As we drift closer to the middle of the first round in our previews, we’re entering into Mark Barron territory.
Somewhere around the 15th slot seems like the ideal spot for Barron, both in terms of team needs, and the value at the position. This morning we learned that earlier isn’t always better with safeties, a position that isn’t targeted nearly as often in the first round. As our favorite unpaid GLS employee(?) Devang Desai wrote, since 2000 there’s only been 15 safeties selected in the first round, meaning a key defensive position has occupied valuable early draft real estate only 3.9 percent of the time over the 381 picks during that stretch.
Barron will almost certainly become the 16th safety selected over the last 12 years in two weeks. But if he makes it past the Cowboys and Eagles, does he fit with the Chargers? We walked to John Gennaro, the editor of Bolts From The Blue, and Anthony Blake from Bolt Hype, and while Blake thinks they may wait until the second round, Gennaro thinks that if Barron is available, Roger Goodell will be calling his name when the Charges are on the clock at No. 18.
1. Barron’s name has been tossed around between a few teams, but safety may not be the strongest need in San Diego. Is there a chance the Chargers find him too irresistible, and simply go with the best player on the board if he’s around?
Gennaro: There is certainly a strong need at Safety. Bob Sanders, who was supposed to be the starter at SS, and Steve Gregory, who ended up being the starting SS, are both gone. So is Paul Oliver, who was the team’s backup FS. They now have two guys, one proven (Eric Weddle) and one that has done nothing but special teams (Darrell Stuckey), when they really need four. Expect them to try and find someone to push Stuckey back to the bench. Barron is the pick if he’s there.
Blake: Safety is certainly on the list of needs, but not nearly as pressing as both corner and outside linebacker. If both Whitney Mercilus, Courtney Upshaw, and Cordy Glenn are off the board, then Barron may get some consideration. Otherwise I look for the team to address the safety position in the second round as GM A.J. Smith has been very high on Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith in the pre-draft process.
2. What about an upgrade at right tackle? Glenn should be available…
Gennaro: I could see them taking someone that could be the right tackle one day, but more important than replacing the not-too-shabby Jeromey Clary is finding a replacement for the now-retired Kris Dielman. The team might be okay with letting Tyronne Green and Brandyn Dombrowski fight for the job, but I could see them using an early pick to fill the spot if there are no safeties left.
Blake: That’s a great observation. I really do think Glenn would be the perfect fit. He’s versatile enough to play inside at guard and maul or he could just start from day one on the right side and replace Clary. Many mock drafts actually have Glenn going 13th to the Cardinals, but if he is available, it wouldn’t surprise me if Smith turned the unlikely into a reality.
3. After adding Corey Liuget up front last year, a versatile outside pass rusher could be a priority too. Would Courtney Upshaw fit?
Gennaro: No. After the Chargers signed Jarret Johnson, OLB was pretty much taken off the table in the first round. They now have their starters (Johnson and Shaun Phillips), their backups (Antwan Barnes and Travis LaBoy) and their project (Larry English). The highest priority now is probably strong safety or offensive line.
Blake: There’s no doubt that Smith would love to snag a premier pass rusher in this year’s draft, but I’m wondering who the Bolts really do favor at this point. If both Upshaw and Mercilus were on the board with the 18th selection, right now it’s 50-50 who would actually be the choice. Personally, though, Mercilus seems to have the most upside, so I see A.J. leaning in that direction.
4. With Tolbert gone, will Smith look for more backfield depth in the mid to late rounds to support Ryan Mathews? Or is he satisfied at that position between Curtis Brinkley and Le’Ron McClain?
Gennaro: He’ll certainly be looking for someone. However, remember that Tolbert and Brinkley were both undrafted free agents. I wouldn’t be surprised if A.J. used any pick (besides the first-rounder) on a potential third down running back.
Blake: I sure hope so. Mathews is a dynamic player with big-play ability when healthy, but durability has been big a question mark thus far in his career. If not during the draft itself, the team will definitely be in the market for some depth at running back among undrafted free agents. Bringing back veteran Jacob Hester remains a strong possibility as well.
5. Do you have any late round sleeper picks that could develop and address key needs?
Gennaro: Ronnie Hillman. The Chargers love taking guys out of San Diego State (See: Brandyn Dombrowski, Vincent Brown, Kassim Osgood, etc.) and he would fit their need at running back.
Blake: Tight end has to be an area the team takes a serious look at in this year’s draft. Antonio Gates has been incredible over the better part of the past decade, but injuries have cost him a lot of time recently. Small school guy Ladarius Green out of Louisiana-Lafayette has my attention. He’s 6’5” 238 lbs, and he put up his best performances against the top competition with four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown versus Georgia and six catches for 64 yards against LSU.