2011 NFL Mock Draft: Full 7-Round Projections for the San Diego Chargers
NFL mock drafts are rolling out the door every day, especially as teams like the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks join the rest of the teams already in offseason mode.
You all know the big names like Da'Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley, the guys who will be coming off the board in the top 10.
Well, let's forget them for a bit, because those are not players who the Chargers are concerning themselves with.
Let's narrow the scope, and simply look at the San Diego Chargers for some round-by-round projections for their 2011 NFL Draft.
I'm not even going to begin to guess how A.J. Smith's trading habits are going to factor into all of this, so the picks will stay in their proper places for now, but take that with a grain of salt. These draft picks will be changing in April.
First Round (No. 18): Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
At 6'5", 290 pounds, Heyward appears to come up just short of the bulk that teams desire in a 3-4 defensive end, but that can't deter the Chargers from taking this guy with the No. 18 pick, because he has the potential to become something special.
The Chargers have a couple of holes they could fill, but none seem more important than defensive end at this point.
Luis Castillo is still getting things done (for the most part), but the opposite defensive end slot, filled by a rotation with Jacques Cesaire as the headline, is a weak point that cannot be ignored.
Heyward has the frame to bulk up a bit, but even as an undersized player, he has proven on several occasions that he has the ability to do everything a 3-4 end needs to do: He commands double teams, controls the line of scrimmage, plays well against the run and can get to the quarterback.
Essentially, Heyward works all three functions of a defensive lineman. He would be an immediate difference maker in the trenches.
Second Round (No. 50): Jeremy Beal, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
It's hard to call it quits on Larry English after only two years as a Charger, but San Diego could really use a linebacker opposite of Shaun Phillips who can get after the quarterback.
It's hard to say that the Chargers have the chance to pick up a Shawne Merriman pre-knee injury difference maker here, but they could certainly get close with Jeremy Beal.
Beal is a sack machine, posting 28 sacks in his four years at Oklahoma (you could really shrink that to three considering how little he played during his freshman year). In addition to that, though, he plays with a lot of power and intelligence, which has earned him his fair share of strips.
A lot of people seem to be shying away from Beal because his production is down, and they are right about that. Beal is down two sacks this season, from 11 to nine.
Really scary, right?
Compensating for that, though, Beal posted an extra six tackles.
Beal is an overlooked weapon who would challenge for the outside linebacker spot opposite of Shaun Phillips and who could make a big difference quickly.
Second Round (from Jets): Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
Despite what many of you may think, the San Diego Chargers are not solid at the cornerback position.
They're good, but not great, and, well, good isn't good enough to win championships.
With that in mind, Brandon Burton would be a great player to target. He would be within the range of this pick for the Chargers, so trading around wouldn't be totally necessary, and he has a lot of potential.
Burton may not be putting up huge numbers, but he gets things done for the Utes, and he has a big upside.
At the very least, he provides a backup and potential future replacement for Quentin Jammer.
At best, he challenges and replaces Antoine Cason opposite Quentin Jammer in the backfield.
Third Round: D.J. Williams, TE, Oklahoma
It's painful to admit it, but Antonio Gates is starting to show signs of age. Not in the way that he plays, but in the way that he seems to be injured more and more often as time goes by.
Despite the fact that this has been coming like a freight train (let's be honest here, we can't expect Gates to be the man forever), the Chargers hardly done anything in the way of future planning, bringing in backups like Kris Wilson and Randy McMichael while expending only low round draft picks (the Chargers selected Dedrick Epps, TE, Miami (FL) in the seventh round last year...he failed to make the practice squad).
While a lot of people are convinced that this draft class is thin on quality tight ends, I wouldn't be so sure of that. Aside from Kyle Rudolph and Luke Stocker, there really isn't a guy who has developed a name for himself.
This good really benefit the Chargers.
For a guy who has plenty of hardware on his shelf, D.J. Williams doesn't get much attention. He has never been a huge producer, putting up 699 yards and three touchdowns in his best season, but he has never fumbled the ball. He has the work ethic and athleticism to improve and he comes from a pro style offense in Arkansas, which always bodes well for easy transitions.
D.J. Williams is the kind of guy who will turn into a great player given a few years behind Antonio Gates.
Third Round (From Seahawks): Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon
By the time draft day rolls around, Casey Matthews may have pushed his draft stock up to a point where this pick might not be possible, but he's certainly worth the pick if he's still hanging around on the board at this point.
First off, Matthews is a bit of a project. He needs to put on some bulk, and there are still some skills that need refining.
That having been said, Matthews is in a great position to improve fast and make a quick impact. He has the physical ability and the intelligence to get to a point where he can contribute at the NFL relatively quickly.
At first glance, the Chargers appear solid at the inside linebacker position, with Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett locked down in the first string positions. However, behind those two are Brandon Siler and a few practice squaders.
That simply won't do.
Now, the Chargers could wait and see how Donald Butler, their third round pick in 2010, plays after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in training camp, but I'm not of the wait-and-see persuasion, so the intelligent move seems to be to go after Matthews.
Worst case scenario? He ends up right behind Brandon Siler on the depth chart and the Chargers are totally set at inside linebacker.
Best case scenario? He improves to the point where he passes Brandon Siler and moves into position to replace Stephen Cooper in the next few years (after all, he will be 32 before the start of next season).
Fourth Round: No Selection
This pick was traded to the San Francisco 49ers as a part of a deal to move up in the third round.
The Chargers ended up selecting inside linebacker Donald Butler with that pick, who subsequently went down with a torn Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the entire season.
Fifth Round: No Selection
The Chargers traded their fifth round selection this year to move up in the fifth round last year. With that elevated pick, they selected Cam Thomas, DT, North Carolina.
Thomas ended up falling to third in the depth chart behind Antonio Garay and Ogemdi Nwagbuo at defensive tackle.
Sixth Round: Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, Ohio State
For a guy with low round draft stock, Dane Sanzenbacher sure does look good on the field.
Against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl this year, Sanzenbacher looked like a mid-round prospect. With sure hands and good moves, he posted a pretty good day for himself, catching three balls for 59 yards and one impressive touchdown.
Sanzenbacher can come in and finally fill the true slot receiver role that the Chargers have lacked since Carlos Polk was effective.
Seventh Round: No Selection
This pick was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Patrick Crayton.
I think this one worked out pretty well, don't you?
Compensatory Pick: Thomas Keiser, DE/OLB, Stanford
It's hard to figure out where the Chargers will land their compensatory picks, so this one is really just a whole lot of guess work, but we'll go with it.
Thomas Keiser was once a defensive end in Stanford's old 4-3 scheme, a position in which he was surprisingly dominant.
Then the Stanford defense was taken over by Vic Fangio, who proceeded to shift Keiser to the outside linebacker position. He was still dominant.
Keiser plays tough, physical football, but is also very intelligent about his play, which makes him a great player at attacking running backs that are trying to stretch plays and find holes.
He may need to develop a little more physically, but Keiser could end up being a bit of a surprise in the draft this year. He may not be an immediate impact kind of guy, but he's a player that would do well with a year on the practice squad.