With AJ Smith and Norv Turner continuing to walk the fine line between the unemployment office and Chargers Park, the 2012 NFL Draft will go down as a pivotal point in Chargers history. Without an influx of talent on both sides of the ball, the Chargers will be destined for another year of mediocrity — or worse — in 2012, which could seal their fall back to NFL irrelevance. To make it even more dramatic, it won’t be an easy task to fill the holes in the roster, as the Chargers’ needs resemble a twelve-year-old’s Christmas wish list — as long as your arm and as equally unreasonable. To accomplish it, AJ Smith will have to reacquire his Midas touch of old and hit a jackpot with the 2012 draft class.
What follows is one player that I think the Chargers should draft for each of their picks. As of my writing this, these players will likely be available for the Chargers’ pick in the round that I choose them in. Of course, there are still three months for these players to rise and fall on draft boards, so what is reasonable or likely today may not be so on draft day.
Round 1, Pick 18: Mark Barron, Strong Safety, Alabama
Height: 6-2 Weight: 215
Since Steven Gregory isn’t under contract for 2012 and Norv Turner seems unwilling to move Quentin Jammer, the Chargers have a huge hole at the strong safety position. Mark Barron is player that could fill that hole for the foreseeable future.
At 6’2’’, 215 pounds, Barron has the prototypical strong safety build with adequate speed. His above-average ability to diagnose running plays quickly and provide run support could allow Eric Weddle to become an even bigger playmaker than he was in 2011. In addition, Barron possesses good instincts and ball-hawking skills that should allow him to be a bit of a playmaker himself in the NFL. Most importantly, he consistently demonstrates sound tackling skills by wrapping up ball carriers while often delivering a powerful hit at the same time. While at Alabama, Barron — who has started ever since his sophomore season — took on a lot of responsibility in Nick Saban’s complex scheme, which should allow him to make a quick and smooth transition to the NFL level.
A big, smart, competitive, hardworking playmaker at a premier program, Barron looks the part — rangy, long-levered, athletic build, and a linebacker-sized frame capable of carrying increased bulk — and possesses starter-caliber instincts and tackling ability.—Pro Football Weekly
Round 2, Pick 50: Ronnell Lewis, Outside Linebacker, Oklahoma
Height: 6-2 Weight: 244
The two biggest criticisms of San Diego’s defense has been its lack of a “thumper” and pass rusher. By selecting Ronnell Lewis in the second round, the Chargers could solve both those problems with one pick.
Ronnell Lewis likes to hit people really, really hard. His propensity for delivering devastating hits has earned him the nickname ‘the Hammer’ from teammates and local media alike. So much so that Oklahomans don’t make Chuck Norris jokes anymore, they make Ronnell Lewis jokes.
“He’s the most violent hitter [that] I’ve been around. He’s as violent as they come,” remarked Brent Venables, Oklahoma’s Defensive Coordinator.
Lewis not only packs a punch that gives ball carriers nightmares, but he can rush the passer as well. His speed and acceleration contribute to an impressive first step, which allows him to get around the edge on opposing tackles. In addition, he has a relentless motor and will rarely ever take a play off during the course of a game. He’s displayed the ability to rush off edge from both a two-point and three-point stance, which will allow him to be extremely versatile in San Diego’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Most importantly, Ronnell Lewis has a strong passion for the game and is often cited as one of the hardest workers by coaches and teammates.
He possesses an impressive physical/athletic skill set, a “plus” motor and a real passion for the game. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a top end pass rusher in the NFL. However, as a 6-8 sack guy long term who can help out on special teams and give you all he has play in and play out. –National Football Post
Round 3, Pick 82: Joe Looney, Offensive Guard, Wake Forest
Height: 6-3 Weight: 320
With only one more year remaining on Kris Dielman’s contract and his publicly-documented consideration of retirement this offseason, the Chargers need to have a plan for succession. I doubt Dielman retires — though he probably should — but the Chargers need to prepare themselves anyway. By picking Joe Looney in the third round, they’re able to grab a guy that will be capable of replacing Dielman in the future and provide important depth for an offensive line that struggled with injury problems in 2011.
Looney was a leader during his career at Wake Forest, having been selected as captain during his senior season. Teammates and coaches often cite his hardworking mentality and high football IQ as defining characteristics. He possesses nimble feet for his size, which allows him to quickly and effectively slide to rushers in pass protection. Moreover, he shows the strength and power to control defenders and neutralize a bull-rush. He’s an above-average run blocking guard, whose athletic ability allows him to excel in space against defenders on plays like screen passes. It’s been noted that he’s shown better awareness in pass protection than run blocking, which certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances to go to a team like the Chargers, who have a 90 million dollar quarterback to protect.
Exhibits good short area quickness and balance for his size in pass protection. He has the ability to mature into a good run blocker as well and warrants a pick as a potential starting guard down the line. – National Football Post
(I couldn’t find anything on YouTube of him. I’ll keep trying and if I end up finding something, I’ll update this.)
