By all accounts, the Chargers had an excellent draft last week. Apparently, AJ Smith is just like the rest of us– he only puts in work when his ass is on the line. If all goes well, this could be the Chargers’ best draft since 2004 when they acquired Phil Rivers through the Eli Manning trade and drafted 5 others who eventually became starters (Igor Olshansky, Nate Keading, Nick Hardwick, Shaun Phillips, Shane Olivea) and two others who were contributors to multiple division titles (Michael Turner, Ryon Bingham). However, instead of assigning the Chargers a “grade”, let’s take a closer look to see where the newest Chargers fit on the roster in 2012 and beyond.
1st Round Pick: Melvin Ingram, OLB
Absolutely no one figured the consensus top pass rusher in the draft this year, would drop to the Chargers at 18. Ingram fits perfectly into an OLB rotation that in 2011 was lacking in the pass rushing department, to say the very least. Shaun Phillips and free agent signee Jarett Johnson are slated to be the starters at the two OLB spots. Ingram figures to begin the season in sub packages on passing downs until he gets his feet wet with his role hopefully increasing as the season progresses. Pass rush specialist Antwan Barnes will play a more limited role in 2012 which in turn should make him even more effective than he was last year when he racked up 11 sacks. The addition of Ingram likely means that 2009 first round bust Larry English or Travis Laboy will be on the chopping block. Unless English gets hurt in the preseason, Laboy will likely be the one who gets the ax since a) it may be a smidge too early to give up on English, b) Laboy was terrible last season and c) Laboy was FUCKING TERRIBLE last season! It should also be noted that 2011 preseason favorite, Darryl Gamble will probably be waived and placed on the practice squad in 2012 unless another team picks him up.
Projected OLB Depth Chart (3-4 Base):
LOLB: Phillips / Ingram / English
ROLB: Johnson / Barnes
Ingram fits naturally as an OLB in the Chargers base 3-4 scheme, however he will also likely see some action when the Chargers go to their nickel package, as a DE rushing the passer from a three point stance:
It is easy to see how the Chargers improved their pass rush with the addition of Ingram when you imagine a front four of Barnes / Corey Liguet / Cam Thomas and Ingram pressuring the QB with Shaun Phillips potentially blitzing from the LB spot.
2nd Round Pick: Kendal Reyes, DE
The Reyes pick was a bit of a head scratcher for me. I was hoping the Chargers would go with Jerel Worthy for a DL or continue to build out their OLB rotation with Lavonte David or Vinny Curry. With that said, the Chargers were obviously higher on Reyes, an athletic DL who impressed at the Senior Bowl and Combine. Reyes, who at this point seems more of a run stopper than a pass rusher, will likely share back up duties with Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo (at least until Castillo makes his annual trip onto IR), behind last year’s first round pick Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin. Reyes will be expected to play a larger role in 2013 as Martin becomes an UFA after this season. If he is resigned, one time sensation Tommie Harris, who actually was decent for the Chargers in 2011 will also figure into the D-line rotation and Cam Thomas will likely be spelling starting NT Antonio Garay and contribute as a nickel pass rusher.
Projected DL Depth Chart (3-4 Base):
NT: Garay / Thomas
3rd Round Pick: Brandon Taylor, SS
I’ll admit I was pretty excited when the Chargers traded up in the 3rd round to draft the safety out of LSU. A two-year starter in the vaunted LSU secondary where he played with Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, Taylor possesses many of the same intangibles as Mark Barron and Harrison Smith, the two safeties that went in the 1st round. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Taylor initially get more playing time than Reyes, the Chargers 2nd round pick, not because I think Taylor is a better player but because the Chargers SS position is and has been in flux for quite some time. The Chargers signed Atari Bigby and Taylor figures to compete for playing time right away with the six year vet. It’s conceivable that Taylor could even earn the starting job at SS due to his skills as an “in the box” safety which appear more developed than his coverage skills at this point. Bigby would then spell him on passing downs. Darryl Stuckey is also in the mix at SS but will likely contribute more on special teams than on defense.
While it may take until the end of summer for the Chargers figure out the SS position, one thing is for certain at the opposite safety spot and it’s that Eric Weddle better not get hurt. The only other FS the Chargers have on their roster at this time is some guy named Nick Polk and I have no idea who the hell Nick Polk is, what he looks like, or how he even made it onto the Chargers’ roster. The situation screams for the Chargers to bring back Paul Oliver, who is a serviceable back up, or another veteran off the street to provide depth.
