National Football Post Twitter Mock Draft

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Over the past three weeks I’ve been participating in the National Football Post Twitter Mock draft, representing the Chargers.  My problem with AJ Smith’s drafts the past few seasons is that he’s gone for low-ceiling –high floor guys (i.e. Larry English, Eric Weddle, Jacob Hester) like he’s a kid in front of a classroom afraid to make a mistake rather than go for the homerun (Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus McNeil).  Granted, two of those guys are no longer productive players for the Chargers, but I’m a firm believer that you need stars to win in the NFL and I’d rather have the two awesome years that Merriman and Cromartie gave us, then five average years out of guys like English, Weddle and Hester.  Based on this premise, I went for guys with potential rather than safe picks.   The draft is still going (I think we’re in Round 5) but here are the picks I made for the Chargers the first three rounds: 

1st Round Pick (18th overall): Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA; Height:  6-4; Weight: 255

National Football Post Scouting Report:

A big, well strapped together outside linebacker with long arms and a thick base, but might be a bit thin through the calves. Showcases good range sideline-to-sideline for his size. Possesses a good initial burst out of his breaks and closes quickly on the football in pursuit. Arrives with bad intentions toward the ball carrier as a tackler. Is a physical striker who generates impressive pop from his lower half into contact. Needs to do a better job wrapping on the play, has the length and power to be a consistent tackler in the run game in the NFL, but at times doesn’t take the best of angles and isn’t as dominant as his skill set would have you believe. Possesses impressive power at the point of attack when asked to attack downhill, take on blocks — linemen and fullbacks — and when he wants to has the ability to consistently win in the hole. Showcases good body control and short-area quickness as well when trying to slide defenders who want to get into his legs. Uses his hands better in space when asked to shed on the move. Does a nice job picking his way through the line of scrimmage, extending his arms and can disengage through contact on the edge. However, when attacking downhill seems content to simply lead with his shoulder and try to overwhelm on contact and win at the point of attack, but doesn’t disengage nearly as well. Exhibits decent instincts when asked to play off blocks and find the football. At times he takes himself out of plays, but when he is fully into it he consistently puts himself around the action.

Possesses natural fluidity for a guy his size in space vs. the pass game. Can cleanly open up his hips and run. However, gets a bit too high and leggy when trying to change directions, which takes away from his initial burst toward the football. Isn’t overly instinctive either in the pass game, closes quickly on the football after the completion, but will take himself out of plays more so in the pass game. Keeps his eyes in the backfield, but too often will bite on play fakes and misdirection at the line and will be forced to play from behind. Will work from a three-point stance at times in pass situation. Coils up into his stance well, has a good first step off the football and can consistently threaten the edge. Does a decent job dropping his pad level, gaining leverage and accelerating around the corner, but hasn’t quite developed much of a pass-rush arsenal using his hands at this stage.

Impression: An impressive physically gifted athlete. Is long, powerful, has a snap into contact, closes with great burst and can rush the passer and fluidly get out of his breaks. Finds the football better than I thought he would as well, but is raw with his feet in the pass game, doesn’t have a great feel for using his hands at this stage and at times his motor will slow and he will look disinterested. However, he can start and play at a high level as a 43 SLB or a 3-4-rush guy and if he wants it bad enough he has the tools to be great.

Why I went with him:

Here were the seven picks before the Chargers in this mock draft:

11) New England (from Houston (6-10)) – Cameron Jordan, DE, California
12) Minnesota (6-10) – Tyron Smith, OT, USC
13) Arizona (from Detroit (6-10)) – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
14) Washington (from St. Louis (7-9)) – Prince Amukamura CB, Nebraska
15) Miami (7-9) – Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pitt
16) Jacksonville (8-8) – JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin
17) Philadelphia (from Houston via New England via Oakland (8-8)) – Gabe Carimi

Leading up to the pick I was trying to flip my 2nd round picks for a 1 so I could draft JJ Watt and Ayers.  But after Jacksonville took Watt, I decided to go with Ayers over Ryan Kerrigan because of upside.  To me, Kerrigan seems like another Larry English; a guy who will take a couple of years to develop, may be good, but will never be great.  Ayers seems like a guy that will be able to contribute as a situational pass rusher immediately next year and has a chance to be a Pro Bowler.  His biggest red flag is his motor but I’d rather bet on him maturing and getting it together than go with a guy that may just be OK like Ryan Kerrigan.

