COMMENTARY | Cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer departing the San Diego Chargers in free agency might complicate the head office’s NFL draft strategy, but offensive line support remains this team’s most pressing need.
Some experts at NFL.com project general manager Tom Telesco dipping into the deep pool of defensive back talent available in the 2013 draft class. There is certainly value to be had for the Chargers in prospects like cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant, as well as safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Indeed, the available talent with which San Diego can supplement its secondary is abundant. But the 2013 corps of offensive line prospects is among the best in recent memory. And with the Chargers’ recent release of offensive tackle Jared Gaither, securing a top flight tackle with the No. 11 pick is of paramount importance.
San Diego is not without question marks in the secondary. The loss of two veteran starters from a defense that was already just middling against the pass presents considerable challenges to defensive coordinator John Pagano.
Cason signed with the Arizona Cardinals, returning to the Grand Canyon State six years removed from an All-America campaign at the University of Arizona. Jammer remains in limbo, but will not return to San Diego.
Pagano received considerable help from free agency, however.
Former Jacksonville Jaguar Derek Cox inked a four-year, $10.25 million contract, addressing many of the Chargers’ secondary needs. Cox finished 2012 with 60 tackles and four interceptions. His addition was the biggest splash Telesco made on the market.
The restructuring of the secondary cannot end with the signing of Cox, and the Chargers will likely draft another defensive back in one of the early rounds. So long as that early round isn’t the first, it is the right move.
None of Telesco’s offensive line signings are comparable to the addition of Cox. San Diego added tackle King Dunlap on a two-year deal, but the 6-foot-9, 330-pound Dunlap is something of a project — certainly not the proven commodity the Charger defense is getting with Cox.
Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are unlikely to remain on the board when San Diego drafts at No. 11, but Oklahoma product Lane Johnson is a terrific third option among the draft’s most highly touted tackles.
Offensive line help is a consistent need among the organizations with top draft choices. Should all three go, Alabama’s D.J. Fluker is a well-suited prospect for offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris as I detailed last month.
This class is also rich with interior line talent, too. Guards Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack both have first round abilities too tempting for a team that ranked among the NFL’s worst in protecting its quarterback, as San Diego was in 2012.
Some draft projections suggest a run on offensive line talent in the first 15-20 selections. As such, San Diego’s options at No. 45 are limited should the front office opt for a defensive back at No. 11. Conversely, there is value to be had in the second round with cornerbacks like Robert Alford, Darius Slay and Jordan Poyer.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist and blogger. He covers the University of Arizona for the Rivals.com network site GoAZCATS.com, and is the founder/managing editor of the college football site SaturdayBlitz.com. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.