The San Diego Chargers repeated their annual slow start, followed by late-season surge in 2010. But it wasn’t enough. Norv Turner’s team missed the playoffs for the first time since ’05, and just the second time since ’03. Most embarrassingly, the Bolts lost both of their games to the Raiders. Turner and G.M. A.J. Smith enter the 2011 draft with a perhaps the AFC West’s most talented roster, but in need of front-seven defensive help and a few integral pieces on offense.
LB: All three of the Chargers’ top inside linebackers’ contracts are up, and a bookend is needed for edge rusher Shaun Phillips. With 2009 first-round pick Larry English shaping up as an injury-prone bust, San Diego has been heavily linked to Purdue All-American Ryan Kerrigan. Incumbent starting outside linebacker Antwan Applewhite is a versatile, underrated defender, but played too many snaps last season. On the inside, Stephen Cooper is likely to depart, Kevin Burnett isn’t a difference maker, and fellow free agent Brandon Siler is more early-down thumper than every-down linebacker.
DE: Luis Castillo returns at left defensive end, but is coming off a poor season and would benefit from the addition of a better pass rusher on the right side. Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson rotated there last season. Neither is an impact player, and they are both unrestricted free agents. While the coaching staff is high on former fourth-round project Vaughn Martin, the Western Ontario alum has just one sack through two seasons.
OT: Right tackle has been a sore spot in San Diego for sometime, and is now in focus with Jeromey Clary headed to free agency. Clary was extended a restricted tender, but the Chargers could afford to get more athletic at the position. Quarterback Philip Rivers had a terrific 2010 season overall, but he took a career-most 38 sacks for a career-high 227 sack yards.
WR: The Chargers control Vincent Jackson’s rights with the franchise tag. But No. 2 wideout Malcom Floyd’s contract is also up, and the team is ready to part with appropriately named Craig “Buster” Davis, a former first-round miss. Not a single receiver expected back for the Chargers is signed past 2011. A developmental prospect, or two, could be helpful.
Overview: The good news is the latter two needs here aren’t so pressing that they could damage San Diego’s playoff chances in 2011. But the first two certainly have the potential to. The front seven on defense will be the Chargers’ priority on April 28 and 29.
Smith is working with five picks in the top 89, giving him the ability to acquire several immediate starters. At least two of them need to be up front on defense.