2010 NFL Draft: San Diego Chargers to Find L.T.'s Replacement in the Draft?

Darren FeeneyCorrespondent IApril 22, 2010

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 25: Runningback Jahvid Best #4 of the Cal Golden Bears carries the ball as he avoids a tackle during the game against the UCLA Bruins at Memorial Stadium on October 25, 2008 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

With the face of the franchise gone, San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith enters arguably the most important draft in his eight-year tenure.  Having one of the most talented teams year in, year out, the Chargers' window of prime isn't getting any wider.

Quality picks for San Diego in the 2010 NFL Draft are not a luxury—they are a necessity.

Consider this: The Chargers have the most wins (70) across a six-year span to not reach the Super Bowl. 

No matter who they select, it will be a major turning point in the upcoming season. The Chargers lost several starters this offseason, from running back LaDainian Tomlinson to corner back Antonio Cromartie to nose tackle Jamal Williams

AJ Smith has more voids to fill via the draft than in recent years.

With Tomlinson gone, Micahel Bennett shown the door, and Darren Sproles playing on a one-year tender contract, it’s safe to say the elephant is out of the room. 

The Bolts need a running back.

CJ Spiller and his breakout potential will likely be swooped up in the first 15 picks. 

Ryan Mathews , a powerful inside runner that could complement Sproles, will likely be on the board for the Chargers taking with the No. 28 pick.  The most impressive running back at the combine, the 6'0", 217-pound Mathews ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and notched a 10'1" broad jump.

In 2009, Mathews rushed for 1,808 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing a game and a half because of injuries.  While some point to the weaker WAC, Mathews was at his best against the elite on the Bulldogs' schedule, such as Boise State (234 yards, three touchdowns), Wisconsin (107 rushing yards), Cincinnati (145 rushing yards, touchdown), and Illinois (173 rushing yards, three touchdowns).

He does have durability concerns and lacks top potential as a receiving back out of the backfield, but the ideal running back height, size, speed, explosion, and decision making will not be left out of the first round.

If Mathews were to somehow get plucked before the No. 28 pick, or if Smith and Co. just can’t pull the trigger on him, Jahvid Best could be the steal of the draft.  If it weren’t for the concussion concerns that forced the Heisman hopeful to miss the end of his senior campaign, Best would be a surefire first round selection. 

As we have seen, concussions have become an illuminated topic in the NFL and could steer teams away from an early chance on the back.

Best, one of the most decorated running backs in California Golden Bears history, has an incredible combination of speed, explosiveness, and vision.  At 5'10", 199 pounds, Best has drawn Reggie Bush comparisons.  Since Bush hasn’t proven to be an every down ball handler, it raises the question whether Bush’s production has helped or hurt Bests’ draft stock.

Versatility is undoubtedly a valuable asset to possess in the NFL, as Bush forces defensive coordinators to plan for his ability to line up in various spots in the offense.  The talent is obvious—the durability is the concern.

Nearly half of the mock drafts, however, have the Chargers slated to take nose tackle Terrance Cody out of Alabama—all 348 pounds of him.

The concern for most teams is Cody’s weight, which ballooned to 400 pounds during his community college days.  He reported to the Senior Bowl in January at 370 pounds and then weighed in at the NFL Combine in February at 354 pounds.  At his Pro Day last month, he was 348 pounds.

His ability to clog the middle will definitely yield a top-35 selection.  Unfortunately for Mt. Cody, it is a banner year for defensive lineman.  Some experts have as few as five defensive lineman going before him while others have as many as 15-20.

It will be a pivotal night not only for the Chargers organization, but for the NFL , which moves into a prime time 4:30 ET Thursday night slot for the first time. 

If the past is any indication, AJ Smith is not afraid to roll the dice or swing a draft day trade. 

If the Chargers will make a trade, look for it to be early.  If San Diego passes on Cody and select Mathews in the first round, the Chargers could trade up to get him early in the second round. 

Conversely, they could take Cody in the first and Best could still be lingering near the beginning of the second round.

With notable starters gone and a city and team tired of reoccurring playoff disappointments, it’s undoubtedly a new era in San Diego.    

The 2010 NFL Draft will not only brand the new A.J. Smith era—its effectiveness may signify the longevity of it.