By Jon Lopuch, Associate Editor Chargers Offseason Needs Our team-by-team look at offseason continues with the Chargers, who boasted the most productive offense in the league last season. Of course, that was due in large part to the historic campaign of LaDainian Tomlinson, who found the end zone over 30 times and captured the heart of fantasy owners nationwide.
Areas of Need: When you go 14-2 and have most of your starters locked up to long-term deals, there aren't a whole lot of areas you can classify as "needs." However, one place the Chargers should be looking to upgrade is at wide receiver. Vincent Jackson looked good as a sophomore, leading all Chargers receivers with six touchdown catches, but the cupboard is pretty bare after that. Veteran Keenan McCardell had only 437 yards and failed to find the end zone even once. Eric Parker has never taken the next step forward in his progression and proven he can be counted on as a reliable starter. To put things in perspective: the Chargers with the most catches last season were a tight end and running back.
Speaking of running back, the Chargers may need a new one next season. Obviously we're not talking about Tomlinson, but his backup, the talented Michael Turner, is a restricted free agent and there appears to be plenty of interest in his services around the league. San Diego may require another team to hand over a first-round pick for him, but that may be a price a team is willing to pay. If so, the Chargers will be in the market for a backup who can take a handful of carries per game and give Tomlinson some well-deserved breathers on the sideline.
The San Diego defense was also one of the strongest in the league, ranking sixth in points allowed, but they have a distinct Achilles' heel at strong safety. Terrence Kiel didn't record any interceptions and there is talk of Bhawoh Jue possibly taking over for him next season. Yep, the Chargers are that desperate at safety.
Help is on the Way? The Chargers are a healthy $24.6 million dollars under the salary cap, according to the St. Petersburg Times, so they could add some pieces via free agency if they wish. One area they should look to target is safety, where Michael Lewis and Ken Hamlin are available to upgrade that position. San Diego could wait until the draft, but they are picking too low to grab either of the two top prospects, Laron Landry and Reggie Nelson. However, in the second round they may go after a talent like Brandon Meriweather, who will need a year of seasoning before he is ready to be thrown into the fire.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, this year's free agent class of receivers is not too stellar. Donte Stallworth and Drew Bennett are possible targets, but it doesn't appear the team will make a push for either one. Acquiring a guy like D.J. Hackett or Patrick Crayton adds talent, but it doesn't give them a true compliment to help Jackson. While the free agent crop isn't very fertile, April's draft does have more than a few quality options. With the 30th pick, San Diego drafts too late to land Calvin Johnson or Dwayne Jarrett, but they could help themselves by selecting a player such as Dwayne Bowe or Robert Meachem. And if Turner does bolt in free agency, the Chargers could use a mid-round pick on Lorenzo Booker or Ken Darby to bolster the running back corps and get a guy with some upside to serve as Tomlinson's apprentice.
Wants and Needs: Winning 14 games is a pretty strong indication your team's talent level is doing just fine, and as such the Chargers approach the 2007 draft with no glaring holes. That said, they could use a playmaking wide receiver to compliment LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates; yes, Vincent Jackson could be that guy, but last we checked most NFL teams lined up at least a couple wideouts. The Bolts also could beef up an already-talented defense, specifically at inside linebacker—where Donnie Edwards, Steve Foley, and Randall Godfrey are all history—and safety, where Terrence Kiel's off-the-field transgressions cost him his roster spot. With four Day One selections and the possibility of a couple more should A.J. Smith pull the trigger on a deal for backup running back Michael Turner, San Diego should have little difficulty addressing all of the above and more. As with most consistently successful teams, the "more" will include developmental players along both the offensive and defensive lines, ensuring the stability of the program.
Potential Selections: It's a deep receiver class, and if whichever one A.J. Smith has his eye on slips all the way to the 30th spot the Chargers will pounce. Likely options include Tennessee's Robert Meachem, LSU's Dwayne Bowe, and South Carolina's Sidney Rice. If Smith's target is already off the board, he'll wait until round two and choose from amongst the likes of East Carolina's Aundrae Allison, Washington State's Jason Hill, or perhaps USC's Steve Smith. Safety is also a deep position in this year's draft, so if the Bolts don't pursue Texas's Michael Griffin or Miami's Brandon Meriweather early they could still consider Utah's Eric Weddle, Arizona's Michael Johnson, or Wyoming's John Wendling. Several intriguing inside linebacker prospects could still be on the board when the Chargers pick towards the end of Day One, including Wake Forest's Jon Abbate, Hampton's Justin Durant, and Pitt's H.B. Blades. Day Two will likely focus on line depth, with names like Georgia Tech guard Mansfield Wrotto, Akron guard Andy Alleman, Utah defensive tackle Kelly Talavou, and Michigan defensive end Rondell Biggs potentially popping up on the Chargers' draft board.