Prime Cut

With the 2003 NFL regular season officially completed for some, the San Diego Chargers now know that they have the first selection in the upcoming 2004 NFL Draft. What they do not know, or what they are not yet willing to concede they know, is what they are going to do with it.

The Chargers have many holes to fill on their roster, but have known for sometime what those problems are. The Chargers need a franchise quarterback, a complimentary wide receiver, a dominant offensive tackle, a run-stuffing defensive tackle, a pass rushing defensive end, a speedy middle linebacker, and a kicker.

Assuming the Chargers do not pull an Al Davis and select a kicker number one overall in the draft, here is a look at the top prospects from these positions, and the Chargers alternatives should they not draft them.


Top Prospect: Eli Manning

Manning is a great leader who uses his knowledge of the game and accurate arm to dissect opposing defenses. His name alone makes him as safe a top pick as there is in the draft.

Other Options: The Chargers could also sign a veteran such as Mark Brunell and allow him to compete with Drew Brees for the starting job. Or, they could trade down a few slots and hope to still have an outside shot at Miami-Ohio sensation Ben Roethlisberger, while adding an additional pick to their bounty.

Wide Receiver

Top Prospect: Roy Williams

Williams has the size the Chargers demand and the speed to open up the middle of the field for emerging star Antonio Gates. He has the ability to dominate games ala would be running mate David Boston.

Other Options: Sign a free agent such as Darrell Jackson, whose price may be coming down do to an uncharacteristic series of drops this season. Or, wait until the second round and hope someone such as Oklahoma State star Rashaun Woods slides that far, although his recent Bowl game makes this a longshot.

Offensive Tackle

Top Prospect: Robert Gallery

Gallery has tremendous size for Tomlinson to run behind, and the sort of amazing athleticism to buy, whomever the quarterback may be, substantial time in the pocket. The recent run of successful lineman who come from Iowa are well coached and NFL ready, combine that with the Chargers' history of neglecting their offensive line, making this a very rational selection.

Other options: The Chargers could make a run at Pro Bowl selection Walter Jones should he not be franchised for a third straight season. The Chargers could also re-sign Damion McIntosh, who had a penalty and injury plagued season, but has shown the ability to play well on occasion. This would provide stability to the line, if nothing else.

Defensive Tackle

Top Prospect: Vince Wilfork

Wilfork has the size to demand double teams and the speed to collapse the pocket. However, questions about his playing shape and work ethic make him a boom or bust type selection.

Other Options: The Chargers could sign Robaire Smith from Tennessee, who is anchoring on of the league's better run defenses. At 310 lbs, he has the size to shut down running lanes, and the speed that produced 4.5 sacks and two passes defended this season. Or, they could hope a run stuffer such as Marcus Tubbs from Texas falls to them in the second round.

Defensive End

Top Prospect: Will Smith

Smith is the top pass rusher in this year's draft class, and has the size to be an every down player as well. He is a solid prospect, but not special enough to warrant investing a top overall draft pick.

Other Options: If Jevon Kearse makes it to the free agent market as expected, the Chargers should make signing him their top priority, but justifying all that money tied up at end could be tough. Otherwise, a solid two-way player such as Darren Howard of the Saints makes a lot of sense.

Middle Linebacker

Top Prospect: Jonathan Vilma

A tackling machine with the speed the Chargers desire from the position. However, with needs at so many other key positions, it is unlikely the Chargers invest their top selection here.

Other Options: The Chargers could sign Ravens inside linebacker Ed Hartwell. Depending on how the Ravens tender the young linebacker, it could cost too much. The emerging star would be a huge addition to the young defense.


It is obvious the Chargers have a lot of holes to fill, and rest assured they will. How the Chargers choose from their options for filling each one will determine their success on the field next season.

I believe the Chargers should draft Manning number one overall, and then get him a receiver such as Rashaun Woods to blossom using their second selection. Then in free agency, the Chargers could make tackle Walter Jones their big prize for the year or possibly go after John Tait, if they are not franchised. That would solve the offensive line woes. Promoting practice squad player Mackenzie Hoambrecker to starting place kicker would fill that hole, as well as give the Chargers a shot at a field goal over forty-five yards.

Then, the Chargers could use their remaining salary cap space on middle-tier free agents such as Robaire Smith, Darren Howard, and Ed Hartwell. The Chargers of course will need to free up some salary cap space to make all of these moves possible.

The cutting of Ray Lee Johnson, Stephen Alexander, Tim Dwight, Cory Raymer and Doug Flutie will help. Then, the departures of Damion McIntosh, Solomon Page, Zeke Moreno, Jerry Wilson, Bob Hallen, Darren Bennett, Steve Christie and others will make this a very plausible off-season scenario.

The Chargers can turn this mess of a team into a playoff contender by next year. All they need is a little hard work, a little luck, and one hell of an off-season.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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