San Diego has appeared to have shored up its cornerback situation for 2010 with the signing of free agents Nathan Vasher and Donald Strickland.
This gives the team four solid cornerbacks to give both quality and depth at the position along with an added physicality.
It is far from a long-term solution, however.
Vasher and Strickland are 28 and 29 respectively, with both having a history of injury and just two-year contracts. Quentin Jammer, while a solid and consistent number one starter, will be 31 when the 2010 season begins.
The team has a young talent in Antoine Cason who may or may not lock down a starting role in the upcoming year, but otherwise the Chargers are lacking in long-term potential at the corner position.
It was considered that even after signing Strickland, the team may have attempted to pursue a cornerback fairly early in the draft (while the first round was unlikely, the second was a definite possibility).
It would appear that an early cornerback pick is now virtually (granted, never completely given Smith’s unpredictability) impossible given the team’s decent list of other needs.
The team could easily elect to forgo the position entirely in this year’s draft, which would make a bit of sense considering the team’s need for the position being in 2012 rather than 2010, as well its five picks in the first three rounds in 2011.
But cornerbacks are rarely instant successes. It is perhaps the most difficult defensive position to learn in football, with technique and nuance paired with the requisite athleticism to cover both a 180-pound speedster and a physically imposing 6’4’’ receiver.
Given this and the depth of this year’s cornerback class, it might still be possible that San Diego spends a mid to late-round pick on a cornerback who can have two full years to be groomed and simply absorb San Diego’s system, as well as just the overall pace of NFL football.
If Cason cannot prove himself in the coming years, it gives the team another young corner waiting in the wings to supplement the former first-rounder. Should Cason develop into a strong starting corner, it gives the team a young option to potentially succeed Quentin Jammer, whose physical brand of play may begin catching up to him as his mid-thirties draw nearer.
But where should the team look? While the order is debatable, it is safe to say San Diego has likely earmarked the first and second rounds for the running back and nose tackle positions.
The third round would be the earliest option, and could still see several strong options. Brandon Ghee of Wake Forest is probably the strongest candidate who still has good potential to be available. Ghee is a mid or late second-round talent who could fall purely by way of the deep corner class.
Even the third round seems a difficult sell, however. Positions like right tackle and defensive end could use a more immediate upgrade, while depth at receiver and insurance at linebacker are also possibilities.
Looking to the fourth or fifth rounds would make more sense. The talent is still there, but the team can focus the upper ranks of its 2010 draft on more immediate concerns.
Amari Spievey may still be available by the time round four reaches San Diego. He is a late-second to upper-third round talent, but could see eight to ten corners drafted ahead of him.
That many other options and a lukewarm 40 time could leave him falling a round or more beyond his overall talent level.
A.J. Jefferson of Fresno State steps in with all the measurables, but is very raw.
If he can fall to the fifth round, that may be perfect for a team that should have plenty of time to develop him before he is pressed into service. If he falters as a corner, he still could provide the team with a great option for the return game, which Sproles underwhelmed in last year.
Donovan Warren is similar to Jefferson in that he will need some time to develop, but has tremendous upside. He isn’t the pure physical talent that Jefferson is, and his poor 40 time shot him down draft boards all around.
That said, the league is full of good football players with mediocre measurables who have translated that into solid careers. When the college season ended he was a solid second-round candidate, his current fifth round projection has only come because of results measured in a non-game setting.
Thanks to names like these and a host of other mid-late round prospects who could slip up to two rounds below their quality simply from the sheer volume of solid cornerback prospects , it may make sense for San Diego to make a reach in this year’s draft.
The Chargers may not need to address the position for the upcoming season, but that does not mean they should not draft a cornerback at all when the draft rolls around.
Like running back and wide receiver, this year’s draft has few guaranteed first-round talents at the corner position, but makes up for it with a deep supply of day two (second and third rounds in this year’s new draft format) prospects that could provide a savvy team with a steal that could be ready to take over when the need does arise in two years time.
San Diego should take advantage of this, regardless of the newfound depth from signing two free agent corners. It could pay off, especially if Cason does not prove to be the answer along the outside.