The NFL Combine has already arrived, and this only creates more talk about the draft in April. While many football fans are keeping a close eye on the CBA situation, there are tons of mock drafts to see. This will be my second attempt at a Chargers full mock draft and San Diego's needs remain the same from the first mock: DE, CB, WR, OT, RB and OLB (in no specific order).
The Chargers have five of the first 90 picks in the upcoming draft and should be able to gain quality players, while also filling holes in the roster. They hold one first-round pick (18), two second-round picks (50, 61) and two third-round picks (82, 89).
General manager A.J. Smith has had questionable selections in past drafts, but needs to have a solid draft to keep the Bolts a contender.
J.J. Watt, defensive end out of the University of Wisconsin.
Defensive lineman Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson are free agents this offseason, and while there are doubts that either one of them are brought back, it's safe to say one will be returning, but as a backup. The Chargers really need a playmaking lineman on the opposing side of Castillo, and Watt could be just that.
J.J. Watt has great size for a 3-4 defense; as he is listed at 6'6", 292 lbs. For such a big guy, Watt is very explosive off the snap and has an impressive non-stop motor. He has the ability to stuff the line and create plays for others, while also making plays on his own.
Watt finished the 2010 season with 62 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. His numbers show that he is a force that is difficult to block, and he is, but what is less-mentioned about Watt is his ability to get his hands up to knock down the football. Watt blocked three kicks and batted down seven passes last year.
The Chargers should definitely begin their 2011 draft with a lineman, and J.J. Watt is a very good fit for San Diego's defense.
There is speculation that Sam Acho is too small to play defensive end in the National Football League, but he is 6'3", 260 pounds, and is the perfect size to be an outside linebacker. Regardless of how you think Larry English will play in the upcoming season, Acho would be a nice add in the second round.
Manusky's "new" system will be aggressive to say the least. The plan is to put a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and having a player like Acho who can get in the backfield would be a great weapon.
While Acho hasn't played much, if at all at the OLB position, he is an exceptional athlete that could make the transition easily. The only areas he would need to work on are coverage and reading plays from a standing position. He displays good speed and quickness on the field that would play in his favor in converting to OLB.
Acho recorded 60 total tackles, eight sacks and three forced fumbles in his senior year.
Acho looks to be a Brian Orakpo/Shawne Merriman type player and would be the force on the opposite side of Shaun Phillips the Chargers have been lacking.
Ras-I Dowling is a cornerback coming out of the University of Virginia. Dowling's size is what makes him such an attractive cornerback for the Chargers. Listed at 6'2" and 200 pounds, Dowling has bigger size than most NFL corners but does not lack the speed or coverage skills needed to play the position effectively. He is also an excellent tackler and can really blow a receiver up with a hit.
Besides Dowling's athletic ability and football talents, he is also a leader on the field and a good all-around guy. He speaks intelligently, respects his teammates and others and has never had any trouble with the law. He returned for his senior season because he loved his teammates, he loved college football and he wanted to earn his college degree. General manager A.J. Smith likes to fill his roster with good-character players and Dowling fits the bill.
The only fault to Dowling as an NFL prospect is that he missed much of the 2010 season with a left ankle injury and a nagging knee injury. This will likely make him a late second or early third-round pick. He looks to be fully-recovered for pre-draft workouts, which is a good sign.
Dowling had a good junior season in 2009; though as he made 58 total tackles, made one sack, forced two fumbles and intercepted three passes. He is an all-around player and also has above-average skills while returning an interception or fumble.
The Chargers drafting Ras-I Dowling in the late second round gives them much-needed depth at the cornerback position and also a possible successor for the aging veteran Quentin Jammer.
The San Diego Chargers recently placed the franchise tag on former Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson, which means he will most likely be back for next season. They also dealt with Legedu Naanee being arrested and that diminishes his chances of returning to the team. A.J. Smith must also make the decision to either re-sign Malcom Floyd or let him walk this offseason. The receiving core needs to be addressed in April, but not before adding players to the defense.
Pettis has the size San Diego likes as he is 6'3" and weighs 201 lbs. Pettis isn't going to blow defensive backs away with his speed, but he does run crisp routes and does the little things correctly. He has very dependable hands and catches almost everything thrown his way. At the combine, Pettis did run the fastest 20-yard shuttle by a receiver in recent history.
His numbers at Boise State got consistently better over his four-year career, and in his senior season he pulled in 71 balls, gained 951 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. His biggest game of the season came in his last where he had 12 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown against Utah in the Broncos bowl game.
Austin Pettis will be a steal for whatever team is willing to use a pick on him. I hope that team is San Diego.
Even though RT Jeromey Clary played well in the 2010 season for the Chargers, right tackle is still an area that needs to be upgraded through the draft. Marcus Gilbert from Florida will play in the NFL as a right tackle and would be a nice pickup in the late third round.
Gilbert has good size for a tackle at 6'6", 329 lbs, and has reasonably long arms. Gilbert is athletic for an offensive lineman and is versatile enough to play guard if need be. He is strong and holds up well against bull rushers. Gilbert is a quality pass protector with decent lateral movement and can stay with his blocks.
He shows a good burst when run-blocking and displays power but sometimes struggles to gain leverage. He has the ability to get to the second level of the defense. Gilbert is also the type of player that will give it everything he has and has toughness needed in a tackle.
Gilbert lacks great footwork and can be beat by speed, which is a negative. He doesn't finish off his blocks as well as he should, and he doesn't do a good job of redirecting towards a defender.
All he needs is some coaching and some mental growth, and Marcus Gilbert could be a quality right tackle in the Chargers future.
It's evident that Darren Sproles has played his last game in navy and gold, unless he is willing to take a huge pay cut, which I don't see happening. With only Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert as useful backs on the roster for next season, Smith will look to add a running back in the late rounds of the draft.
Derrick Locke is a speed-back that has great elusiveness and lateral quickness in the open field. He is a small guy as he's just 5'9", 190 lbs, but he has the ability to break arm tackles that some smaller backs cannot. Locke had very good junior and senior seasons at Kentucky running and catching the football. In those seasons combined, Locke ran for 1,794 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also gaining 602 yards and two touchdowns in the receiving game.
This would be a great pick for the Chargers in round six. They add a "change-of-pace back," and also gain a return man.