Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft, the priority for the Chargers was landing one of the highly regarded left tackles to help keep quarterback Philip Rivers upright and healthy.
With the top three pass protectors all off the board when it came to the Chargers pick at No. 11, new GM Tom Telesco wasted little time selecting the best run-blocking lineman in the draft, Alabama’s D.J. Fluker.
Having needs at various positions along the roster a month before this years’ draft, most prognosticators still have the Chargers taking either a cornerback or pass rusher with their first pick in the latest mock drafts. However, despite needs in the secondary, don’t be surprised if Telesco pulls the trigger on another offensive lineman – especially if a versatile, multi-position athlete somehow gets caught up in the numbers and slides down into the Chargers’ lap.
With guard Jeromey Clary’s status still in the air, concerns over left tackle King Dunlap’s health (concussions), and the overall lack of depth along the line, here are a few offensive lineman that could possibly be there for the Chargers’ choosing and a quick quote on each player from USA Today’s NFL Draft preview.
Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor – the 6-4 ½, 343-pound Richardson was a three-year starter who is thick and quick with long arms. Plays left guard in a high-tempo, no-huddle offense. Powerful and aggressive; quick enough to gain an advantage on run plays. Explosive on down blocks; can stun and control a defensive tackle. Has had several pancake or decleater blocks and has a good surge in the run game. Explosive and violent player who manhandles his blocking target; Rookie starter.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA – a 6-3, 305-pound junior with experience at tackle and guard (with) a strong punch to the breast plate. Quick, aggressive and physical. Good lateral quickness to position the defensive end. Good feet and athletic ability in pass protection; strong, explosive and keeps hands inside the frame. Can play flat-footed with good ankle and hip flexibility. Strong enough to anchor the bull rush.
David Yankey, G, Stanford – at 6-5, 312-pounds, Yankey was pivotal to the Cardinal running game as the lead pull and fold blocker. Creates seams in the defense and a strong combo and TAG blocker. Good base, feet and hand placement in the run game; plays with good awareness with his head on a swivel. Comes off the ball low on the goal line and can wedge block the defensive tackle out of the hole. One of the top run zone-blocking linemen in the draft.
Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State – nasty and physical, the 6-3 ½, 339-pound Jackson is a long-armed power player with a wide body. He majors in run blocking; average quickness for his size. Has been blessed with an inordinate amount of tools to play on the next level, such as flexibility, size and knee bend. Can anchor against power players and flashes a boxer’s punch in pass protection.
Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama – the massive 6-5, 310-pound Kouandjio had an up-and-down year at left tackle but oozing with talent. Locks on to defender with big hands and long arms; aggressive in run game and moves feet well as a pass protector. Snaps up quickly in pass protection and doesn’t drop hands. Good lateral quickness to seal edge. Can be a road grader in base or down blocks and has good cutoff angles to second level.
The Endzone: The top-ranked guard in the draft is Notre Dames’ Zack Martin. A four-year starter at left tackle, the 6-4, 305-pound Martin projects to be moved inside to play in the NFL and likely will be long gone when the Chargers pick in the first round. With the top three rated tackles – Jake Mathews (Texas A&M), Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Taylor Lewan (Michigan) expected to be picked within the top twenty and the other top tackles projected to be better suited on the right side, Kouandjio would be an intriguing pick. Re-uniting Kouandjio with Fluker, a former Crimson Tide teammate, the Chargers would be set at both tackle positions for the next decade barring injury. Telesco retained another key contributor to last years’ squad by resigning offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger to a one-year contract. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Ohrnberger appeared in 13 regular season games in 2013 making one start at right guard and also playing at left guard and center. With center Nick Hardwick turning 33 this year and Clary 31, keeping the 28-year-old Ohrnberger in the fold not only strengthens the depth along the offensive line, but keeps the continuity of the offensive line together at least one more season. There is still no word regarding Clary and his reported $6.25 million cap hit the team will take if he is on the roster this 2014 season. Coming off perhaps the best season of his career after moving from right tackle to right guard in 2013, his ability to play both positions and keeping the starting offensive line intact after an impressive performance last season might be worth taking the cap hit. If there is a run on picks at a certain position like cornerback or receiver, Su’a-Filo’s versatility to play guard and tackle could be too valuable to pass up.