The San Diego Chargers finished with a disappointing 7-9 record and missed out on the playoffs for the third year in a row. They had typically been a big dog in a weak AFC West pond, but the addition of Peyton Manning to the Broncos changes things. Now the Chargers will have to earn their playoff spot, and competing with up-and-coming teams like the Colts and Bengals will make it tougher and tougher to earn a Wild Card berth.
Biggest need: Offensive linemen
The Chargers' offensive line was bad in 2012. Jared Gaither was only able to play in a few games, Michael Harris was abysmal and Jeromey Clary struggled both as a run blocker and pass blocker. The only lineman who seemed to have a decent season was Louis Vasquez, and he is about to become a free agent. Quarterback Philip Rivers, who wasn't very good in 2012, was basically a human piñata. In order to bounce back and get into the playoffs again, the Chargers have to protect Rivers better than they did in 2012.
The good folks at SB Nation's Bolts From The Blue weighed in on the Chargers' key needs up front:
The San Diego Chargers missed the playoffs in 2012 for a reason. They were not a very talented team. In this offseason, they'll need to replace some of the guys that dragged the team down (Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer, Tyronne Green) and are leaving via free agency while also trying to upgrade over some players that are still here (Atari Bigby, Jared Gaither).
Cornerback may not be the biggest need in terms of talent, but the fact that the Chargers have to find two CBs capable of starting puts it at the top of my list. They also technically need to find two starting Offensive Guards, but it would surprise nobody if the team gave a long-term deal to Louis Vasquez before March 12th. Jared Gaither is still on the team, but he's expected to be cut after a disastrous 2012. That would leave a giant hole at Left Tackle, which is doubly important considering Philip Rivers' performance since losing Marcus McNeill.
Other needs: Cornerback, running back
The duo of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason was bad in 2012, as they allowed more touchdowns than many of other cornerback duos. The Chargers' passing defense was in the bottom half of the league, and that allowed opponents to exploit big holes and move the football despite facing the Chargers' stout, top-10 run defense.
At running back, Ryan Mathews has never completed an entire season and has only reached 1,000 yards once. That's not a great thing for a first-round pick. He finished the 2012 season with only 707 yards and his fumbles (2) outnumbered his touchdowns (1). One of the best ways to help out a quarterback is to have a strong running attack and the Chargers don't have that.
NFL Draft outlook: Chargers go on the clock at No. 11
The Chargers will go on the clock after Titans, at No. 11, which should give them a good choice of NFL hopefuls to upgrade their roster. According to Bolts from the Blue's John Gennaro, having the No. 11 pick means that the 2012 season was the most unsuccessful for the Chargers since 2004:
The last time the Chargers had a pick higher than 12 was 2004, when they turned the first overall pick into Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding. The two times that they've had the 12th pick since, it's been the result of trades. That officially makes this the least successful season for San Diego since 2004, but gives the next head coach (and maybe a new General manager) the highest selection since then as well.
Matthew Fairburn with SB Nation has the Chargers landing a steal as offensive tackle Eric Fisher from Central Michigan slides all the way down to 11.
The more scenarios we go through here at SB Nation, the more it looks like one of the top three offensive tackles is going to slip to San Diego. In this scenario, they're fortunate to land Fisher, who has more upside than Joeckel. Fisher is an engulfing left tackle who excels at finishing off blocks.
Salary cap situation: Not a lot of room to work with
The Chargers cut Takeo Spikes and Atari Bigby to give them about $12.5 million in cap space this offseason. The release of the two veterans should help the Chargers space to play with in the upcoming season, but they will still have to be creative with their money. With so many areas of the team to address, the Chargers will likely have to do much of their rebuilding in the draft.
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