With the stadium issues and Philip Rivers’ future as a Charger dominating the airwaves in San Diego, we are going to concentrate on the upcoming NFL Draft to be held April 30 through May 2.

For the Chargers, it is imperative they hit a grand slam with their first-round pick for two reasons:

First, they need an impact player who will excite the fans and make them want to flock to Qualcomm Stadium and support the team despite the future location of the franchise.

And secondly, Telesco and Co. need to surround Rivers with as many weapons as possible to help entice him to sign a long-term contract to finish his career as a Charger.

As the three-day NFL Draft quickly approaches, NFL pundits differ as they try to predict who the Chargers are going to select with pick 17. With holes to fill on both sides of the ball, the consensus of most mock drafts have the Chargers taking either a running back or defensive tackle – with two of the talking heads actually going out on a limb and predicting a quarterback will be the pick.

Having lost Ryan Mathews to the Eagles in free agency the Chargers have a clear need for a true No. 1 running back that can carry the load on first and second downs. Thanks to injuries to Mathews, Danny Woodhead and the offensive line, the Chargers running game finished 30th (85.4) last season.

In addition to re-signing left tackle King Dunlap, Telesco brought in Denver left guard Orlando Franklin via free agency. As 2013 first-rounder D.J. Fluker settles in at right tackle and last season’s third-round pick Chris Watt expected to become a full-time starter at center following an impressive rookie campaign, the unit up front already appears better than the patch-work group Rivers’ had to play behind in 2014.

Although the offensive line is improved it is still a work in progress. Despite Telesco’s insistence that he is satisfied with the trio of Woodhead, Donald Brown and Brandon Oliver, running back has to be a priority whether he selects one in the first round or with the 16th pick (48th overall) in the second round.

Fortunately for the Chargers, this draft appears deep in talent at the positions it needs to upgrade.

With the running back position getting an A- letter grade in Hub Arkush’s Pro Football Now Draft magazine, here is a look at the top five rated ‘backs and a quote on each of them from the magazine.

No. 1: Tevin Coleman –

5-11/206, Indiana

Although most ‘experts’ have Gordon and Gurley the top two ‘backs in the draft, Pro Football Now ranks Coleman at the top. Entering the draft as a true junior, Coleman rushed for 2,036 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. “If Coleman had a line like Gordon or Abdullah had, his numbers would be even more impressive.

Everyone in the stadium knew he was going to get the ball yet no one could stop him. He should be a very good NFL runner and he should start early in his career.”

No. 2: Melvin Gordon – 6-1/215, Wisconsin

A redshirt junior, Gordon not only led the nation in rushing (2,587), but he topped the FBS record books for career average yards per carry (7.79). The NFL Network’s Charles Davis and Brian Baldinger, along with CBS Sports’ Rob Rang have the Chargers taking Gordon with their first pick. “Gordon is a Jamaal Charles type in that he is a big play waiting to happen. With his speed and elusiveness, he is very dangerous in the open field. On the downside, he is not as physical as Charles and not nearly the pass receiving threat.”

No. 3: Todd Gurley – 6-1/222, Georgia

Another true junior, Gurley entered the draft despite tearing his ACL. In addition to his running skills, Gurley has great hands and is a productive receiver who must work on his pass protection. Dane Brugler (CBS Sports); Don Banks (Sports Illustrated); Charlie Casserly, Daniel Jeremiah and Lance Zerlein (NFL Network) believe Gurley will be picked by the Chargers in round one. “Early on in 2014, it looked as if Gurley was the favorite to be the first back drafted. (He) is a prototypical big powerful NFL-type back who, if healthy, will be a very good NFL running back.”

No 4: Jay Ajayi – 6-0/221, Boise State

A red shirt junior like Gordon, Ajayi had a great 2014 season while rushing for 1,823 yards with a 5.3 yard average. Although he has excellent size with outstanding burst, the concern is that he doesn’t have the body to withstand the rigors of the NFL over a long time period. “(He’s) a Ray Rice style runner with much better size and a nice second gear. Strong in all phases of the game. Tough, but style and frame are not conducive to long NFL career.”

No. 5. Ameer Abdullah – 5-9/205. Nebraska

The only true senior among this top five, Abdullah is described as quick and athletic with a burst. As a senior, he rushed for 1,611 yards, averaging 6.1 yards a carry and produced19 touchdowns. Although a bit undersized he’s a physical runner, has excellent receiving skills and is willing to step up and pass protect. “Small but very productive and durable back from a tough running conference. Resembles two smaller backs from the past (Joe Cribbs and Thurman Thomas). Lacks size but he is a physical player. May be better off playing in a rotation with a back who complements him.”

The Endzone

While ranking the top prospects for Pro Football Now Draft magazine, Greg Gabriel projected eight running backs that could be taken within the first three rounds of the draft. Besides the aforementioned backs above, Gabriel ranks Miami’s (Fla) Duke Johnson #6 (2nd-3rd); Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon #7 (2nd-3rd) and USC’s Javorias Allen #8 (2nd-3rd). The magazine also lists SDSU’s Zach Zenner as a ‘sleeper,’ saying “The prolific collegiate production and eye-opening Combine test results of San Diego State’s Zach Zenner are tough to ignore.”



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