The San Diego Chargers were not expected to surprise many last season, but surprise they did. After winning their last four games to earn a wild card spot in the playoffs, they went on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round; their first playoff win since 2008. Eventually the Chargers got shell-shocked by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the second round; but this sign of life has shown that coach Mike McCoy might have his crew back on track to compete in the very competitive, AFC West. San Diego has given free agency the silent treatment so far since it kicked off in March. The signing of Donald Brown provides depth at the position like the rest of their free agency signings, and the Bolts brought back key players of their own like linebacker, Donald Butler.
When looking at the Chargers and what kind of improvements they would need, the first few positions that stick out for the NFL Draft Daily are the defensive backs, and the outside linebackers; specifically pass rushers. Dwight Freeney spent the season on the shelf, and Melvin Ingram has been quite the disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2012. Ingram only played four games last season, and in his two year career he has a combined sack total of two, yes only two sacks. Ingram was supposed to be the Chargers next prolific pass rusher, someone to get to quarterbacks like Alex Smith and Peyton Manning on a consistent basis; but he’s failed to live up to the billing. Donald Butler and Manti Te’o provide a nice core in the middle but in a 3-4 defense, the Chargers need to be able to rely on the outside linebackers to garner somewhat of a pass rush.
With most of the 3-4 pass rushing fits already off the board in the NFL Draft Daily’s earlier predictions for teams, there may be only one player left worthy of a first round pick. With 20.5 sacks throughout his college career, Dee Ford may be able to provide that edge rush the Chargers sorely need. Ford is lightning fast off the edge, using a lot of speed rush techniques to run by offensive lineman. Combined with dynamic pass rushing moves and the ability to drop back in coverage when needed, Ford may be able to provide to stability to the outside linebacker position; if he can stay healthy. Ford has a tainted history in college of not being durable, missing at least two games every year he was eligible in college. If San Diego can keep him healthy though, sky’s the limit for the Auburn grad. Other players to keep an eye on in the later rounds are prospects like DaQuan Jones, nose tackle out of Penn State; or possibly Beshaud Breeland, a tall physical corner out of Clemson. Both players would be great value pick ups as late as the 3rd round.
The pass rush and pass defense both need to get considerably better to have a chance at winning the division. Philip Rivers finally has some weapons at his disposal. Ryan Mathews figured out how to go north and south down the line instead of dancing side to side. Keenan Allen was a pleasant surprise and could be the franchise wide receiver for years to come. The offense has what it takes to compete with the addition of an offensive lineman or two. The Chargers solely need to focus on getting that defense better, and there is no better way to solve that than to find a pass rusher who will constantly be in Peyton Manning’s face each play.
This article is one in a series, published daily, providing analysis, insight and predictions leading up to the NFL draft and beyond.
Commentary by Justin Huffman