Which Line Needs the Most Help?

It's rare when a team wins its division, prevails in a playoff game and still gets the 16th overall pick. But that's what is on the Chargers' draft plate, after going 8-8 in the regular season.

General manager A.J. Smith will have eight selections to tinker with, if as expected the Chargers receive two compensatory picks after losing running back Michael Turner and cornerback Drayton Florence to free agency last year.

Although Smith clutches that 16th selection, he is a void of a second-rounder. He burnt that last year in his quest to obtain fullback Jacob Hester of Louisiana State in the third round.

Smith knows he has to produce this spring as the team has various holes to plug. In particular, the Chargers are looking for help at strong safety, guard and finding a running back for the future.

"We won't draft a kicker and we won't draft a punter," Smith said. "Everything else is up in the air."

That is about as specific as Smith gets, as he holds his draft cards close to his vest and admits he isn't above leading draft speculators in the opposite direction.

"I don't lie - April, though, that is a free month," Smith said. "I'm brutally honest at times, intentionally vague at others. I'd rather leave some things a little cloudy, so as not to tip off other people."


RB Chris Wells
Matthew Stockman/Getty

That sweet 16 pick of the Chargers is their highest point on the draft board since 2005, when they snatched Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman at No. 12.

A look at last year's No. 16 spot shows the Cardinals getting cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. He started on a Super Bowl team and collected four interceptions.

If the Chargers go with Chris Wells, he could be groomed as LaDainian Tomlinson's replacement.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Strong safety: The Chargers' pass defense was horrible last year. It wasn't all Clinton Hart's fault, but it's obvious the team seeks a hard hitter on the back end. That pass defense should improve with the return of a healthy Shawne Merriman, but an upgrade at strong safety would help as well.

2. Right guard: The departure of Mike Goff as a free agent and the lack of depth behind him is a concern. If the Chargers can fill the right guard spot, there might not as much urgency to try and replace right tackle Jeromey Clary. The Chargers must solidify the right side of the line, but the biggest void is at tackle.

3. Running back: On the surface, this doesn't appear to be a shortcoming with LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles in the backfield. But Tomlinson is likely in his last year with the Chargers and Sproles can't be counted on to take the pounding that comes from running between the tackles. Snagging a young runner here might not have an impact this year, but would in the future.

INSIDE THE WAR ROOM

While Wells could be the team's first pick, might the Chargers give the defensive line some help by drafting Mississippi's Peria Jerry? Or, right tackle Michael Oher, also from Mississippi, could be picked to replace Jeromey Clary who gave up 6.5 sacks last year. If the Chargers can possibly get a guard in free agency, then taking Oher makes sense. Getting Oher as a bookend with left tackle Marcus McNeill would help the Chargers for years to come.


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