The San Diego Chargers exceeded expectations in 2013. New head coach Mike McCoy was expected to make life easier on Philip Rivers, but no one saw him turning the guy’s career around. That’s exactly what happened, though, as the thought to be regressing Rivers returned to elite status and San Diego snuck into the playoffs.
Heading into 2014, an improved defense (and the Denver Broncos) are all that stand in their way. Let’s see what needs to be addressed in this month’s draft for them to get even better this year:
Offensive needs: WR, OL
San Diego changed their offense completely in 2013 and it resulted with a career revival for quarterback Philip Rivers, as well as running back Ryan Mathews. From a system and talent stand-point, they actually appear to be in pretty good shape on that side of the ball, but they could probably protect themselves with some talent integration across the board.
The big need has to be at wide receiver, though, where Keenan Allen was a rookie sensation last year but there’s not a ton beyond him to love. Eddie Royal is solid in the slot and Vincent Brown still has upside, but neither are elite or overly consistent. The Chargers need to get Rivers even more help and grab a guy who can really stretch the defense or be a major factor in the red-zone. I doubt they do this right away in round one, but if they did, someone like Kelvin Benjamin or Brandin Cooks could make sense.
The wide receiver position is ridiculously deep this year, though, so they could just wait until round two or possibly even round three and hope someone like Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief or Jordan Matthews fall to them. Even Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis would be a quality add in round three. If he slips further to round four, even better.
The offensive line doesn’t have any gaping holes like they did just a year ago, but grabbing some solid youth to round out the depth and guard and tackle would be a great idea. San Diego could pounce on a free falling stud, or they could just grab a versatile guy like David Yankey in round three. Middle to late round picks spent on the o-line would work, as well.
Tight end, running back and quarterback are all worth a look, but aren’t heavy needs. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead form a fantastic one-two punch, while Donald Browns was signed on for depth. Their backfield is aging a bit, though, so grabbing another body at some point isn’t a bad idea. The same goes for tight end. LaDarrius Green could be a stud in the making, but no one knows for sure and Antonio Gates is aging pretty quickly. Getting an interesting talent like Joe Don Duncan would be a nice middle to late round move.
Lastly, grabbing a quarterback of the future isn’t all that necessary yet, but Rivers is still aging and his past regression could come out of nowhere to bite the Chargers. Mike McCoy probably wouldn’t mind nabbing one of the passing prospects with high upside to groom behind Rivers. Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage would be a pretty nice get as a developmental project for the next 2-3 years. The Chargers should only consider taking him or another passer if they slip beyond round three, however.
Defensive needs: CB, NT, OLB
The Chargers were pretty awful in pass coverage in 2013. Michael Vick dropped 400+ passing yards on them and Jake Locker scorched them on a game-winning drive. Yeah, that’s all that needs to be said. The Chargers did bring on Brandon Ghee (ha!) but that surely won’t do the trick. They need to think long and hard about spending their first pick on a top corner. Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett are just three guys with immense talent and upside that would dramatically improve their pass coverage. They could even grab a second corner in the middle rounds, too.
While their secondary is starving for talent, their nose tackle situation isn’t a whole lot better. Cam Thomas fled to Pittsburgh and even before he jumped ship they probably needed depth, at the very worst. Louis Nix III probably needs to be their top pick if he free falls – which he probably will, considering the lack of need overall at the 3-4 NT position. He’s a flat out beast, too, so that pick alone could make the draft for San Diego. If they don’t land Nix, they might be in some trouble up front but would surely have to take a stab at another prospect to see if they can fill up the inside.
Another area of concern for the short and long-term has to be outside linebacker and making sure the Chargers improve in their pass rush. Melvin Ingram’s health is a concern, but if he’s on the field they have at least one talented pass rusher who should only get better. The aging Dwight Freeney can’t be the other, but even if he is, they need a replacement for beyond 2014. Kony Ealy is a legit possibility with their first round pick, but his stock is rising and they really should draft Nix before anyone else. That should have them looking for an OLB pass rusher in rounds 2-4, where high motor guys like Trent Murphy or Trevor Reilly should be hanging around.