When San Diego entered the offseason they knew they would have some holes to fill, and had a relatively lackluster draft with which to fill it.
Sure, it was superior to, say, a Chicago Bears' team that mortgaged two years' worth of first-round draft picks in order to land quarterback Jay Cutler, but ultimately San Diego stood as a team picking fourth from last in every round save the sixth, which was traded away for backup defensive lineman Travis Johnson.
Following a purge including LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Williams, and Antonio Cromartie, the team was in no better shape. Williams and Tomlinson were let go outright, while Cromartie’s trade won’t net any value until the 2011 draft.
However, the team somehow managed to turn around its draft outlook.
The team placed a third-round tender on third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, putting the Seahawks in a difficult spot. They wanted Whitehurst, but had no third-round pick to offer. Instead they swapped places with the Chargers in the second round, bumping the team up 20 slots from 60 to 40.
The team also added another third-round pick for the 2011 Draft. They now hold five selections in the first three rounds of next year, which could either give them a stacked draft or add bargaining power to move around within this year’s draft.
The team also replaced that missing sixth-round pick, earning a late fifth-round choice as compensation for free agents lost last offseason, to pair with the fifth they already hold.
All of these changes now afford the team flexibility in how they can approach the 2010 draft.
At the top of the draft, the team was in a position where it would likely have to draft a nose tackle in the first round and settle on whatever second-tier running back talent falls to them.
Now, San Diego can pursue a few different options.
The most likely choice is still Terrence Cody, whose post-senior bowl weight loss makes the possibility of taking him in the second round tenuous (though possible).
They also now have the option to take a running back in the first round (Ryan Matthews being the current favorite) because of that high second-round choice.
The team can take Matthews, or another first-round talent type of back, with the notion that Cody may be able to fall to the 40th choice.
If he does not, Cam Thomas is a virtual lock to still be available that high. Cody will have had no chance to fall to the 60th pick and hoping Thomas was still available would be a dangerous risk.
Either way, San Diego should be guaranteed one of the three nose tackle prospects that look ready to contribute in 2010, even if the team decides to draft another position in the first round.
The team also has the option to have far better choices from among the stable of running back prospects.
Instead of whatever second-tier back can fall far enough, the team now can pick from the lower first-tier ranks or have its choice from among the full second-tier.
It would be a surprise for Matthews to slip down to the 40th pick, but Jahvid Best is a definite possibility from among presumed late first round talents.
The thick running back class may even be pursued in the third round. Ben Tate, Joe McKnight, and Montario Hardesty are solid possibilities while Jonathan Dwyer may just be able to slip that far. Given the 2011 draft resources, trading up in the third round for one of these backs may just make sense.
That added scenario opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for what to do with that second round choice. The team could look to positions left out of the debate for concern over more glaring needs.
Dynamic defensive lineman Tyson Alualu could become a great 3-4 end that brings play-making skills to a rather blue-collar line. Jared Veldheer or Vladimir Ducasse could also be drafted to fill that right tackle position (an improved offensive line and a solid back may just outperform an unaddressed line and very good back).
The team may also be in a position now to surprise by grabbing a great player at what was considered a stacked (or at least filled) position. Jerry Hughes at OLB, Kareem Jackson at CB, and Golden Tate at WR could fall within those guidelines of late first-round caliber talents that are snagged because they fell to the top of the second round.
All of this top-end mobility stems from stockpiling the 2011 draft and moving to the top of the 2010 second round. The team also profits from the addition of another pick that straddles the mid-to-late round ranks.
Two fifth round picks afford the team a chance to pursue either project guys (of which A.J. Smith is so fond) or stretch out for depth at certain positions.
Grabbing a second running back or a wide receiver would be ideal here. The team can pick a boom-bust option at running back like James Starks—a good all-round player whose draft stock plummeted because of a season ending injury.
Small school sensation Joique Bell could be grabbed to be more of a power-back for the team should they land a smaller Jahvid Best or Joe McKnight in earlier rounds.
At wide receiver Marcus Easley could be a great pickup with one of the two fifth round choices. He is a raw talent that would have time to develop playing behind Jackson and Floyd, while retaining the size (at 6’3’’, 210) that the team loves from the position.
Blair White or Danario Alexander also fit in well as good-sized fifth-round receivers that could fill the depth void and possibly have a Malcolm Floyd-esque development process.
No matter who is grabbed, one thing is certain in the upcoming draft. San Diego is in a much more open position now and no longer will have their draft as heavily dictated by who goes before them.
The puzzle has just grown more complex, but in the end San Diego should come out all the better for it.