The San Diego Chargers entered the 2013 NFL Draft as a mess. Years of letting talented players go and not being able to replace them have withered this time into mediocrity. Much of the attention turns to quarterback Philip Rivers and how his play has dropped slightly (albeit still good) but they have let LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, and Louis Vasquez go to other teams and only Antonio Gates remains from those great Charger offenses that routinely had them in the playoffs. On defense, they have some talented pieces particularly in the front seven but they just lost Shaun Phillips after an impressive career there as well as Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, Antwan Barnes, and Takeo Spikes. They are completely moving on from the A.J. Smith era with few exceptions and are now looking to build a team, a much younger team around Rivers and their new Head Coach Mike McCoy. New General Manager Tom Telesco was tasked with building a team with a ton of holes and they are nowhere near all filled after the draft, but this draft clearly focused on talent over everything else. They addressed a number of issues they had but they emphasized getting the best players available according to their board to build the team and the early returns appear as though he did extremely well.
The Chargers were a team that needed to find an answer at left tackle to protect Rivers and they have really not had a good option there since the retirement of Marcus McNeil. When Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan returned to school, the Chargers were one of the teams that were disappointed. They had a small amount of hope with Lane Johnson somehow lasting to where they could get him but that quickly became a desperate hope rather than realistic. They were either going to have to make a deal to move up or hope one of the elite guards would slide to them in Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina). When the draft came about, the Chargers found themselves on the clock with the 12th pick in the draft and five offensive linemen had already been selected. Telesco and company opted to get the sixth lineman off the board and the best pure right tackle in the draft in D.J. Fluker, who was the second lineman selected just fromAlabama. Fluker comes in as a giant of a man with enormous size, strength and reach. Fluker excels in run blocking and going down hill to create running lanes. He does not have great feet for pass blocking but he is so wide and his arms are so long that even though he may have trouble getting in position to block speed rushers, they have to go so far around him that it makes him effective.
Unless the Chargers give him a shot to see if he can be a left tackle, he steps in immediately as their right tackle and is one of a wholesale change on their offensive line with the exception of their center Nick Hardwick. This is a huge boost to their overall line and their ability to run the football which has been a problem in recent years. Having more help in running the football and hopefully improving their pass protection both make Rivers’ life easier.
The Chargers moved up in the second round to get Manti Te’o, the inside linebacker from Notre Dame. This was a slight surprise given the other linebacker options on the board, but Te’o makes a great deal of sense for the Chargers. The cost to move up the six spots cost them their fourth round pick, which was perfectly reasonable. Te’o is a great fit in the 3-4 as a run stopper and someone that can contribute in zone in passing situations. Te’o is a wide bodied player who does not possess overwhelming straight line speed but his instincts and ability to read and diagnose plays allow him to put himself in position to make a ton of plays. He needs to do a better job of getting skinny to get through holes and avoid trash as well as taking on and shedding blocks, but they get a big, physical presence to play next to Donald Butler. The value on this pick was good as Te’o had late first round ability and once teammates get their shots in about his fake girlfriend, he is a good addition to the locker room in terms of character, hard work, and leadership; all things the Chargers could use.
The third round pick is the most interesting in the Chargers draft and it remains to be seen the story behind it or where it will go, but the Chargers got another player with first round talent when they selected Keenan Allen, the wide receiver out of Cal. There was talk of a positive drug test at the combine but there is a question if that actually happened or not. If it did happen, it is unbelievably stupid given the players all know when the test is. The other issue is that Allen was recovering from a PCL injury he suffered last year and the recovery has been slower than ideal and his workout after the fact was not up to where he plays. As he gets healthier, his speed will improve and he is anything but slow on the field with a combination of natural physical ability and smart play that makes him play faster.
On tape, Allen was the best wide receiver in the draft. His combination of size, speed on the field, and his incredible technique made him a terror on the field for the Golden Bears. His technique is tremendous as far as his ability to run routes and how he catches the football, but the aspect of his game that sets him apart is how he smoothly and efficiently he transitions from pass catcher to running after the catch. Going down the field, he catches the ball quickly and securely so that he is able to plant and make moves immediately to make opponents miss. On passes where he is coming back towards the line of scrimmage, he sets up his feet and his body so that when he catches the football, he has a head start on running with the ball in his hands and as a result moves incredibly quickly from a standing position. As long as he is healthy and stays focused on football, it is going to be a matter of when Allen takes over a starting role and potentially becomes the #1 target inSan Diego. Rivers will absolutely love what he brings to the table and how effective he is as a receiver and they got him in the third round. He could potentially set the table for the rest of the receivers in this offense. This has the potential to be the biggest steal of the draft.
Malcolm Floyd is a solid receiver on one side and either becuase of his history with knee injuries or for some other reason, no one really seemed all that interest in getting Danario Alexander away from the Chargers. They still have Vincent Brown who can be a solid contributor. He can really set the table for this team at the receiver position if he can take the #2 job this year or the #1 job at some point. Floyd as a #2 looks far better with Alexander and Jackson as guys who can come in and contribute as well.