2nd Rd Pick (50th overall): Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa; Height: 6-5; Weight: 297

National Football Post Scouting Report:

A tall, long-armed prospect with a really explosive first step. Has the ability to consistently fire off the football, gain leverage and work his way into the backfield as a bull rush guy. However, allows his pad level to get upright when changing directions and can be pushed past the pocket once he gains a step. Isn’t a real natural pass rusher, flashes at times some lateral quickness, but doesn’t use his hands well enough to consistently shed through contact and gets hung up too easily inside. But is the caliber of athlete who quickly regains his balance and instantly can close on the football. Exhibits a good feel when asked to shoot gaps up the field, plays off blocks well, uses his length to keep himself clean and really has a strong upper body. Showcases a good motor inside and even when his initial get off burst is stalled, he’s very coordinated fighting his way toward the football. Loves to spin away from blocks and just exhibits a real powerful element to his game in everything he does. Rarely stays blocked for long.

However, needs to do a better job getting his hands up initially into blocks vs. the run game. Too often allows opposing lineman to get into his frame off the snap. Now, has the kind of power to begin to start extending his arms and play off the block. But, can easily be knocked off balance vs. any kind of double inside when run at and get cleared away from the play. Possesses only average anchor strength at the point of attack and can be pushed past the play when he doesn’t locate the football quickly off the snap.

Impression: A long, gifted athlete who runs well in pursuit and has the ability to play the run as an end in either a 34 or 43 front. Isn’t a real natural pass rusher, gets upright too quickly and doesn’t know how to use his hands yet, but has some upside to his game.

Why I went with him:

The Chargers desperately need an athletic DE who can go out and make plays and collapse the pocket in pass rushing situations rather than guys who just hold their ground like current DE’s Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire.  His weaknesses in the NFP scouting report — technique and average strength — seem correctable with some coaching and some time in the weight room.  Ballard can contribute in the rotation right away with Castillo, Cesaire, Travis Johnson and Vaughn Martin.

2nd Round Pick (61st overall): Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami-FLA; Height: 6’2 Weight:205

National Football Post Scouting Report:

Possesses good size for the position and really seems to be strapped together well. Exhibits long arms and strong, powerful hands in which he uses to pluck just about every football thrown his way. Displays impressive hand/eye coordination when asked to go up and get the ball and looks natural attacking the throw at its highest point. Consistently is able to contort his body and come down with some really tough grabs on all levels of the field while maintaining the concentration to keep his feet in bounds.

Now, possesses average initial explosiveness off the snap and is a bit of a strider. But, has the ability to build speed as he goes and can be tough to cover the further down the field he gets. Knows how to use his big frame to shield defenders from the throw and adjust to the football. However, doesn’t exhibit the ability to consistently generate much separation as a route runner vs. man coverage. Does a nice job changing gears, but isn’t real explosive in and out of his breaks and has a tendency to start to drift into his routes and gets a bit leggy when trying to change directions. Is more graceful than explosive/sudden at this stage and needs to do a better job setting up defenders, lacks a real understanding/savvy to his game and the route tree. Nevertheless, displays some shiftiness and power to his game with the ball in his hands. Looks natural making a man miss, putting his foot in the ground and accelerating up the field. Displays a dramatic improvement in his ability to slip press and quickly get into his routes as a receiver. Is physical and smooth when asked to work himself free and lose defenders off the line.

Impression: I love his frame, hand/eye coordination and ability to pluck the football. Isn’t ever going to generate a ton of separation for himself in the NFL, but could mature into a capable possession-type guy because of his ability to attack the throw.

Why I went with him:

I was thrilled when Hankerson fell to me at 61.  With injury-prone Buster Davis likely to be cut and Legedu Naanee likely not to be brought back after incidents at Bar West (where he was cleared) and in Indianapolis where he got arrested after pulling the d-bag:  “You don’t know who I am?!  I’m the 4th string WR for the San Diego Chargers” card with the cops, the Chargers need a WR.  Hankerson has drawn comparisons to Hakeem Nicks and a guy who can go get jump balls seems like an ideal fit for Phil Rivers.  I never expect rookie WRs to contribute immediately but he could develop into a key player in 2012 when both Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson could be gone.  If Hankerson can go get the jump ball as well as the NFP scouting report says he can though he’ll make some plays for the Chargers in the red zone in 2011.  Imagine Floyd and Hankerson running corner routes in the end zone with Jackson running along the backside and Gates working the middle with Rivers throwing the rock.  No one is stopping that.  Go ahead and cue up the cannon and “San Diego Super-Chargers” now.

3rd Round Pick (82nd overall): Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon St Height: 5’7, Weight: 191

National Football Post Scouting Report:

A shorter, narrow-framed back who added a little more girth to his lower half this past season, but isn’t real physically put together in any area of his body. Possesses good overall fluidity as a running back with impressive balance and footwork. Is more quick, than fast. Displays a good first step when asked to press the hole and displays good vision and feel when picking his way through traffic. Has the lateral agility and cut-back ability to make a man miss, drop his pad through the cut and accelerate quickly out of his. However, for a back his size he doesn’t run as low as you would expect. Initially has some natural forward lean, but allows his pad level to get a bit upright and exposes more of his frame than you would expect for a back his size. Now, has the kind of vision and wiggle to rarely take a big lick and does a nice job dropping his pad level into contact, allowing him to at times bounce off defenders. But can be brought down easily in tight areas.

