11th Overall Selection by the San Diego Chargers
Overview: After missing the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season, the San Diego Chargers President and CEO Dean Spanos fired longtime general manager A.J. Smith along with head coach Norv Turner and began looking towards the future. That future now belongs to new general manager Tom Telesco and first time head coach Mike McCoy, and one of their first orders of business was identifying the offensive line as a weakness that had to be addressed. The Chargers had one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2012, and the production of quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Ryan Matthews suffered because of it. Telesco tabbed free agent additions King Dunlap from the Philadelphia Eagles and former Pittsburgh Steeler Max Starks to compete for the starting left tackle job, and also brought in Chad Rinehart from the Buffalo Bills to battle for the left guard position. The Chargers then used the 11th pick in the first round of April’s draft on Alabama bulldozer D.J. Fluker to play right tackle, while 2012′s starter at right tackle Jeromey Clary will swing inside to right guard. The Chargers new and mildly improved offensive line should be great for running backs Ryan Matthews and free agent signee Danny Woodhead, but the Chargers may have the worst pass protecting offensive line in the NFL and with little depth, it may get even worse as the season progresses. Mike McCoy has begun adding wrinkles to his newly installed offensive scheme to better suit what his team does well, including zone blocking and an abundance of 3 step drops focusing on the short passing game which should keep Rivers clean and get the ball out of his hands quickly. D.J. Fluker is a mammoth offensive tackle at 6’5 340 lbs., but he does have impressive athletic ability for a man his size. His strengths however, lie in the power running game. He is a strong blocker at the point of attack and shows terrific technique when blocking on the move or sealing the edge. The Chargers will lean on their gigantic right side of the line when running the football and hope to improve Rivers comfort level by adding more offensive balance. If the line can stay healthy, they should be able to adequately protect Rivers in the passing game while reaching new heights in the running game, but the days of Norv Turners 5-7 step drops for Rivers are over. The Chargers will be more ball control and less downfield passing in 2013, and Rivers should be a healthier player because of it.
Position Battles: D.J. Fluker is already running with the first team offense just one week into camp and should be there to stay for the foreseeable future. The real battle on the Chargers line will be coming on the left side, with Starks and Dunlap duking it out for the left tackle job and Chad Rinehart getting competition from 2nd year man Johnnie Troutman at left guard. Nick Hardwick is entrenched at center, with the right side of the line all but settled with Clary and Fluker. Early reports from camp have the first team offense lining up with Dunlap at left tackle, Rinehart at left guard, Hardwick at center, and Clary and Fluker on the rights side. If this unit remains, Max Starks will be the swing tackle backing up both sides, Troutman backing up both guard spots, and former Arizona Cardinals utility lineman Rich Ohrnberger backing up both guard and center.
Notable Match-Ups: Baptism by fire is the name of the game for NFL rookies, but no rookie will have as daunting a week 1 match up as Fluker. J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans come to San Diego for the opening weekend in a game which will put the Chargers new offensive scheme and offensive line to the test. Fluker and Watt should line up across from each other for the majority of the day and it will be the toughest individual match-up Fluker has ever drawn. Playing in the AFC West, Fluker will also have to face the Denver Broncos Von Miller twice a year, as well as bi annual match-ups against the Kansas City Chiefs pass rush duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, but at least those match-ups come later in the year when Fluker should be far more comfortable both schematically and with the speed of the game. Some other big names on Fluker’s 2013 docket include Lamarr Houston of the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphin’s sack leader Cameron Wake, Cincinnati Bengals power end Carlos Dunlap, Redskins rush linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, and New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. One of the more entertaining games of Fluker’s rookie season will come in week 6 against the Indianapolis Colts, where Fluker should be matched up against fellow first round rookie Bjoern Werner, who will be a strong side rush linebacker for the Colts.
2014 and Beyond
D.J. Fluker will start his career at right tackle and has a prototypical skillset. A sound fit in Mike McCoy’s zone blocking offensive system, he figures to be a longterm fixture in San Diego and is a beacon of hope for the future of the organization’s running game. Fluker carries his weight very well, but there were some scouts and NFL personnel men who felt Fluker would be better suited at guard where his pass pro would not be quite as much of a liability. If Fluker has issues with his weight or once he begins to age and lose a step he should be able to seamlessly transition inside to guard and not miss a beat. His best schematic fit at tackle is a power running game, but even if the Chargers eventually move to a more finesse scheme which emphasizes athleticism, Fluker has the feet and skills to make it work. At only 22 years of age, the future is bright for Fluker and the San Diego Chargers under the new leadership of Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy. The next few years will be exciting to watch as they mold the roster into their image and weed out the pieces that do not fit.