With GM Tom Telesco insisting that Philip Rivers is still a part of the Chargers’ long-term plans, many believe a draft-day trade with the Tennessee Titans involving Rivers for the No. 2 pick overall is still a possibility.
And now that Todd Gurley has received a positive grade from his physician regarding his torn ACL, reports have the former Georgia running back shooting up the draft board and being selected in the top 10 – long before the Chargers pick at 17.
The reports on Gurley could be part of the annual pre-draft rumors that circulate every year where the hype of a player propels him up the draft board. But if Gurley is taken before the Chargers are on the clock, look for Telesco to address the defensive side of the ball where many voids need to be filled.
Defensive end/tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions Telesco will be looking to upgrade as the team lost some key veteran leadership to retirement (Jarret Johnson) and free agency (Marcus Gilchrist; Andrew Gachkar; Reggie Nelson; Shareece Wright and Dwight Freeney).
As if those concerns on defense aren’t bad enough, All-Pro safety Eric Weddle is sitting out voluntary workouts for the first time in his career because he feels ‘highly disrespected’ that the front office has not entered talks about a possible contract extension.
Despite finishing the 2014 season ranked No. 9 in total defense (21.8 pts. per gm/338 yds. per gm) and No. 4 against the pass (214.2 yds. per gm); the Chargers defense produced a measly seven interceptions and ranked No. 26 against the run (124.1 yds. per gm) and No. 29 in sacks (26.0).
Whether Telesco upgrades the offense or defense in the first round is anyone’s guess. However, one thing is for sure – in perhaps the most important draft in franchise history the Chargers must select players who will make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball.
Most NFL analysts agree this draft is deep at the running back position and a good one can be found in the second and third rounds. With that in mind, here is a look at two defensive prospects a few draft pundits have the Chargers selecting in their respective mock drafts.
Danny Shelton – 6-2/339, Washington. A true Senior and three-year starter, Pro Football Now ranks Shelton the No. 2 defensive tackle in the draft. Shelton completed his career with 203 tackles; 24.0 tackles for loss; 11.5 sacks; five pass defensed and seven fumble recoveries. Todd McShay (ESPN) has the Chargers taking Shelton with their first pick.
McShay: “Running back, left guard and outside linebacker all are need positions for the Chargers, but they also could use an upgrade at nose tackle, and Shelton is the best NT prospect in this draft. He commands double-teams with his massive frame and is quicker than you’d expect for his size. He’s dominant against the run and shows the ability to collapse the pocket as a pass-rusher.”
Malcom Brown – 6-2/319, Texas. Although he’s ranked as one of the top 20 players at any position, PFN ranks Brown as the No. 6 defensive tackle on the board. A true Junior entering the draft, the former Longhorn garnered a total of 165 tackles; 29.0 tackles for loss; 8.5 sacks; six pass defensed; two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as a three-year starter. Both Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN) and Eddie Brown (Union Tribune) have the Chargers selecting Brown in the first round.
Kiper: “No change here. I said before I can see a bunch of different players landing here — including a running back — but I think the fit of Brown as a needed two-gapping run-stopper to help the defensive line would be useful in the short term. This wasn’t a good run defense last year, and it starts in the middle. Brown isn’t a complete product yet, but he’s one of the better run-defending solutions among defensive linemen in this draft and the Chargers are going to want more inside than a guy like Sean Lissemore.”
Eddie Brown: “I’ve advocated for defensive line help for the Chargers in the first round of the last two drafts, and since running back is a very deep position in this draft, the value lies with upgrading the trenches. Brown, a first-team All-Big 12 selection, has the skill set and versatility to line up anywhere on the D-line. He excels at plugging up the middle — which would enhance the entire defense — but also has the ability to disrupt the pocket and make his share of plays behind the line of scrimmage.”
The Endzone: With Rivers and Weddle each entering the final year of his respective contract the time is now for the Chargers to start grooming replacements – which will not be easy. Although both are performing amongst the league’s best, Father Time eventually catches up to everyone. As one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, Rivers stands a much better chance of signing a big-money, long-term contract than Weddle – who, unfortunately, plays a position that doesn’t demand a high salary for a safety on the wrong side of 30. My sleeper pick for the Chargers is Shaq Thompson out of Washington. A true junior and three-year starter, NFL.com lists Thompson as an outside linebacker but at 6’0/228 lbs. he fits the profile of the prototypical ‘tweener’ with “Unmatched diversity in this year’s draft.” The recipient of the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, Thompson scored six touchdowns in 2014 – two as a running back and four on defense (one interception return and three fumble returns). For his career, Thompson started 40 of 41 games; accumulated 223 tackles; 12.5 tackles for loss; 3.5 sacks; 10 pass defensed and five interceptions (Pro Football Now). The question around Thompson is where will he play as a pro? NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt reported a number of teams at the NFL Scouting Combine worked him out at running back and he talked to two teams, both say Thompson’s position in the NFL has to be SS (Strong Safety). Having lost Gilchrist to the Jets and the Weddle contract issue, upgrading the safety position is a must. If Telesco’s projected players are off the board when the Chargers are on the clock this Thursday night, why not trade back and stock-pile an extra pick or two? With running back, offensive and defensive line rated deep with talent, perhaps Telesco can land some impact players – hopefully Thompson will be one of them.