A Sensible San Diego Chargers 2009 NFL Draft

Darren Feeney@DFEEN15_SDCorrespondent IApril 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 13:  (C) Rey Maualuga #58 of the USC Trojans celebrates with teammates Josh Pinkard #36 and Everson Griffen #93 after Maualuga scored on a 48-yard interception return against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 13, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Upgrades or Needs?

It is a question General Managers and scouting personnel face just a day before selection Saturday. Take the best available player on the board, or take a player that fills a need position wise?

Trade up to get premiere talent on a player just too good to pass on, or trade down to “steal” a player while gaining additional picks in the process? It is never an easy task, and for the San Diego Chargers and General Manager A.J. Smith, this year is no different.

Why San Diego needs an Upgrade at RB

In 2008, the San Diego Chargers rushing attack ranked 20th in NFL in terms of yards per game. The only significant change on offense so far is the replacement of Mike Goff with Kynan Forney.  

While last year we saw the main focus of the team shift from the ground to the passing game, it is essential for the Chargers to remain balanced.  A powerful running game will help seal off victories—and prevent comebacks—and there were at least a handful of games that the Chargers should've won in 2008 that were lost because the offense could not stay on the field.  That needs to change if the Bolts are going to have any hopes of beating the elite teams in the AFC in the playoffs.

Key Contributing Stat

Rush Avg Yds/G Record
SD Chargers (2006) 4.9 161.1 14-2
SD Chargers (2007) 4.2 127.4 11-5
SD Chargers (2008) 4.1 107.9 8-8

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Why San Diego Does Not Need an Upgrade at RB

The reason for not upgrading the position is hope.  Hope that Darren Sproles' performance in the playoffs against the Colts is something he can do regularly if he's given more carries.

Hope that LaDainian Tomlinson returns to his Pro Bowl form with an improved, healthier line and less carries.  Hope that Jacob Hester can grow as an elite FB to become a Lorenzo Neal-type blocker.

And hope that Marcus McNeil returns to Pro Bowl form and becomes unmovable on the left side of the line again. Two premiere RB’s, Chris “Beanie” Wells and Knowshon Moreno, are projected to be available when the Bolts are on the Clock.

The argument for Chris “Beanie” Wells

Wells not only has terrific potential as an NFL running back, but the Chargers' current backfield situation would be an ideal fit. Although Tomlinson and Sproles are both talented, using their speed, quickness and hands to create opportunities in the open field, the one piece that's missing is a power back.

Chris Wells has the size, speed (4.59 40 at the combine), strength (25 bench press reps) and a great desire and patience to find the hole before exploding through it. Splitting carries between him and LT would go a long way towards making the run game more dynamic, balanced and capable of keeping the lead in the fourth quarter.

The argument against Wells

Chris Wells has been described as "college fast", meaning he can turn corners and break away long runs in college but NFL scouts suspect he'll struggle to do the same in the NFL.  In addition, rather than trying to outmaneuver, Wells has been known as trying to run over defenders which will not fare well in on Sunday. 

The argument for Knowshon Moreno

Moreno is the epitome of an every down back. If the RB situation truly diminishes in similar fashion as it did last year, the Bolts would be equipped with a three-headed monster including a durable, versatile Moreno.

The argument against Moreno

Some draft experts have the explosive UConn RB Donald Brown rated nearly as high and Brown isn’t expected to have his name called until the second round.  This could mean the Chargers trading down and attaining virtually the same back while also getting some extra picks to work with.

Same Position, Same Team, Same First Round

Undoubtedly the biggest headline of the draft is the overload of talent Southern California features at the linebacker position.  Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, and Rey Maualuga are set to make history with three players at the same position from the same program being drafted in the first round.

There is talk about whether the inside linebacker position is an upgrade or a need for San Diego.  With Cushing projected to be off the board by the time the Bolts are on deck, the ferocious Maualuga makes a whole lot of sense.

Why the Chargers Need an Upgrade at LB 

The Chargers are set on the outside with Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips.  Add in your prototypical “Mike” LB in Maualuga, to complement Steven Cooper in that 3-4 scheme.

Yikes! Defenses are going to have to pass all over the Chargers, because they sure won’t be productive in the run game. 

The argument for Rey Maualuga

The three-year starter was called by the USC coaching staff the most "menacing player" of the Pete Carroll era.  By the time he finished playing for USC, Maualuga was the most decorated linebacker to wear a Trojans uniform since Junior Seau roamed the fields for Southern California in the late 1980s.

In each of his three seasons as a starter, Maualuga garnered All-American and All-Pac 10 Conference recognition.

Junior Seau is undoubtedly the most stoic figure in recent Chargers history.  Why not rekindle some of those same experiences?

Key contributing stat

Consider this:

During his freshman season as a reserve, the Trojans ranked 31st in the nation in rush defense (130.54 ypg), 48th in total defense (360.92 ypg) and 35th in scoring defense (22.85 ppg).

In Maualuga's first year as a starter, Southern California improved to ninth in the nation vs. the run (91.08 ypg), 20th in total defense (295.85 ypg) and 11th in scoring defense (15.15 ppg).

As a junior, USC continued to move up the national charts, finishing fourth vs. the run (84.15 ypg), second in total defense (273.15 ypg) and second in scoring defense (16.0 ppg) in 2007.

In his final season, the Trojans allowed just 87.38 yards per game on the ground (fifth in the NCAA), ranking second in the country in total defense (221.77 ypg) while leading the major colleges in scoring defense (9.0 ppg).

The argument against Maualuga

Nursing a tender right hamstring, Maualuga ran a sluggish 4.91 second 40 in the first combine in Indianapolis—something scouts have alluded to as durability issues with the wear-and-tear of Sunday.

With the Wonderlic woes, Maualuga needed to reassure scouts on USC Pro-Day, or the Oscars of college football.  And he did so tearing off an estimated 4.59-4.71 40.

Apart from durability issues, Maualuga tends to let his aggressiveness get the best of him, taking himself out of plays and constantly looking for the "knock out" punch.  He does not possess the "fluid hips" scouts love and is likely struggle in pass coverages with speedy receivers.

When It’s All Said And Done

San Diego and A.J. Smith have a unique position in this draft.  They cannot go wrong with any of the three players outlined.

Unless a Tyson Jackson or an Aaron Maybin happen to miraculously fall, or the Bolts decided to trade down for UConn’s Brown, I see Wells, Moreno, or Maualuga getting their name called with the 16th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.