As we go to print most mock drafts still have the Chargers taking a defensive player with the 25th pick of the first round. However, a couple of draft analysts – Charles Smith and Bryan Fisher from The NFL Network – have Tom Telesco bolstering up the Chargers offense by selecting USC wide receiver Marqise Lee.
With question marks surrounding the return of veteran Malcom Floyd (neck), Antonio Gates’ age and Vincent Brown’s lack of consistency, the Chargers definitely need another threat at receiver. Eddie Royal did a great job as a slot receiver setting a career-high with eight touchdown receptions and at 6’3” Seyi Ajirotutu gives Rivers another tall target with good speed. But the Chargers need another top-tier receiver to keep opposing defenses from focusing on their No. 1 offensive threat – last years’ rookie sensation Keenan Allen (1,046 yds; eight touchdowns).
Although finishing fourth in the league in passing (270.5 yds. per gm) and improving their touchdown percentage in the red zone to 51.5 last season, the Chargers still ranked 23rd – second worst amongst playoff teams (USA Today). Facing a daunting schedule that features both Super Bowl participants and five playoff teams from last season, the Chargers red zone efficiency has to improve to have any hope of a return trip to the playoffs.
Despite a terrific 2013 season that earned him another trip to the Pro Bowl and Comeback Player-of-the-Year, it is no secret that Rivers’ best seasons were when he had the threat of Floyd and Vincent Jackson – the 6’5’’ receivers whose size and speed gave defensive backs some serious challenges, especially in the red zone.
With so many talented underclassmen deciding to leave college early, most give the receiver position in this draft a letter grade of A. Telesco struck gold last year when concerns about Allen’s injured knee dropped him to the third round. Former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys (1960-1989) and NFL Media’s Senior Analyst Gil Brandt recently included eight receivers ranked his top 50 players in the draft. With the top two receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans likely top 10 picks, a couple of talented receivers are likely fall into the second and possibly third round as Allen did a year ago.
Below is a list of the six remaining receivers in his top 50 and a quote from Brandt regarding each prospect.
Odell Beckham, LSU; 5-11/198 – Ranked 15th
“Beckham will be a star in the NFL both catching passes and returning kicks. He won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player last season. At the combine, he ran a 4.31 in the 40 (4.43 officially), 3.94 in the short shuttle, and 6.69 in the three-cone drill.”
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State; 5-9/189 – Ranked 16th
“Cooks is short but is a great athlete with excellent hands and toughness. He was one of the fastest guys at the combine, running 4.30 in the 40 (4.33 officially), 3.81 in the short shuttle and 6.76 in the three-cone drill.”
Marqis Lee, USC; 5-11/192 – Ranked 20th
“Lee is an outstanding athlete who ran a 4.44 40 at the combine (4.52 officially) and had a 38-inch vertical. He also ran a sub-7.00 three-cone drill at his pro day. He isn’t the most advanced route runner. A knee injury and inconsistent QB play held him back last season, but he finished with a big game in the Vegas Bowl. In three seasons at USC he had 248 catches and 29 touchdowns.”
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State; 6-5/240 – Ranked 32
“Benjamin is a big target with very good hands, but his attitude is a question. At one of his workouts, he told a coach who had just arrived that he was too tired to work out. He played only two years with Florida State after redshirting in 2011. He ran the 40 in 4.53 at the combine (4.61 officially).”
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; 6-3/212 – Ranked 41st
“Matthews had 206 receptions for 2,800 yards over the past two years. He has great ball skills and should catch a lot of passes to move the chains, and no one will outwork him. He ran the 40 in 4.40 seconds at the combine (4.46 officially).”
Allen Robinson, Penn State; 6-5/207 – Ranked 48th
“Robinson played as a true freshman and totaled 174 catches the past two years. He’s a great leaper, a skill he showed off when he made a big catch late in the fourth quarter against Michigan last season. He improved on his combine 40 at his pro day, running a 4.49.”
One of the more intriguing possibilities amongst all the hype and untruths spit out leading up to the draft was presented by ESPN Chargers’ reporter Eric D. Williams. In his recent post on April 19, Williams presents a scenario where Jacksonville, having passed up a quarterback with the third pick overall, makes a trade back into the first round where they give up their 2nd and 3rd round picks for the Chargers’ 25th pick. The Jaguars then take one of the top quarterbacks who fell down the draft and the Chargers would now own four picks within the top 100 – their own 2nd and 3rd round picks (57th and 89th) in addition the picks acquired from the Jaguars, No. 39 and 70, respectively. In a year where the draft is rated one of the deepest in years because of the talent pool available, this trade would be ideal for a Chargers team that is lacking overall depth. Last year Telesco took two players from Cal Berkley, Allen and cornerback Steve Williams, with his third and fifth round picks. Two players I wouldn’t mind seeing the Chargers go after are OLB Trent Murphy and OG David Yankey – both of the Stanford Cardinal. At 6-5/252, Murphy led the nation in sacks (15) and garnered 23.5 tackles for loss last season. He is considered a hybrid standup outside linebacker/defensive end in the NFL and is ranked No. 24 on Dan Shonka’s (Ourlad’s Draft Guide) top 150 draft board. The 6-5/312-pound Yankey is ranked No. 87 by Shonka and is viewed as one of the best run zone blocking linemen in the draft. The versatile Yankey was an All-American tackle in 2012 and switched to guard last season where he was also an All-American.