So most mock drafts out there have the Chargers picking for need in the first round of the draft, the typical positions are pass rusher, safety, and offensive tackle. I have seen the following names mentioned at pick number 18:
My goal here is not to pick one of those positions since those have been discussed ad nauseum by just about every mock drafter out there. Instead, my goal after the jump will be to look at some positions that the Chargers may not be a position of need for the Chargers in 2012, but a position that the Chargers could see a prospect sitting there at pick number 18 that is too enticing to pass on.
The general consensus on the Mock Draft front is that there will be three quarterbacks taken in the top 10 picks: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Ryan Tannehill. Other consensus Top 10 picks are OT Matt Kalil, CB Morris Claiborne, and RB Trent Richardson. It is a fair assumption to make that all 6 of those players will be taken before the Chargers pick at number 18.
As most of us know from watching the NFL Draft, every year there tends to be a run at one position or another that will lead certain players not in those positions to drop below where they were expected to go. Typically, those positions tend to be at QB, Pass Rusher, and OT. I will assume the same for this year's draft.
So what positions could drop this year as a result of a run on QB, Pass Rusher, and OT? My best guesses would be WR, CB, and DT.
There is a chance that any of the following players could be available at the Chargers pick at 18:
The Chargers roster appears to be set at all of these positions after the dust from free agency settled, but the Chargers may have an eye towards the future if one of these players drops to them at pick number 18.
At WR, the roster is full of new acquisitions but with Malcom Floyd's injury history and his contract expiring at the end of 2012, the Chargers could end up taking a player that may not end up being a starter this year, but could step into a starting role next season.
At CB, the Chargers have their starters in the form of Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer, but Jammer is nearing the end of his career and can get exposed by speedy WR's. Jammer appears twice on the "bad list" over at PFF for his performance in 2011, including a QB rating of 129.9 when throwing his direction. (I don't have access to the premium stats so I can't tell you where Antoine Cason ranks on that list.) What I can tell you is that the Chargers pass defense ranked 31st against the pass from the stats compiled over at Football Outsiders. Those stats were accumulated BEFORE the Chargers had to play against a Peyton Manning-led offense twice each season.
At DT, the Chargers appear pretty solid with a lot of young talent along the D-Line as well as some veterans returning in Free Agency. However, Antonio Garay's two year contract carries a large cap number in 2013, and Cam Thomas hasn't been evaluated as a starter yet. We also aren't sure what kind of player Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin are going to develop into as full time starters at DE, but it would be pretty tough for the Chargers to take a DT in the first round two years in a row unless they see excellent value in a player that drops to them this season.
So where does this leave us in the draft in a few days? My favorite sleeper position in this draft would be at CB. If there is a player with good value that drops to the Chargers at pick number 18, I can see the Chargers shoring up that secondary (and improving the 3rd down defense at the same time), if there is a player that can step in and contribute right away. The team seems to like what they have in Marcus Gilchrist, but Jammer seems to be regressing, and depth at CB is going to be necessary with a Peyton Manning-led offense now in the division.
There are three particular players that pique my interest as a sleeper pick in this years draft.
6'2, 186 pounds | Cornerback | Alabama
Ball skills: Finds the ball in the air quickly. Hands are below average. Kirkpatrick will never have a lot of interceptions in a season. Body control to adjust when the ball is in the air is above-average but nothing incredible.
Man coverage: Kirkpatrick is a powerful, physical cornerback who can push wide receivers around at the line of scrimmage. Could easily get up to more than 200 pounds with losing quickness. Possesses the agility and quickness of a much smaller and more compact defensive back. Can turn and run with just about any receiver and keep up. Has quick feet to flip open his hips and mirror vertically. Gave up only one touchdown in 2011, which was reportedly the first of his career.
Size: Excellent height and length for a cornerback. Kirkpatrick is one of the more physically impressive defensive backs in this year's class. Knows how to use his size, especially in man coverage.
Tackling: By far the best tackling cornerback in this year’s class. Hits like a strong safety. Will sometimes go for a kill shot and miss. Will be an asset against the run because he can easily get off blocks.
Zone coverage: Zone coverage will need work after playing mostly man at Alabama. Keeps his balance nicely in his backpedal, which allows him to wait as routes develop so he can break on the ball. Smartly reads the quarterback and not what the receivers are doing. Can get overaggressive at times. Knows when he can gamble when there is safety help over the top.
Final word: Kirkpatrick got off to a bit of a rough start to his junior season, but quickly rebounded, especially in an excellent game against Arkansas. Evaluations of Kirkpatrick naturally begin with his size. He's arguably the physically impressive cornerback in this year's draft. He's tall with long arms and a frame to get stronger.
