Senior Bowl Watch List: Defense

The Chargers desperately need a stellar draft, the likes of which has not been seen since 2004. The preparation starts in earnest next week in Mobile, Ala., as the team's coaches and scouts will convene to evaluate premier senior prospects. Here is a look at three key defenders who will be on display -- one on each level of the defense.

DE Kheeston Randall, Texas (6 foot 5, 301 lbs.)

The Chargers need to improve depth on the defensive line, especially if they cut ties with Luis Castillo, who has a base salary of $3.9 million in 2012. Randall is a nice rotational piece with the skills to blossom into something more. He has a great frame and a long wingspan, allowing him stop offensive linemen from reaching the second level. He also shows exceptional strength and leverage, meaning he could begin his career as a two-down defender, perhaps playing ahead of Corey Liuget, who is better suited to pressure the pocket.

Randall has surprising athleticism and could be coached into a more well-rounded player. With better hand placement and refined technique, he can beat blockers off the ball and become a disruptive force. He will start the coaching-up process at the Senior Bowl under the guidance of Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. There Randall will look to raise his game and boost his draft stock, which currently has his pegged as a fourth-round pick.

LB Bobby Wagner, Utah State (6 foot 1, 235 lbs.)

A.J. Smith often talks about valuing productivity above all else and few players have been more productive than Wagner. A four-year starter, his career totals include 446 total tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four INTs and nine pass breakups. He finished strong as a senior, averaging 11.31 tackles per game (best in the WAC) and adding 11.5 TFLs, four sacks and two interceptions.

The Senior Bowl is big for Wagner, who aims to prove to teams like the Chargers that his gaudy numbers are not the result of inferior competition. If he can do that, Wagner -- a projected third-round pick -- could fill out a San Diego linebacker corps that came up woefully short in the big-play department last season.

"I just want to prove that it doesn't matter what type of competition I play, I'm always going to play good," Wagner said. "Just because I'm from a small school doesn't mean I can't play football so I'm just going to show them that I can play some ball."

CB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt (5 foot 11, 188 lbs.)

The last thing Chargers fans want to see is another draft pick spent on a cornerback. But the need could be there again, especially if Quentin Jammer moves to safety. Fortunately, Hayward has one trait none of San Diego's other cornerbacks possess -- the ability to intercept the ball. He is the SEC's active leader in career INTs (15), seven of which came during his fantastic senior season. Additionally, he has 46 career pass breakups in 37 career starts, showing a knack for being around the football.

"Casey made a ton of big plays this year, and also provided excellent leadership for our defense," said Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. "And as good of a player as Casey is, he's a better person and a great example of everything Vanderbilt football is all about."

A mid-round prospect, Hayward will look to catch the attention of Chargers coaches at the Senior Bowl the same way Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright did at last year's event.

Will Smith trade to acquire more draft picks? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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