in his rookie season, and his journey to the No. 1 receiver slot was an unpredictable one. Injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd allowed Allen to get substantial playing time early, and the former third-round pick capitalized in the moment with 71 catches, eight touchdowns and more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Floyd, who suffered a season-ending neck injury, has begun working his way back to San Diego's roster, and the team also managed to retain veteran Eddie Royal at a bargain price. Vincent Brown was on the verge of a breakout season following a promising rookie year, but he missed all of 2012 with an ankle injury and his numbers in 2013 were just average.
Having Floyd back healthy will be an added boost on offense, but the Chargers could stand to add another young target for Philip Rivers.
When the move was made to bring in Dwight Freeney last year, the assumption was that he'd be able to give the Chargers the pass-rushing threat they were missing on defense, but that plan was spoiled when he suffered a season-ending quad injury in Week 4. Months prior to that, Melvin Ingram was lost for an extended amount of time with a torn ACL that held him out until the last few games of the regular season.
John Pagano was forced to use a combination of players at the edges, but it was Jarret Johnson and Thomas Keiser who stood out from the rest with a combined 7.5 sacks. With Freeney and Ingram set to return in 2014, Pagano will be able to supplement his defense with an improved pass rush.
That being said, his two most experienced players are entering uncharted territory in their mid-30s. Injuries slowed both Freeney and Johnson, which is why the team needs to add a young-blooded pass-rusher.
Telesco has to love the fact that just one draft choice and a pair of low-budget free agents vastly improved the offensive line, but the injuries piled up from week to week. King Dunlap and Rinehart played well on the left side when health allowed and Fluker locked down the right tackle spot in his rookie season.
The Chargers were relieved to know Nick Hardwick will be returning at center in 2014, but the final year of his contract could also be the last of his NFL career if retirement is still a thought like it was in January. Right guard is another position that could be empty after this season if San Diego opts to let Jeromey Clary go in free agency.
There are a lot of stud offensive-line prospects in the draft, some of which could be ready to start sooner than expected. The Chargers need to prepare for changes on the offensive line that will likely happen as early as the 2015 season.
Targets in the first round won't be out of the ordinary. San Diego's defense has several needs, but corner is probably the top priority. Judging from all the expert mocks out there, at least five corners have first-round potential and only the bottom two might be available by the time the Chargers go on the clock Thursday night.
If corners go fast, Plan B could involve another receiver or a defensive tackle. If neither of those satisfy what Telesco wants in Round 1, then maybe he trades out.
1. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
On the NFL Network's telecast of its annual media draft, Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah shared opposing views at the cornerback position. Jeremiah, a former scout, views Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert as the top-rated corner in this year's class while Mayock had Fuller as his No. 1 corner based on what coaches had told him.
2. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Brian Billick, former NFL head coach turned analyst, assumed the role of Chargers GM in NFL Network's media draft, and he selected Jason Verrett with the 25th pick. As Mayock explains in the clip, he likes Verrett's competitiveness, but size will factor in his play.
3. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Even in some of his worst games, like Wisconsin last season, Bradley Roby still managed to save face with some of the most athletic plays in Ohio State's secondary. The off-the-field trouble could create some hesitation in selecting him 25th overall, but that's the kind of risk that comes with a boom-or-bust player like Roby.
4. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
If San Diego wants to add speed on offense then look no further than Brandin Cooks, who ran a 4.33 at the NFL combine. Receivers may be a hot ticket in the first round, but imagine the possibility of Cooks still on the board late.
5. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The defensive line lost about 330 pounds in the offseason with Thomas signing in Pittsburgh. Louis Nix III supplies the lost weight and is a grizzly bear in the middle.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Of the countless mock drafts done in the past couple months, a lot of the same names have popped up in the 25th slot. Corner and defensive tackle have dominated the competition, but two of the most-well known draft experts in the business are predicting a surprising selection for the Chargers.
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
I was tempted to put (Kyle) Fuller here -- as that’s a pretty big need and I think he can help them early -- but there’s a certain point at which you see this level of productivity from a pass-rusher, consider your own need at that spot and have to take a guy like Barr, who needs some developmental work but got to the quarterback plenty, even while he was figuring it out on defense after a conversion from fullback. Cleaning up your ability to defend the pass doesn't just come through better personnel in the secondary. It can start up front.
My take: Being a former running back, there's no question Anthony Barr has the speed to come off the edge, but it's his technique that will need work in the pros. If he falls this far, the Chargers have to pounce.
Todd McShay, ESPN: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
This could be a good time for the Chargers to bring in a developing pass-rusher like Barr, with Dwight Freeney getting up in years, Melvin Ingram returning from a torn ACL and Jarret Johnson's cap number for 2015 being $7.5 million. There's more finesse to Barr’s game at this point in his career than I’d like to see, and he isn't a great finisher on tape, but he has upside as an edge-rusher because of his elite top-end speed for the position.
