Looking back on the 2013 and 2014 NFL Draft, the Chargers' picks should not have been a surprise. GM Tom Telesco uses free agency to fill holes on the team, but seems to account for who he wants to draft to fill a hole as well.
It's worth noting that this was the new regime's first offseason with the team, and they had far fewer resources to turn the roster around. The roster coming off the 2012 season had many holes, but most notably the offensive line was historically bad. Kris Dielman had retired the previous offseason, Jared Gaither was released after his bust of a season in 2012, and the Chargers had no viable starters outside of Nick Hardwick. Tom Telesco signed King Dunlap and Chad Rinehart to cheap, short-term deals but there was still one glaring hole: right tackle. Instead of finding one more bargain to finish the offensive line, the Chargers looked to the draft to fill that hole.
The 2013 Draft was viewed as a "shallow" draft, meaning not as much talent as most annual drafts. There was, however, one position of strength - offensive line. 3 offensive tackles were selected in the first 4 picks, as well as 2 offensive guards in the top 10. The Chargers knew that "their guy" would be there at number 11. DJ Fluker was seen as the next best thing to the big 3 OT's in the draft. Telesco used free agency and the strength of the draft to set up Fluker as the guy to fill in the last piece of the offensive line renovation.
For the second consecutive offseason, the Chargers' biggest weakness was one the draft's biggest strengths. The secondary was horrendous in 2013, although somewhat masked by the offense's dominant time of possession. The Bolts were looking at Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall, and Steve Williams as the top 3 guys. Given that the cornerbacks were so bad, it was odd seeing the Bolts dish out money to Donald Brown and David Johnson, while the biggest free agency acquisition in the secondary didn't even make the final roster (Brandon Ghee).
Yet again, Tom Telesco's plan all along was locked on a certain position. In a deep CB class, the Chargers were patient and landed Jason Verrett, who was on his way to a Rookie of the Year award before his shoulder injury (it is fair to point out injuries were a reason he was available in the late first round). The acquisition of Brandon Flowers after the draft appeared to be icing on the cake.
Looking at the last two offseasons, it is clear that the "best player is available" strategy is not used by the Chargers front office. The Chargers' strategy appears to be to use free agency to keep your own studs (Brandon Flowers, King Dunlap), fill in depth (Jimmy Wilson, Patrick Robinson, Stevie Johnson, Mitch Unrein), and sign an impact player if you have some extra cash (Orlando Franklin), but don't go on a spending spree. At the same time, it is okay to leave a hole or two on the roster, if you know you can draft a guy to fill it. So who will that player be this year?
An offensive lineman lineman comes to mind, because I refuse to believe that the Chargers' plan is to start Johnnie Troutman for another season. However, given the possible move of DJ Fluker in to guard, the Bolts' offensive line has a lot of versatility. They could add a center, tackle, or guard and fill in the remaining spots with their current starters. Considering all of the potential rookie (and veteran free agent) options, that leads me to believe that a starter can be found beyond the first round.
Defensive line makes sense as well, but it is pretty clear that the Chargers like what they have. They have one stud in Corey Liuget, and like an active rotation outside of that. A first round defensive lineman is certainly a possibility, but it's more likely we see a pick on the D-line later in the draft.
Running back? I guess it is a need, but with the way running backs are used and thrown away these days it's hard to see it happening at #17. That is unless, the Bolts fall in love with Todd Gurley and his knee is in good shape. His skills are in a different world than any recent running back out of college.
The one position that the Chargers have lost a lot of production and done nothing to replace it is at outside linebacker. Jarret Johnson and Dwight Freeney accounted for a combined 1,146 snaps in 2014, 320 more than Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu, and Tourek Williams combined. The Chargers are currently left with the improving (?) Melvin Ingram (who can't stay healthy), the young, raw speed rusher Jerry Attaochu (who also can't stay healthy) as the starters, with no proven backups or even any with upside.
Once again, the Chargers' biggest need is at a position of great strength in the draft. Guys like Vic Beasley and Dante Folwer will likely be gone by number 17, but our own Kyle Posey has great breakdowns of other potential OLB targets:
Any of these guys would instantly improve the rotation at outside linebacker. The Chargers have needed to upgrade their pass rush for years, and this would be a great time to do so.