On the heels of the easily addressed quarterback position is a look at a much less clear-cut area: wide receiver.
The starting position is securely addressed in 2010, with Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd combining for nearly 2,000 yards despite Floyd not locked into a starting role until nearly midseason (as well as other stat-eating standouts like Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles).
Behind the two starters is an interesting jumble.
Only one receiver is gone from 2009’s active roster: Kassim Osgood. Osgood was a special teams sensation, but saw virtually no time with the offensive unit and will not be missed on that front.
Legedu Naanee and Craig “Buster” Davis stand as the only other receivers currently on the team’s roster.
Naanee is a versatile and explosive tool, well built for both the short passing game (for his ability after the catch) and gadget plays (as a 220-pound former quarterback he is the option player on the team’s current roster).
He is also a very unpolished route runner who is still learning the nuances of being a wide receiver. He lacks the prototypical elements of a standard "slot" receiver, and has not yet really broken out of that gadget-player status.
That was not really a concern when fourth on the team’s depth chart, but as the primary receiving option behind the team’s starters, he will need to show improvement in more traditional elements of the passing game.
Former first-round pick Craig Davis rounds out the team’s current roster. He is an unpredictable commodity who has 30 career catches on his three-year resume.
At 6’1’’ 210 pounds, he lacks the size San Diego prefers on the outside, but lacks the burst and athleticism to step into that slot role. Assuming his always-questionable health is not an issue he is a solid option to back up the starting wideouts.
Solid route-running and disciplined play make him better suited to spend an entire game on the outside than Naanee, but otherwise he has shown nothing remarkable enough to justify field time when the starters are healthy.
That puts San Diego in an interesting position. On one hand, this is the same unit that fronted one of the league’s better passing attacks in 2009. On the converse, it lacks any true depth at the position and could use a more befitting third receiver to counterpoint Jackson's and Floyd’s attributes.
As with all but a select few positions, the first two rounds are nearly untouchable, but beyond that the possibilities arise.
Brandon LaFell’s mediocre pro day may very well allow him to drop into the third round, but it would take a surprise for him to fall to the back end of the round, where San Diego is choosing.
He lacks the slot-receiver build, but is very much in line with what San Diego likes out of its starting receivers, and could be groomed to both replace Buster Davis in the short-term, and succeed the 29-year-old Floyd eventually.
Carlton Mitchell brings similar attributes to Lafell (both are 6’3’’ and just over 210) while being much more likely to be around when San Diego steps up in the third round. Mitchell’s status as a third-rounder is strongly by virtue of his school, which makes him a more raw talent but a possessor of great measurables.
That third-round territory still feels like overreaching for the position, however. San Diego will more likely pursue a more direct need in the third round.
The fourth and fifth rounds, however, are quite likely candidates to get a quality player that can contribute.
As with many positions the top-thin but talent class will give San Diego the opportunity to potentially catch a late third-early fourth round talent as late as in the fifth round (where they hold two picks).
If the team wants to find a true smaller slot receiver in the Wes Welker mold then the choices are limited within this area.
Jacoby Ford is the only player truly fitting that template, but is not likely to escape the fourth round.
If he is available by San Diego’s fourth-round pick, however, it might still be of benefit. Not only will he provide the team a quick receiver to give blitzers pause in short-timing routes, but he also should be a solid option in the return game.
San Diego is assumed settled with Darren Sproles taking back punts and kickoffs, but in 2009 he was ranked a pedestrian 40th in kickoff return average and 45th in punt return average (18th and 22nd, respectively, when eliminating those with less than 20 attempts).
To get a dual-role slot receiver and a 4.28 return man could be worth reaching a round above where expected, and just might give San Diego an added spark within its receiving corps that can make expensive commodity Darren Sproles expendable.
If San Diego waits until the fifth, they are more likely to pursue a LaFell/Mitchell type prospect that is a big, raw talent that needs a few years in San Diego’s system to potentially emerge.
That method worked for Malcolm Floyd and may just pay dividends over waiting for a high draft pick talent to succeed Floyd down the road.
Marcus Easley and Blair White are slightly smaller than the team’s current starters, but at 6’3’’ and 6’2’’, respectively, both are good solid prospects with great athleticism that will be placed into a situation where needing time to develop is not an issue.
Easley is probably the best candidate within this situation, and the logical choice for San Diego.
At 6’3’’ and 210 pounds, he is tall and athletic enough to become another great jump-ball wideout and matchup nightmare.
He is unpolished, but the boom-bust potential is a low risk given the team’s current strength at the position. He already showed tremendous signs of development and coachability by translating a five catch walk-on 2008 into 48 receptions and nearly 900 yards in 2009.
That progress along with his physical prowess makes him a great candidate to both fill San Diego’s need for depth at wide receiver and eventually become the team’s next Malcolm Floyd.
See the rest of the ongoing Chargers Positional Needs Series: