It's around this time of year that I find myself constantly giving speeches about A.J. Smith's mindgames come draft time. "Who are the Chargers going to draft?" I have no idea! Or do I? The more I think about it, it's not too difficult to figure out the positions that will be drafted....it's the order and the actual players that are confusing.
Smith is not an idiot, and he's not going to draft a player to sit on the bench for a long time. If he's drafting a player, there's either a hole at that position on the team or there will be soon. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the position groups that are currently a little thin or will be soon.
RB: Let's get the obvious one out of the way. This position consists of Darren Sproles, some guy signed just to fill space in training camp, a failed hybrid RB and a FB from Coastal Carolina. There's an issue with depth here. A running back, and possibly two, will definitely be drafted. As far as future plans go, Sproles and Mike Tolbert are signed for only one season. Jacob Hester is signed for two. I can't find any info on it, but I'm pretty sure Marcus Mason is only signed for the 2010 season (if he makes the team). There's no long-term stability here just yet.
OL: While the Chargers like their mix along the offensive line, they need to think about the future. Scott Mruczkowski is only signed for one more season, and chances are he'll leave for a chance to start somewhere else. Marcus McNeill, Jeromey Clary and Brandyn Dombrowski are also free agents after 2010. Nick Hardwick is signed through 2011, Kris Dielman and Louis Vasquez are signed through 2012. If the team really likes Tyronne Green, I could see just a OT being drafted (and probably not early). If they don't, I'd expect an OT and a C to be drafted at some point.
DB: Quentin Jammer may be a Charger for life, but he probably won't be a CB for that much longer. It'll be two seasons, I think, before he makes the switch to a Safety position. He is signed with the Chargers for three more seasons. Everyone should start accepting Antoine Cason as a member of this secondary, because he's signed just as long as Jammer. With the addition of Nathan Vasher (two years) and Brandon Hughes (three more years) coming back, I can't see the Chargers drafting a CB. In terms of depth, there are plenty of options among the Safeties for years to come as well. I don't expect a DB to be picked by the Chargers unless they find a project in the later rounds.
DL: Here's a shocker: I don't think the Chargers will use either the #28 or #40 pick on a defensive lineman. If you figure the team will carry 7 defensive linemen this season, you need to explain why the team would add to the already-too-high 10 defensive linemen on the roster. Even out of that group, the only two guys that are not signed through the 2011 season are Ryon Bingham, Travis Johnson and Jacques Cesaire. So yes, the Chargers will need to replace the talent that's leaving after 2010, but if they bring somebody on now they're going to end up having to pay a guy just to go play somewhere else. I don't see it happening unless there's nothing good left on the board at #28 or #40. I am convinced that the Chargers are planning on using their first-round pick in 2011 on a defensive tackle, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them pull some sort of draft-day deal (one for Sproles perhaps) to secure a better spot in next year's first round.
So, where do I see the Chargers aiming their most important picks (first 4 rounds)? Running back, obviously. Wide receiver, which is a major need when you start to consider that Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd and only signed through 2010, will need to be addressed early. Offensive line, where there are too many question marks (both in terms of talent and injury), needs to be added to. Middle linebacker, with the upcoming departure of Stephen Cooper and Tim Dobbins (and maybe Kevin Burnett), needs to be addressed this year. This is where I see the Chargers focusing their efforts.