Like most of us, I am eagerly awaiting April 30th. As a long time draft enthusiast, I've made it a yearly ritual to prepare as much as possible by watching tape on a large number of prospects, not just potential San Diego picks. After doing so this year I decided to put together a short series of posts taking a look at the most likely positions SD will target in the first round. Due to draft position and what the team did in free agency, I feel this is the least clear-cut first round for SD in awhile.
For this series, I will be targeting OL, HB, DL, Edge rusher and WR. I don't feel it's necessary to cover QB as its either Mariota or they are sticking with Rivers, plus that's been covered quite well by a large number of people. Though SS is a position I feel could definitely be upgraded, this first round is not the place to do so. I have already covered the OL in a fan post which you can find here. I will be using some ratings from ProFootballFocus so for more information on their process you can click here.
The San Diego Chargers running back depth chart currently consists of Branden Oliver,Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The order in which they are in on the chart could be debated, but I'd have it Oliver then Brown with Woodhead as the COP back. This unit isn't terrible in my opinion, but clearly needs someone to replace the production and talent of Ryan Mathews, now with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Branden Oliver showed many flashes in 2014 which had many fans talking about the undrafted rookie out of Buffalo. Oliver was able to beat out sixth round pick Marion Grice for the fourth running back spot in camp and the preseason. He would go on to prove his worth, running for over 100 yards in consecutive games. He finished the season with 582 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns while adding 271 yards and one touchdown in the passing game. He received the highest cumulitave grade from PFF of the Charger backs with +6.2.
Donald Brown was brought in during last years free agency from the Indianapolis Coltson a three year, 10.5 million dollar contract. It was anticipated he would be the backup for Mathews as well as serve as the starter if Mathews wasn't retained after the season. He went down with an injury in week 5 against the Jets and would miss the next three games, opening the door for Oliver. He accumulated 223 rushing and 211 receiving yards for the season, starting three games and appearing in 13. One stat that jumped out at me, he had the highest pass blocking PFF grade of any player in any position for San Diego with +2.6. His cumulative PFF grade was -6.4.
Danny Woodhead returns in 2015 after missing 13 games last season due to a leg injury. Woodhead's role was one the Chargers had trouble filling, particularly on third downs. In 2013, he had a cumulative PFF grade of +14.4 with a +13.0 in the passing game alone. With 76 receptions, he was Rivers' favorite outlet when under pressure and when you consider how the pass protection was in 2014, you can understand just how much he was missed.
In this series I won't be breaking down each prospect as that would make these far too long. Instead, if someone else on here has already done a breakdown on the prospect I will link to that. I will list prospects that could be available at pick 17 and how they would fit in with the current roster. Only two running backs likely to be selected somewhere around pick 17.
Todd Gurley, Georgia - Most consider him to be the best back in the draft, though he comes with his share of issues. Probably the most concerning is his durability, having missed time each of the last two years including a torn ACL on November 15th of last season. Many have speculated on when he will be able to return to the field, but it seems he will be ready fairly early in the 2015 season. Considering the highly talented but injury prone back SD is trying to replace, the injury concern has to play a part in this discussion.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin - Widely considered the only other first round running back, Gordon is a guy some have soured on as the draft process has played its course. Many feel he is too indecisive behind the line of scrimmage and tried to bounce too many runs outside. Has been compared to Jamaal Charles many times, though I don't see it. Led nation in rushing with 2587 yards, 500 more than second place. Broke LaDainian Tomlinson's single game rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska.
Running back is clearly a position in need of that top-level player for the Chargers in 2015. The real question is if that is something to address in the first round or sometime later. My personal opinion is that the better value is to wait until the second round and select one of Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska, Duke Johnson of Miami or Jay Ajayi of Boise State. That being said, should Gurley or Gordon be the selection I understand the choice and wouldn't hate it at all. One way or another, I'd be shocked if HB wasn't addressed in the top two rounds.