Without a fourth round pick, the Chargers next pick was in the fifth round when they opted to stay at Cal Berkeley and took cornerback Steve Williams. Williams is a nickel corner through and through, which is exactly why the Chargers selected him. With the losses of Jammer and Cason, the Chargers were thin at corner anyway but they really did not have anyone specifically with the skill set to cover the slot. Williams can just about be penciled into that job in the regular season, which ends up being a starter in the fifth round for Telesco and the Chargers. It is also worth pointing out that Williams has potential to contribute as a returner and giving teams more options on special teams is never a bad idea.
In the sixth round, the Chargers picked up Tourek Williams, the defensive end from Florida International. Given his limitations with arm length and getting engulfed by blockers, Williams was probably not a guy that was on a lot of boards for teams running the 4-3. In the 3-4, Williams style of attacking downhill, his willingness to attack inside, and his lateral agility make him a good fit for a team that will allow him to get a running start.
For the Chargers, he should come in and compete for snaps as a depth outside linebacker and a guy who can come in and rush the passer. The most natural place to use him is to come in for Jarrett Johnson, who specializes in being a run stopper, to keep him fresh and just send Williams after the quarterback. He could be another useful pass rusher and benefit from guys like Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes, and Melvin Ingram taking up the focus of the opponents and get some beneficial match ups and good looks to get to the quarterback. Potentially, he could be fighting for snaps with Larry English, the former first round pick and massive disappointment thus far in his career that is trying to get back on track and prove to the new coaching staff that he can be a worthwhile player. Perhaps the selection of Williams is a message to English as well as them hedging their bet to keep him around another year.
With their last pick of the draft in the seventh round, the Chargers picked quarterback Brad Sorenson from Southern Utah. Sorenson is the ideal third string quarterback to be grabbed late in the draft and developed for a few years. The Chargers obviously have Rivers as their starter and Charlie Whitehurst as their backup so Sorenson can just focus on improving and soaking up knowledge from the two veteran signal callers ahead of him. Sorenson is a quarterback with a lot of physical tools including prototypical size, a good arm, and no risk. He will have a chance to impress in preseason and convince them why he should stay around and develop under Mike McCoy. After preseason, the best case scenario is that no one mentions him until the following year and he can come back and continue building. Ultimately, it is a long shot but if all goes according to plan, the Chargers end up with their quarterback to eventually take over for Rivers. They could also do what they did with Whitehurst earlier in his career and trade him for draft picks to continue building their team. And if he cannot set himself apart, they can bring in another guy next year and have them compete and the best one is kept.
My Thoughts: D.J. Fluker is not a pick that tends to get people excited but he should, because helping the running game helps Rivers. They still have a huge hole at left tackle and that is a problem, but he should be an institution at right tackle for the next decade. He has first round talent. It is easier to feel good about the Fluker pick when they grabbed Te’o and Allen in the next two rounds. For all of the nonsense with Te’o (granted, he brought it on himself), he is a good football player and especially where they got him. Their front seven looks better and that defensive line is talented and should allow him to make a lot of plays. Personally, I would have taken Arthur Brown from Kansas State over Te’o, but Te’o was a good player nonetheless. Allen was the best receiver on tape and my top receiver in the draft. Without knowing the ins and outs with what actually happened, it is difficult to know why he went in the third round, but he could be highway robbery if he ends up playing across from Malcolm Floyd this year and making a lot of plays.
The Minnesota Vikings had to trade to get three first round picks to take three first round talents. The Chargers behind Telesco got three first round talents and only gave up a fourth round pick to move up a few spots to get Te’o. If this works out, the Chargers had a franchise changing draft and it could go a long way in getting them back to being a contender in the AFC West regardless of what they got from the rest of the draft. Based purely on the players involved, it would not be a big surprise if those three picks end up being better than the players the Vikings took as well, but that will be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on going forward.
The other picks they took could also be contributors, especially Steve Williams who could be their nickel corner immediately, which means they could get a lot of impact from their top four picks. They got depth and a pass rusher they can develop in Tourek Williams and a developmental quarterback in Sorenson. There was no way that the Chargers were going to be able to address all of the teams needs and made the smart move in opting for overall talent, but it definitely surprising they never took someone who could be a left tackle. Currently, their projected starter is King Dunlap, which is a shaky way to go in the best case scenario. Perhaps taking someone like a Reid Fragel or Tanner Hawkinson would not have been able to solve the problem but they at least had a guy that could develop for the position in the future and at least look the part this year if Dunlap is not capable of doing the job.
This draft could put the Chargers on the path to being a contender again, but the short term concern is definitely going to be that left tackle spot. Both short term and in the long term, four of their draft picks could make an impact as rookies but they have a nice group of collection of players that could develop into franchise players for them. If the Chargers can get through this year, this draft will look much better when they can finally bring in a franchise book end across from Fluker to protect Rivers and their overall talent level should go up dramatically as well as making so they can focus on more specific problem areas.
Topics: 2013 Nfl Draft, Alabama Crimson Tide Football, Brad Sorenson, Cal Golden Bears Football, D.J. Fluker, Florida International Golden Panthers Football, Keenan Allen, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football, San Diego Chargers, Southern Utah, Steve Williams, Tourek Williams