Kirkpatrick is a player who knows how to use his size to his advantage, especially in man coverage. He's a little less experienced in true zone coverage. But with his natural talent and on-field intelligence, he should be able to adapt to any scheme.
If Kirkpatrick is still there at pick 18, I'm not sure AJ will be able to pass on him. He would be a nice consolation prize for AJ if Mark Barron gets taken by the Cowboys a few picks earlier. Kirkpatrick comes from a pro-style Nick Saban defense so he will be well schooled in complicated defensive concepts and would be ready to contribute sooner rather than later.
6'0, 190 pounds | Cornerback | South Carolina
Ball skills: Gilmore displays good anticipation to break on the ball at the last moment. Gets after the ball when tackling. Finished his career with eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Has lined up as a punt returner and quarterback in Wildcat formations.
Man coverage: South Carolina plays in a lot of zone coverage, so Gilmore doesn't have a lot of good bump and run experience. Is a smooth, fluid athlete who can flip his hips open to turn and run with the wide receiver. Plays more off-man coverage and will need to get stronger to make it in tight bump and run.
Size: Gilmore has a tall frame with long arms, which should help him if an NFL team asks him to press more than he did in college. Has a frame that should be able to hold more weight.
Tackling: Should develop into a solid tackler for a cornerback. Has decent strength. Isn't a technical tackler. Often either goes for a big hit lowering his shoulder or dives at the ankles. Has a hard time getting off blocks by wide receivers.
Zone coverage: Will enter the NFL with advanced knowledge and experience in a zone scheme. Has some trouble recovering when he's beaten over the top. Helped make the calls in the secondary. Displays quick feet to change direction. Closes in a hurry.
Final word: Over the past three seasons at South Carolina, Gilmore started 40 games and finished his career with eight interceptions. South Carolina runs mainly a zone scheme, but typically has five players who can be designated as defensive backs. Because of that, Gilmore has experience in a few spots in the secondary and played some at a hybrid safety/cornerback spot. He should be best in the NFL in a zone scheme, but has the size and athleticism to become a good press corner in time.
In the last few weeks, Gilmore has been rising up some draft boards. He has good size for the position, and although he didn't press much in college, he has the build for it. He would be a bit of a project if the Chargers selected him.
5'9 3/4, 193 pounds | Cornerback | North Alabama
Ball skills: Good hands to either make a play on the ball or grab an interception. Knows when to extend his arms to disrupt the pass. Finished his career with 29 pass breakups and 10 interceptions. An exceptional punt and kick returner.
Man coverage: Jenkins isn't the best in press coverage because of his lack of strength. Gets past this problem because of his excellent recovery speed. Is a great speed/athleticism player who can run with anyone on vertical routes and keep up with quick receivers. Has loose hips that he can flip open smoothly without losing a step. Told reporters at the NFL Combine he was only thrown at about four times a game at North Alabama.
Size: Jenkins has decent height and arm length for the position. Has a filled-out frame and may not add much more bulk in the NFL.
Tackling: When Jenkins is giving good effort, he's a better tackler than many corners in this year's draft. Solid in run coverage. Can get off blockers. Doesn't always give great effort, though, to make a tackle. Tends to use his shoulder to hit instead of wrapping up and driving through the ball carrier.
Zone coverage: Shows good instincts to read the play and understand where the ball is going to go. Likes to keep an eye in the backfield on the quarterback and can get beaten on double moves or quick comebacks.
Final word: The big knock on Jenkins is his character issues. Some teams will completely have him off their board. He was kicked out of Florida following a second drug-related arrest. Also arrested for a bar fight at Florida. At North Alabama he was suspended a game for throwing a punch at an opponent. Suffered a torn labrum in 2010.
But if you get past the non-football things with Jenkins, he's a great football player. He did well against A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2010 and tends to play bigger than his size. However, the character issues will likely push him far down the draft board.
With the exception of Janoris Jenkins, these guys have great size. Jenkins would be talked about as a top 10 draft pick if it weren't for his off the field issues, and as mentioned, some teams may have him completely off of the board. AJ Smith may be one of those GM's that has taken him off of the board, but if he could get past the character issues, his raw talent may make him worth the risk...but probably not for AJ Smith.
So of those three guys, Dre Kirkpatrick seems like the best fit to be selected by AJ Smith if he is there at pick 18. He will be well polished in defensive schemes and techniques coming out of a Nick Saban defense, he competed against the highest levels of athletes in the SEC, and he excels in man coverage. He could really boost the secondary for the Chargers and provide insurance in case Jammer continues to decline in his play and will provide competition to push Cason to improve his game. We all know that AJ loves having his DB's, so this pick would not surprise me in the least. What do you all think?