2011 NFL Draft Will Improve San Diego Chargers for Next Season

Neil TillmanContributor IIIMay 3, 2011

DENVER - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Norv Turner of the San Diego Chargers leads his team against the Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on January 2, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 33-28.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

San Diego Chargers watched the playoffs without them in it for the first time in five years. This draft could be one of the most important drafts going forward for Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith. There was no moving picks around and trying to jump up in the first round or mortgaging the future with trading future draft picks. The draft also lacked a sexy vibe. For the first time in Smith’s nine drafts with the Chargers, a lineman was the first pick taken.

The bottom line is the 2011 San Diego Chargers bettered their chances for the new season after the draft. Smith targeted defensive lineman Corey Liuget from Illinois with the Chargers first pick and the No. 18 overall selection. Liuget will compete right away at their defensive tackle position.  He can be a very nice addition to stopping the run as well as providing a pass rush that can free up the outside linebackers.

Many experts and draft watchers expected the Chargers to search for a different position. Most expected a linebacker—perhaps Akeem Ayers from UCLA, or converting Cameron Jordan from a down lineman in a 4-3 to an upright pass rusher playing in their 3-4 defensive schemes.

Prince Amukamara, a cornerback from Nebraska, slipped to the 18th spot and Smith had the opportunity to draft a corner in the first round for the fourth time. In the end, the 2011 Chargers plugged a defensive hole that plagued the 2010.

The 2010 San Diego Chargers had a dominating season statistically. The Chargers had the No. 1 offense in yards per game and No. 1 defense in yards per game in the entire NFL.  Has anyone not heard that stat enough? Yet they finished 9-7. The Chargers were second in the NFL in sacks with 47, and No. 1 overall in pass defense.

Must be the special teams? Yes, the Chargers had five kicks blocked and gave up four returns for touchdowns. Coincidentally, they had zero on their end for blocks and returns. It probably didn’t help that through the season, teams made 100 percent of their attempted field goals against the Chargers. Two days after the final game of the season, the Chargers let go of special teams coach Steve Crosby (someone let chargers.com know) in the most obvious of coaching changes.

The Chargers had only five games where the opponent had more total yards and the Chargers lost only three of those games. In fact, through the first five Chargers losses their yards difference had a dizzying average of 412.6 to 247.2. However, through the first five lost games, their turnover difference was 14 to 2. 

There is one more glaring statistical error on the 2010 Chargers team. In six of the Chargers' seven losses, their opponent had more rushing yards. Prior to 2010, the Chargers had won 13 in a row against their rival, the Oakland Raiders. In 11 of the 13 consecutive victories, with Tomlinson at tailback, the Chargers outrushed the Raiders. The 2010 Chargers were swept by the Raiders and were embarrassed at home by allowing 251 yards rushing while gaining only 21. 

The 2011 San Diego Chargers have nine games against teams that featured a 1,000-yard running back, as well as the New York Jets, who were fourth in the NFL in rushing without a 1,000-yard back. Also, the Miami Dolphins—who were fourth in rushing in 2009—used their first two picks in the 2011 NFL draft on an offensive lineman and a running back. Half of their games in 2011 will be against teams that finished in the top 10 for rushing yards in 2010.

Last season the Chargers started Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire at defensive tackle. Cesaire (possibly entering his ninth season as a Charger) and fellow tackle Travis Johnson will be pending free agents as soon as the CBA is finalized. Liuget can compete and help a weak defensive line immediately.

The Chargers faced problems at linebacker. Starters Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Antwan Applewhite will be free agents this offseason, as well as Brandon Siler, Antwan Barnes and James Holt. That leaves the Chargers with Pro Bowler Shaun Phillips and former No. 1 pick Larry English on the outside, as well as Jyles Tucker. A very pressing need is an inside linebacker, because they have none with experience under contract.

Jonas Mouton, from the University of Michigan, was the fourth linebacker taken in the draft. A four-year letterman with 34 career starts, Mouton led the Wolverines in tackles and tackles for loss playing the weakside line backer in Michigan’s 4-3 defense.

Michigan has many alumni in the NFL, including linebackers LaMar Woodley and Larry Foote for the Steelers, Dhani Jones for the Bengals, David Harris on the Jets, Prescott Burgess on the Ravens and Pierre Woods with the Buffalo Bills. One thing separating those players from Mouton is they didn’t play for Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.

Realistically, Liuget may be the only player drafted to start on the 2011 Chargers, but the rest will improve a very dismal special teams unit.