Mike Mayock, NFL.com: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
This team needs a corner desperately. Roby is the second-most physically gifted corner in the draft. He has some issues off the field, but I think he can be a corner with upside in San Diego.
My take: Roby isn't as polished as Fuller or Darqueze Dennard, but some of the plays he makes in one-on-one coverage will make your jaw drop. Bring him to San Diego, and keep him out of trouble.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Chargers have immediate needs at cornerback—unless you like Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright. Even if they remain starters, NFL teams are in a three-cornerback (or more) formation over 50 percent of the time. The idea that a depth chart needs just two solid cornerbacks is outdated. That's why Darqueze Dennard is a smart pick here.
My take: Dennard would be an absolute gift here. Not as fast as the competition at the combine, but he's the best press corner and possesses a wide range of skills in coverage.
Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Chargers boast young standouts at every level of the defense but cornerback is an obvious area of concern. Fuller is an instinctive, physical defender whose aggression and short-area quickness make him well-suited to defensive coordinator's zone-heavy scheme.
My take: Fuller is getting so much love in the media mocks, I'm beginning to think he's gone in the first 20 picks.
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Despite his off-field activities in the news, Roby is still likely to land in round one and the Chargers have the need and have shown the interest.
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Louis Nix is an option here, but the need to upgrade the CB position is tough to ignore.
My take: Another inch or two and he's top three in this draft. He'll get beat in jump-ball situations, but you have to admire his toughness.
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby's recent off-field transgression could plummet his stock on draft day, but he is so talented the Chargers would have a tough time bypassing on a potential lockdown corner.
Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis
Will the Chargers trade out of the first round?
As Eric D. Williams of ESPN and others have speculated before, trading out of the first round is a realistic scenario for the Chargers, which will be sitting in the bottom third of the draft in all seven rounds. Stockpiling picks in a deep class would be a wise move by Telesco and his staff. The first round may not produce a player to the Chargers liking, and that shouldn't force them to settle on a player they don't view as sure-fire lock in the first round.
Could a quarterback be on San Diego's radar?
Despite having one of the league's elite signal-callers, would the Chargers seriously consider drafting a quarterback of the future?
Telesco didn't rule the idea out, per Williams:
It’s something you keep your eye on because you never know. It’s probably not in the front of your mind, but it’s in the back of our mind all of the time. That’s why we evaluate every position like there’s nobody on our roster.
The same process we do with every other position, we do with the quarterbacks, all the way from August until now. Because you never know when that need may be there, and you never know what might happen in the draft.
Truthfully, it would be surprising to see the Bolts take a quarterback, even in the later rounds, but this class is loaded with developmental talent. Clemens should get the backup gig, and the feeling is that Brad Sorensen will be sticking around, but as many teams have demonstrated, it pays to keep looking for the next guy up under center.
Which corner(s) will fall to pick 25?
Corner is arguably the top need coming into Day 1 of the draft, but will "the guy" be there at the 25th pick? If Thursday night plays out like it has in most of the first-round mocks, Gilbert, Dennard and Fuller will be gone. That leaves Verrett and Roby.
Which would San Diego settle for? Will size reign over maturity, or will the Chargers go a completely different route and shock us all with a player we haven't been talking about?
7-Round Chargers Mock Draft
Round 1: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
I originally had Fuller in my last mock, but the more I hear about other teams being enamored with his abilities, the more I realize he'll probably be off the board. I like everything about Verrett except the size, but he seems like the type of player who could prove us all wrong and be a stud despite the disadvantage.
Round 2: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Kyle Van Noy and the Chargers have shown mutual interest in each other, as per Williams, but he'll be on plenty of draft boards in the second round. I think Telesco makes a move up to land the versatile linebacker—similar to the trade for Manti Te'o last year.
Round 3: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Martavis Bryant is a long, lean-bodied receiver who can be a red-zone threat in the NFL, and he is just what San Diego's offense needs. Floyd was that need before a neck injury threatened his career.
Round 4: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
Justin "Jelly Bean" Ellis is big enough to clog the running lanes and free up linebackers, which Donald Butler and Te'o will gladly appreciate.
Round 5: Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson
It's a contract year for Clary, and Rinehart has played a full 16-game season just once in his six-year career. Help is on the way despite Brandon Thomas being on the mend from a torn ACL.
Round 6: Zach Moore, DE, Concordia-St.Paul
Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes need an insurance policy. Bring in Zach Moore, and let him get after the quarterback. He had 26 sacks in 28 games with the Golden Bears and could be the first in school history to be drafted.
Round 7: Garrett Scott, OL, Marshall
Garrett Scott played both tackle spots and guard for the herd. Dunlap's contract will be up after 2014, and his health struggles have continued to interfere in his career.
Snap counts provided by ESPN.
Combine results provided by NFL.com.