Isn’t a real burner in the open field. Gets up to speed quickly and has a good initial first step, a real two stepper. However, doesn’t have the kind of second gear to consistently outpace defenders in the open field. Is a gifted start and stop athlete who uses his change of gears to create additional yards in the secondary, but isn’t a guy who can outpace angles. Has decent feel in short yardage/goal line situations, but doesn’t have the kind of power to run through tackles in the NFL and isn’t a guy who can push the pile inside.

Is natural out of the backfield in the pass game. Catches the ball well off his frame, can be split out and create mismatches in the pass game and is a pretty savvy route runner for the position. Looks comfortable setting up routes underneath in the pass game and has the ability to turn a route up the field and track the football vertically. Lacks ideal size/power as a blocker; is going to have a tough time holding up at the point of attack at the next level.

Impression: A narrow-framed, undersized junior back who lacks ideal straight-line speed. However, he’s a natural runner with good short-area quickness and fluidity and can create mismatches in the pass game. Can make a roster as a kick-return/third down type back.

Why I went with him:

He’s Darren Sproles 2.0 minus the ridiculous franchise contract.  He’d replace Sproles as the Chargers kick and punt returner and be a 3rd down scat-back.  Lost in the crap that was their kick coverage teams, the Chargers kick return game didn’t make any plays last year.  Sproles lost his juice and the need a difference maker.  I think Rodgers is that guy.

3rd Round pick (89th overall): Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon State Height: 6’2 Weight: 237

National Football Post Scouting Report:

A thick, tightly wound inside linebacker who displays good natural instincts vs. the interior run game. Quickly is able to locate the football, gets good jumps on the action and always seems to put himself around the ball. Displays a willingness to attack downhill and fill run lanes inside. Will drop his shoulder into opposing linemen in order to take on the block and create congestion inside. However, doesn’t do a great job really uncoiling a snap through his hips and arms into contact and isn’t a real physical puncher at the point. Doesn’t anchor with great results when run at and can be overwhelmed inside and sealed from the play. Isn’t a guy who can consistently run around blocks either and needs to play in a phone booth in order to be real effective. Now, is a solid wrap-up guy who breaks down well into contact. However, doesn’t have much range and will see his angles outpaced when playing in space.

Is a limited athlete in coverage. Displays above-average instincts and can key off the quarterback and get good jumps on the football. However, is stiff through the hips, gets really fidgety with his footwork and lacks a real smoothness in his drop. Doesn’t generate a burst out of his breaks and plays at one speed in pursuit. Comes off the field a lot on obvious passing situations.

Impression: Is a limited two-down guy only in the NFL, but doesn’t play the run as well as he’s given credit for. Looks like a fringe roster guy to me who I wouldn’t go to bat for at this time.

Why I went with him:

Even if he doesn’t make it as at ILB Matthews will bring a ton of energy covering kicks on special teams.  But I think Matthews can make it as a 3-4 ILB.  In the 3-4 a ILB comes out during passing/nickel downs anyways so the Chargers would roll with Burnett and two OLBs.  In any matter, Matthews seems like a high-energy / high-intensity guy — something the current Chargers outside of Phil Rivers lack.  Steven Cooper is as good as gone and we don’t know what Donald Butler can do yet, so the Chargers need a young backup ILB who can contribute on special teams.

So let’s check out what the Chargers rotation would look like after these four picks:

QB- Rivers

RB- Matthews / Tolbert / J. Rodgers

FB- Hester

WR- Jackson / Crayton

WR- Floyd / Hankerson

TE- Gates

OL- McNeil / Dielman / Hardwick / Vasquez / Clary

DE- Castillo / T. Johnson

NT- Garay

DE- Ballard / Cesaire

OLB- Phillips / Applewhite

ILB- Burnett / Butler

ILB- Siler / Matthews

OLB- Ayers / English

CB- Jammer

CB- Cason

FS- Weddle

SS- Sanders

The Chargers would be a lot deeper at LB, RB and WR if they made these picks.  I think AJ Smith fills out the OL with later round picks (like he always does) and he makes a move for a veteran ILB (Takeo Spikes anyone?) I thought about going CB or safety with one of the first four picks but I’m hoping AJ Smith sees 2011 as the season where he pushes all his chips in the middle of the table, makes a play for Nnamdi Asomugha and moves Jammer to SS 1-2 years early. 

In any matter, those were my first four picks for the Chargers.  I think they bring athleticism, youth and energy to a team that has been notorious for sleepwalking through games.

 Discuss and give me your take.

Follow me on Twitter: @KenCaminiti21

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