Round 4, Pick 114: Devon Wylie, Wide Receiver, Fresno State
Height: 5-9 Weight: 185
With Patrick Crayton unlikely to be re-signed for 2012 and Vincent Jackson hitting the open market, there is a considerable need for the Chargers to acquire a wide receiver via the draft. Even if Vincent Jackson is re-signed for the long-term — which I think he will be — the Chargers should look to bolster their oft-injured receiving corps with depth. With the selection of Devon Wylie, the Chargers will accomplish that and acquire a versatile player that could become one of the best slot men in the league within a few years.
Wylie excels in the slot, where he possesses the ability to separate from defenders with his above average speed, quickness, and route running ability. That’s not to say that he’s ineffective on the outside, as he’s shown the ability to beat defenders there, as well. However, his most attractive abilities to the Chargers and other potential suitors may rest with his exceptional special teams play. During his career at Fresno State, Wylie proved to be a dangerous threat in the return game and an exceptional gunner on punt returns. Those two qualities alone may be reason enough for a team like San Diego, who experienced a lack of explosiveness in the return game in 2011 and is only a year removed from employing the worst special teams in NFL history, to select him.
Is limited a bit by his size, but is the kind of cat-quick slot guy with great ball skills who can make a living in the NFL. The major positive with him is that he also has very good speed as well. – National Football Post
Devon Wylie Highlights–YouTube (One of the most impressive highlight reels that I have ever seen)
Round 5, Pick 146: Evan Rodriguez, Tight End, Temple
Height: 6-2 Weight: 250
Given Antonio Gates’ age — 32 at the start of next season — and injury struggles in recent years, the Chargers would be wise to begin searching for a successor sooner rather than later. By selecting Evan Rodriguez in the later rounds, the Chargers can grab an all-around player that can contribute right away as well as develop into the tight end of the future under Gates’ tutelage.
Rodriguez was used as an H-back in Temple’s offense, which is basically a hybrid of a tight end and a fullback. Many of the so-called experts have Rodriguez listed as a fullback, but his athleticism and skill-set could give him the ability to excel at the tight end position. He has adequate speed to be able to beat defenders down the seam. In addition, he possesses good hands and route-running ability that may be attributed to his basketball background in high school. Rodriguez is also capable of creating after the catch by making defenders miss and breaking tackles. He can also be an effective blocker in the running and passing games, which could be helpful to the Chargers if they should choose to do without Randy McMichael’s services in 2012.
Teams looking for a poor man’s Aaron Hernandez should take a long, hard look at Temple’s Evan Rodriguez. He showed his versatility in practice, lining up outside the tackle on the line of scrimmage and also in the backfield. Rodriguez isn’t very impressive physically, measuring a hair over 6-1 1/2 and 242 pounds, but he put his reliable hands on display with very good vision and focus to reel in tough catches. – Dane Brugler, CBSSports.com
Round 6, Pick 178: Chris Rainey, Running Back, Florida
Height: 5-9 Weight: 174
I’d be willing to bet an inordinate amount of money that letting Darren Sproles escape in free agency is one of AJ Smith’s biggest regrets in recent years. Sproles’ presence in the passing game helped take pressure off Philip Rivers and added an explosive quality to the San Diego offense. By selecting Chris Rainey, the Chargers could return some of that explosiveness that they lacked in 2011 after Sproles’ departure.
Rainey possesses the skill and athletic ability to develop into a great third down back at the NFL level. He’s an above average pass catcher out of the backfield. He has great speed and acceleration, which has made him a consistent homerun threat throughout his collegiate career. In addition, he possesses a knack for eluding defenders in the open field and an impressive ability to change direction at his top speed. Rainey is also effective and fearless when cutting defenders in pass protection, which could be a desirable trait to the Chargers, since Ryan Mathews has been somewhat of a liability in that regard. There is the concern that Rainey is too light — currently 174 pounds — to succeed in the NFL, but he should be able to add weight once put on a NFL-level strength and conditioning program.
He’s a narrow framed back, but has natural running ability, keeps his pad level down and can consistently make defenders miss. – National Football Post
Round 7, Pick 210: Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Defensive Tackle, Baylor
Height: 6-2 Weight: 335
Antonio Garay could possibly be elsewhere in 2012, but regardless the Chargers should continue to add depth and talent to the defensive line. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste would need a few years to develop, but his physical attributes could be enough for San Diego to commit to him.
Jean-Baptiste has the physical attributes to excel in the NFL, but lacks the technique and awareness to have success in the early stages of his career. At 335 pounds, he certainly has the size necessary for a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. His strength is ample as well and allows him to have an effective bull-rush when his technique is sound. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown the ability yet to have a good technical approach to the position on a consistent basis. There are plenty of ways to go with a seventh-round pick, but San Diego would have nothing to lose here by selecting Jean-Baptiste, as he could develop into a heck of a player in the future if given patience and proper coaching.
His girth and natural power are intriguing, but he still has a long way to go. Needs to play lower consistently and use his hands better if he hopes to make a roster. But his size and natural strength will give him a shot. – National Football Post
(I couldn’t find anything on YouTube of him. I’ll keep trying and if I end up finding something, I’ll update this.)