Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The San Diego Chargers' 2014 draft class

I've been meaning to review the Chargers' draft this year, but have been sidetracked by the great run the Canadiens have made in this playoff season.  That, and also I'm not doing handsprings over our draftees, so I'm not looking forward to committing 'on paper' to be negative.  And that's my general impression about this draft.

Now, as a general disclaimer, one I can point to if one or two of the players I'm about to slag make it to the Pro Bowl or Canton, let me state clearly that I don't know any of these guys the Chargers drafted, or the other guys they didn't.  I almost never watch college football save for my Notre Dame habit, and a few Bowl games during the holidays.  My draft savvy on a scale of 10 would be 0.1 Kipers, if that.

Having established that, I'm still dissatisfied with the approach General Manager Tom Telesco took at the draft, his decision to generally draft on need rather than take the 'best player available' on the board.  Of course, we may be approaching this from different perspectives.  In fact we probably are.

Tom Telesco and his coaching staff have a 9-7 team on their hands, one that made the playoffs and won their first round.  They did this with Philip Rivers at quarterback returning to form, having changed his style from gunslinger to able manager, and smoke and mirrors on defence.  Defensive coordinator John Pagano's squad couldn't stop anyone, but would contain some teams enough, with cute designs and odd-looking formations, that the offence could pull off the win.  So the strategy for the Chargers' brain trust was to plug the holes on defence, keep the offensive ship pointed in the same direction, and that should be worth one or two more wins, and take you a round deeper in the playoffs, right?

So the Chargers, after picking up a cornerback in the first round, grabbed a pass-rushing linebacker in the second in Jeremiah Attaochu.  The pass rush is another area that the Chargers needed to address, and this young man has the tools and showed the production in college that indicate he should be able to bolster the linebacking corps.  Added in with a hopefully healthy Melvin Ingram, and veteran Dwight Freeney to help out and provide mentorship, the Chargers could have a pass rush in 2014.

We don't see Mr. Attaochu as a bad pick, he's certainly a better roll of the dice than Robert English was, in that he's a true 3-4 ouside linebacker.  What we're going to grouse about is that the Chargers spent a fourth-round pick to move up in the second round to claim him.  This after spending a fourth-rounder last season to move up in the second round for another linebacker in Manti Te'o.

This is getting spendy.  Tom Telesco claimed at the draft that this was the specific player the Chargers wanted, they didn't want to miss out on getting Mr. Attaochu, but the talking heads at the draft were clear that he was actually the last first-tier 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker.  So I suspect that we, instead of letting the draft come to us, fixated on a certain position, on a jigsaw puzzle piece we had to have, and overspent.

Now, if this young man comes into camp and impresses everyone, and can team up with Donald Butler, Manti Te'o and Melvin Ingram to give us a solid linebacker corps for the next four or five years, it will have been well worth it, but that's a big if.  And again, that's if the Chargers are a playoff team that needs just that final push to be a Super Bowl contender, which I highly doubt.

The Chargers have been mediocre, and devoid of depth for a couple seasons now.  Last season's incarnation was a pleasant surprise, but I suspect it may have been a mirage.  No team that finishes at 9-7 and loses to the Raiders and mediocrities like the Titans, the Redskins, and the Richie Incognito-stricken Dolphins is a powerhouse in the making.  What the Chargers need is talent, players, gamers, lots of them, at every position.  Not a specific player to get them over the top, like the Falcons' gamble with Julio Jones as one example.  What the Chargers should have done is to stay put, let the draft come to them, and taken the best football player who wasn't a quarterback.

The rest of their draft was relatively anticlimactic.  In the third round, they grabbed offensive lineman Chris Watt from Notre Dame, who most analysts were relatively cool on.  He's described as tough and smart.  He may eventually replace Nick Hardwick as the team's centre, but may not have the athletic skills to play in the NFL.

We then had to wait all the way until the fifth round before the most pressing need in my eyes was addressed, when nose tackle Ryan Carrethers was picked.  At this point in the draft, you're obviously not choosing surefire Pro Bowlers, so his skillset is somewhat limited.  We can hope he proves in camp that he can do the job, because with Cam Thomas gone we currently don't have a nose tackle.  Period.

In the last two rounds, San Diego took fliers on some depth at skill positions, going with running back Marion Grice in the sixth and wide receiver Tevin Reese in the seventh.  Mr. Grice had a good career at Arizona State, can catch the ball and projects as a third-down back.  Mr. Reese showed explosive ability at Baylor and the Draft Combine, but there are doubts that his slight frame can withstand the rigors of the NFL.  He may make the roster as a return specialist who can play WR and stretch a defence.

So in summary, a draft that leaves me somewhat unsatisfied, like last season's.  Only getting six attempts at the dart board hurts us, I wish we'd stockpile picks, trade down to get more picks, until we build up our team depth.  I wish we'd taken the patient route and grabbed the best player available.  I wish the 'board' had worked in our favour, like in 2012, when the best player available matched up well with our needs, and we grabbed Melvin Ingram, defensive lineman Kendall Reyes, and safety Brandon Taylor at the top of the draft, it was like hand in glove.

And of course I hope I'm proven dead wrong, as I was when I groused last season that grabbing D.J. Fluker, the fourth-best tackle in his class, and one who projected better as a right tackle rather than a left tackle, with the 11th overall draft choice, was a terrible decision.  I can only hope that all of these guys over-deliver, and are productive Chargers for years to come, and big contributors to a consistent winning team.

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