With a 33-28 win over the Denver Broncos, the 2010 NFL season of the San Diego Chargers came to a sudden end.
After a season marked by stars Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill holding out for new contracts, the Chargers fell flat on their face, leading to the firing of special teams coach Steve Crosby, the first in what could be a series of personnel changes.
While the Chargers can no longer affect their 2010 season, they can do much to change their stars for the next go around, and that all starts with the 2011 NFL Draft in April.
So, in what is certainly the first of many looks at the 2011 NFL Draft, here are 10 guys the Chargers personnel department should be giving heavy looks to in April.
With Vincent Jackson either headed for the franchise tag or for another team, the San Diego Chargers would be wise to start looking at replacement wide receivers, and what better place to start than Georgia's A.J. Green?
At 6'4", 208 pounds, A.J. Green has the kind of size that the Chargers like in their wide receivers. Green is big and physical, but is also a freak athlete with great top end speed, acceleration, and body control.
Adding A.J. Green to the lineup would bring a playmaking ability to the Chargers offense that they lacked without Vincent Jackson in.
San Diego would likely have to move up in the draft to pick him, as they currently sit around No. 18 with teams like Cleveland and Washington ahead, but that isn't something A.J. Smith would be afraid to do if he is sold on a player (see 2010 NFL Draft, Ryan Mathews).
More in the realm of possibility for the Chargers is Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
Though Baldwin has struggled with hands issues this year, there is still no doubt that he has the potential to grow into an elite NFL player.
Coming in at just short of 6-5 and 224 pounds, Baldwin is the biggest top receiving prospect in the draft this year, and, like A.J. Green, has the athleticism to match.
Baldwin has a high vertical, creates good separation and is willing to lay out for passes. He would do well in replacing Vincent Jackson.
One of the things that the Chargers really lack is a top end defensive tackle.
Ron Rivera did a great job of working with the defense this year and coaching up a squad of relative unknowns into one of the best units in the country, but they have the potential for so much more if they could work on the line.
Marcell Dareus may be a defensive tackle at Alabama, but he has the size, speed and athleticism to make the switch to a 3-4 defensive end, which means that he could come in and replace Jacques Cesaire almost immediately.
While there are certainly doubts around his ability to switch, as there always are with position switches, it would be in the Chargers best interest to take the chance. At the very least, Dareus would end up being a pure run stuffing defensive lineman, which is more or less what the 3-4 defense asks of him anyways.
This isn't an admission of failure in regards to Antoine Cason.
Or maybe it is.
In any case, the Chargers have good defensive backs, but not great ones. Quentin Jammer gets the job done while Antoine Cason goes from hot to cold more times than one can count.
Making a play for Prince Amukamara or Patrick Peterson would bring big changes to the San Diego Chargers in the defensive backfield.
These two have a potential to bring a 2007 Antonio Cromartie-like difference in pass defense, which is something that the Chargers really miss.
It'd be hard to move past teams like Detroit and Dallas, both of whom will look heavily at these two, but it could very well be worth it.
Continuing along the theme of defensive back improvement, we lead ourselves to the safety position.
Opinions on Eric Weddle are mixed, but the general consensus is, at the very least, that he does not need to be replaced. The other safety position, on the other hand, could use a major upgrade.
With the spot being juggled between Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver, no one player has emerged as the better of the two, and that is something that cannot happen.
Drafting Rahim Moore isn't necessarily giving up on Darrell Stuckey either (Stuckey was the Chargers fourth round selection last year). It's more of an insurance policy that something happens at the safety position.
Drafting Moore puts San Diego in an immediate position to at least do some improvement to their secondary.
Unless Darren Sproles decides to come back to the Chargers next year for considerably less money, the Lightning Bug will be out of San Diego, which means that the Chargers could be looking for another back to replace him.
While all signs should lead to San Diego practice-squader Curtis Brinkley, don't let that fool you into thinking that the Chargers will not look to the draft.
Enter Ryan Williams.
At 5-10, 210 pounds, Williams is much bigger than Sproles, but has similar speed and agility that make him a great threat out in space.
With the lack of top end running back talent, Williams may already be off the board by the second round, but he should certainly get a look if he is still available when the Chargers take their turn.
As painful as it is to watch happen, Antonio Gates is clearly getting older, and the injuries are starting to pile up every season.
While Gates will still be good for a long while, it seems like right about now would be a good time for the Chargers to consider drafting a guy who can play behind and alongside Gates, a player who should eventually be in a place to replace the future Hall of Famer.
While the Chargers could wait another year or two, Kyle Rudolph seems like a great prospect to fulfill this role.
Rudolph is the prototypical size for a tight end (6-5, 253 lbs.) and has room for more weight, but couples that bulk with great top end speed.
He is a good blocker, pass catcher and route runner, and has been steadily productive on a Notre Dame team that has gone through so much during his time there.
It is clear that, despite his relative consistency, many in San Diego are unhappy with Jeromey Clary at right tackle.
Simply put, he is good, but not great, which should not be good enough for any NFL team, much less a team like the Chargers.
So it is more than conceivable that the Chargers may look into a replacement, or at least someone to back up, Clary at the right tackle position, which makes Demarcus Love a good prospect.
At this point, the Chargers will be picking at in the second round, guys like Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi and Anthony Costanzo will be gone, but that does not mean that San Diego would be settling with this pick.
At 6-4.5, 313 pounds, Love doesn't quite have the height of a right tackle, but he is capable of playing the position, and at worst, could also be played at the left or right guard position, on which he has played at Arkansas.
Love would add strength, versatility and depth to an offensive line that has lacked consistency at points during the season.
For the sake of including the third round in this, let's focus the last two slides on the middle round, shall we?
A friend of mine told me that drafting a slot receiver is never a good idea. It should always be a receiver that has the talent to play on the outside that ends up playing on the inside.
Well, let's forget that for now, shall we?
Watching Greg Salas play is a lot of fun. He's the kind of guy who can get the ball 5-10 yards away from the line of scrimmage, turn, and add another 10+ yards on after the catch, whether there are defenders in the area or not.
At 6'1", he isn't quite the size of the typical Chargers receiver, but then again, San Diego really lacks a strong slot threat, and that can be really crucial in third-and-short situations where you might want to rely on a quick slant.
As I mentioned in my article about players that the Seattle Seahawks should look at in the draft, I don't understand how scouts seem to have overlooked Mason Foster, who is the best defensive player for the Washington Huskies by leaps and bounds.
Mason Foster has put up monster numbers for the Huskies on a defense that sees action against a lot of great offenses (see USC, Stanford, Arizona to start).
At 6'2", 242 pounds, Foster comes up just short of ideal size for an outside linebacker, but he has great playmaking ability and can play sideline-to-sideline.
Just let his numbers from this year do the talking: 162 tackles with seven sacks.
If anything, Foster has a lot of potential.
Congratulations to the Stanford Cardinal on their Orange Bowl victory
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