Projected Safety Depth Chart
SS: Taylor / Bigby/ Stuckey
FS: Weddle / Polk
4th Round Pick: Ladarius Green, TE
The first pick on the offensive side of the ball for the Chargers came in the 4th Round in the form of the apparently uber athletic TE who has the prototypical size and speed to play his position in the current NFL. However, Green shouldn’t be viewed as Antonio Gates’ replacement yet, but rather as someone who will compliment the aging but still very effective, Gates. The NFL is a copycat league and you know that AJ Smith drafted Green so that he can play Aaron Hernandez to Gates’ Ron Gronkowski. When Green is in the game, expect to see sets with either him or Gates split out in the slot. At 6’6, Green should also get a lot of red zone looks split out wide where he would be a mismatch in one-on-one jump ball situations against any LB or DB. The presence of Green on the roster likely means less playing time for veteran Randy McMichael and that Korry Sperry and/or recently signed Donte Rosario will not make the team. By the way, would any of you put it past AJ Smith to sign the guy who caught the game winning TD against his team in the 2008 opener to a one-year deal and then draft his replacement a month later? Would AJ Smith be vindictive enough to keep Rosairio on the roster until the final cuts at the end of preseason so Rosario won’t be able to catch on with another team? Hopefully Rosario signed a short term lease.
Projected TE Depth Chart:
TE: Gates / McMichael / Green / Rosario / Sperry
5th Round Pick: Johnnie Troutman, G
7th Round Pick: David Molk, C
The Chargers picked Troutman in the 5th round and soon after it was revealed that he has a DUI on his record and that he’ll be missing the 2012 season due to various injuries. I like to imagine that AJ Smith was on the can when the Chargers were on the clock and Norv Turner handled that pick.
AJ: “That trout I ate last night is giving me the shits, man.”
Norv: “We select Johnnie Troutman, Penn State.”
The Chargers next pick was in the 7th round when they selected David Molk. The pick was universally praised by pundits on TV and Twitter alike which begs the question, “If the guy is so good, why didn’t he get picked before the last round of the draft?” Molk provides depth on an offensive line that appears to be set but looks kind of shakey on paper. Take a look:
Not exactly The Hogs right? Aside from Hardwick, the Chargers have no blue chippers on their line. Their left side features Jared Gaither and Tyrone Green who are inconsistent (i.e. unreliable) and on the right side they have two guys who are semi-solid but not spectacular in Louis Vasquez and Jeromey Clary. Behind them, the Chargers have: Mario Henderson who was out of the league last season after the Raiders sent him home for being too fat; Colin Baxter who showed some promise with the Chargers last preseason but didn’t make the team and was subsequently signed by the Jets (who cut him after they played us in Week 7); and Brandyn Dombrowski who tries. The Chargers also signed veteran guard Red Hadnot off the street this week. Let’s just hope that by the preseason fans aren’t clamoring for the Chargers to re-sign Marcus McNeil and send him to see a neck specialist in Germany and that Phil Rivers, Hardwick and Takeo Spikes aren’t planning on taking a secret trip down to PB to try and convince Kris Dielman to come out of retirement. (Kobe Bryant reference / Brett Farve reference if you’re keeping score at home.)
Projected OL Depth Chart:
LT: Gaither / Henderson / Dombrowski
LG: Green / Hadnot / Baxter
C: Hardwick / Baxter / Molk
RG: Vasquez / Dombrowski
RT: Clary / Dombrowski / Henderson
7th Round Pick: Edwin Baker, RB
The Chargers plan on handing over the keys to Ryan Matthews in 2012 which is both exciting and horrifying at the same time. Matthews, the 12th overall pick in 2010, showed flashes last season and the Chargers’ run game should be very good in 2012 as long as Matthews is spending this offseason staying in shape, learning how to pick up the blitz and finding a cure for his bouts of fumbleitis. I’m worried only because that lazy nerd apparently spent last offseason trying to eat at every single taco shop in San Diego County while playing World of Warcraft 15 hours a day and as a result showed up to camp out of shape to the point that Mike Tolbert was outplaying him for the first part of the season. Baker figures to be a camp/preseason back only and if lighting strikes like it did with Turner in 2004, he may take Curtis Brinkley’s spot on the roster. The backup RB spot has yet to be determined and the Chargers are expected to choose from a pu pu platter that consists of Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, Jackie Battle, Cadillac Williams and my choice, Jerious Norwood.
The Chargers’ running game will be further bolstered this season by FB Le’Ron McClain who replaces Jacob Hester after Hester failed miserably at replacing Lorenzo Neal. McClain could also see some time as the short yardage back if Matthews does not improve that aspect of his game.
Projected RB/FB Depth Chart:
RB: Matthews / Veteran FA / Brinkley / Baker
FB: McClain / Hester
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