2011 Record: 8-8
Key Free Agents:
RB Mike Tolbert (Carolina), WR Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay), WR Patrick Crayton, SS Bob Sanders.
When the Chargers started with a 4-1 record to start the 2011 season, many thought they could cruise to the AFC West divisional title. But a six-game losing streak from Week 7-12 not only halted their chances of a division crown, but knocked them out of the playoffs entirely and brought them to a meager 8-8 record. Like so many other teams, the Chargers have some big question marks that they hope to answer by training camp. Will Philip Rivers bounce back after a rough season? Can Robert Meachem fill the void left by Vincent Jackson? (Make sure to check Kurt's take on Meachem's sleeper value this year). With Peyton Manning signing in Denver, the chances of San Diego clinching the AFC West crown diminish, but drastically? After a rather quiet offseason, outside of the Meachem signing, lets see what the team does in the draft that can help them turn it around.
1st Round (1.18): Courtney Upshaw (DE) - Alabama
The team could try and trade up for Quinton Coples. But they could settle for Upshaw, who is currently the No. 2 best defensive end in the draft. Luis Castillo has yet to accept a contract offer from the team, but injuries have hurt his value. So the team may decide to upgrade through the draft regardless. Upshaw racked up 15.5 sacks in the last two seasons. The team could also trade up if a left tackle like Ohio State's Mike Adams is still on that board in the early teens.
2nd Round (2.17): Harrison Smith (SS) - Notre Dame
After Bob Sanders failed to fill the void at strong safety last year, look for the Chargers to go through the draft in an attempt to upgrade their questionable secondary. Smith, second only to Alabama's Mark Barron, became the only player in Notre Dame football history to register more than 200 tackles.
3rd Round (3.16): Lamar Miller (RB) - Miami
Ryan Mathews figures to have a break-out season now that Mike Tolbert is in Carolina, but can the team trust him as a bell-cow after his injury history? Miller has some developing to do after only playing for two years in college, but he became the first Hurricanes running back since Willis McGahee (2002) to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
4th Round (4.15): Juron Criner (WR) - Arizona
The Chargers' top three receivers are Robert Meachem, Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown. All three are talented, but none of them can be considered a true No. 1 receiver. But with Antonio Gates in the mix, does the team actually need a No. 1? Still, the team needs wide receiver depth. Criner has inconsistent hands, but he is a huge target at 6'3/224. He has also averaged eleven touchdown catches the past two seasons. Plus, he has been willing to play while injured.
5th Round (5.14): Vontaze Burfict (LB) - Arizona State
A part of me didn't want to list Burfict here. After being so highly touted the past few months, Burfict's draft stock has slipped mightily. He was one of the slowest among linebackers in the 40-yard dash with a time of 5.09 seconds and he interviewed poorly. Still GM AJ Smith has done some wacky things in the past and the team could use an eventual replacement for Takeo Spikes, who had a surprisingly strong year in 2011. Burfict was Arizona State's first 1st team All-American since Terrell Suggs and still has the talent to make it as a pro. And luckily, the team shouldn't need to rely on him right out of the gate if Spikes can continue to thrive in his mid-30's.
6th Round (6.13): Donald Stephenson (OT) - Oklahoma
With Marcus McNeil gone, the team is going to need someone to push Brandyn Dombrowski. Like I wrote earlier, the team could plug in the left tackle spot if they can move up in the first round or one of the top four prospects falls to them at 1.18.
7th Round (7.19): G.J. Kinne QB) - Tulsa
In the span of a year, Charlie Whitehurst went from being Rivers' backup, to being a fantasy sleeper when he was traded to Seattle, to going right back to being Rivers' back up. I don't expect Kinne to burst out on the scene, but he could be the team's next third stringer after the team cut Billy Volek to save salary cap space.