Analysis: Draft Needs by Position, p. I

With the NFL Draft less than two weeks away, goes position by position to see where help is needed (using a scale of zero to five). This two-part series starts on the offensive side of the ball. Even though the Chargers have signed a dozen offensive free agents, as many as half of the team's eight selections could be spent here.

The "need level" at each position is rated on a scale of zero to five.

  • Zero: No need at all
  • One: Maybe a late-round pick to add depth
  • Two: Only if the value is right
  • Three: In the market, but not desperate
  • Four: Definitely will address this position
  • Five: Must spend a high pick here

Quarterback: One

Despite being loose with the football in 2011 (25 total turnovers), Philip Rivers is still the face of the franchise and the driving force of a potent offense. Charlie Whitehurst returns after a two-year absence; he now has some playing experience under his belt and gets the title of backup QB rather than clipboard caddy. A.J. Smith prefers to be three-deep at QB and could draft a developmental prospect in the later rounds.

Running Back: Three

Ryan Mathews had a breakout sophomore year and showed he can rack up yards from scrimmage like the future Hall of Famer he replaced in 2010. He has a shot to do even better in 2012 now that bruising fullback Le'Ron McClain is there to clear lanes for him. Jacob Hester returns to back up McClain and lead the special teams. Curtis Brinkley is the No. 2 halfback for now; although he shown well in a limited role, the Chargers will be on the lookout for another ball carrier somewhere in the draft's first four rounds.

Tight End: Zero

Antonio Gates started last season's final 11 games, proving he has moved past his chronic foot ailments. His top two backups, Randy McMichael and Kory Sperry, both signed new deals this offseason. The Chargers also added veteran Dante Rosario, an underrated receiver and excellent third-down target. No rookie has a shot to crack this crowded rotation.

Wide Receiver: Zero

San Diego lost its top wideout but loaded up with veteran depth. Robert Meachem replaces Vincent Jackson as the top target while shifty slot receivers Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock were added to supply increased competition and injury insurance. With Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown returning, the Chargers are not concerned with adding more receivers ... they are more worried about keeping the right ones (see last year's choice to keep Bryan Walters over Laurent Robinson).

Offensive Line: Four

The starting five is set: LT Jared Gaither, LG Tyronne Green, C Nick Hardwick, RG Louis Vasquez and RT Jeromey Clary. There are worthwhile reserves, too, including tackle Mario Henderson; swingmen Brandyn Dombrowski and Steve Schilling; and center Colin Baxter. Another tackle is needed -- likely in the first four rounds -- since Clary's play has been inconsistent and Henderson was out of the league last year for a reason. Another interior lineman may be added in the later rounds, as well, just to add some competition.

Place Kicker: Zero

The Bolts already have too many bodies at this position. Nate Kaeding, the most accurate regular-season kicker in history, is back after missing 2011 with a torn ACL. His replacement, Nick Novak, is still under contract and performed well in Kaeding's place, although Novak's play tapered off down the stretch. While the Chargers don't know who their kicker will be in 2012, it won't be someone from the upcoming draft.

Which positions must the Bolts address via the draft? Talk in 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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