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AFC West Draft Needs: San Diego Chargers

OVERVIEW San Diego's been a regular-season powerhouse for years, but the Chargers haven't been able to get over the hump in the postseason. Last year, they compiled a 13-3 record, only to be upset by the Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs. They've gone back to the drawing board this offseason, and general manager A.J. Smith will try to push the team to the next level with another solid draft. The Chargers will make seven selections during the draft, with choices coming in every round except the sixth. They swapped second-round picks with Seattle in exchange for Charlie Whitehurst and now hold the eighth choice in that round. San Diego doesn't have a lot of holes and should be able to find immediate impact players with its first two picks. They currently hold selections No. 28, 40, 91, 126, 159, 168 and 235. The team parted ways with sure-fire Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and will have to find a suitable replacement. Darren Sproles was retained for at least another season and stands to make a whopping $7.283 million in 2010. However, Sproles is small and doesn't run well between the tackles. The team needs a powerful back whose thunder will compliment Sproles' lightning. One such player who fits the description is Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, whom the team hosted on a visit. Other running backs who've met with the team include Cal's Jahvid Best, Tennessee's Montario Hardesty and Toby Gerhart of Stanford. The Chargers will more than likely address the need with one of their top two selections. Of course, no running back can be productive without a strong offensive line. San Diego boasts one of the better lines in the game. They're excellent pass blockers and give Philip Rivers plenty of time to throw, but questions remain about their ability to run block. The Chargers ranked near the bottom at just 88.9 yards per game on the ground (31st). One area that could use an upgrade is right tackle. Jeromey Clary went down with an ankle injury in Week 10 and wasn't stellar to begin with. His backup, Brandyn Dombrowski, needed help from the tight end. The Chargers have brought in Nic Richmond of TCU and Mike Iupati of Idaho for visits. Iupati played guard in college, but most believe he's skilled enough to make the transition to right tackle. San Diego allowed the opposition to gain 117.8 yards per game on the ground in 2009. The main reason was a defensive line that wasn't stout, particularly at nose tackle. Jamal Williams was lost for the season after tearing a triceps in the opener. Ian Scott and Ogemdi Nwagbuo filled in, but not effectively. Williams signed with the Broncos in the offseason after San Diego cut him. Strong play from the nose tackle is vital in a 3-4 defense, and the Chargers will have to find a replacement. They've met with the top two nose tackle prospects already, Dan Williams of Tennesssee and Terrence Cody of Alabama. In the secondary, Antonio Cromartie was traded to the Jets and former first-round pick Antoine Cason is expected to start. Quenton Jammer's solid opposite Cason, and the team signed Donald Strickland and Nate Vasher to provide depth. Still, grabbing some young talent at the position in the later rounds couldn't hurt. OFFSEASON REPORT FRANCHISE PLAYER: None TRANSITION PLAYER: None UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: C Dennis Norman (wasn't re-signed), T Jon Runyan (retired), DT Alfonso Boone (re-signed for two years), DT Ian Scott (re-signed for one year), TE Kris Wilson (re-signed for two years), TE Brandon Manumaleuna (wasn't re-signed), WR Kassim Osgood (wasn't re-signed) RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Marques Harris (wasn't tendered), LB Dontarrious Thomas (wasn't tendered), WR Malcom Floyd (received first- and third-round tender at $3.168M), WR Vincent Jackson (received first- and third-round tender at $3.268M), DL Travis Johnson (received first-round tender at $1.226M), T Marcus McNeill (received first- and third-round tender at $3.168M), LB Shawne Merriman (received first- and third-round tender at $3.168M), T Jeromey Clary (received second-round tender at $1.684M and signed), LB Tim Dobbins (received original-round tender at $1.68M and signed), DT Antonio Garay (wasn't tendered, re-signed for two years), RB Darren Sproles (received first and third-round tender at $7.283M and signed), C Eric Ghiaciuc (wasn't tendered), QB Charlie Whitehurst (received original-round tender at $1.176M and signed) EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: LB Antwan Applewhite (tendered at $470,000 and signed), FB Mike Tolbert (tendered at $470,000 and signed) PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DT Alfonso Boone, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson, T Jeromey Clary, LB Tim Dobbins, DT Antonio Garay, RB Darren Sproles, LB Antwan Applewhite, FB Mike Tolbert PLAYERS ACQUIRED: RB Marcus Mason, CB Donald Strickland (signed for two years), CB Nate Vasher (signed for two years at $4.5M) PLAYERS LOST: RB Michael Bennett, WR Demetrius Byrd, CB Antonio Cromartie (via trade with New York Jets), TE Brandon Manumaleuna (signed with Chicago), WR Kassim Osgood (signed with Jacksonville), QB Charlie Whitehurst (via trade with Seattle), DT Jamal Williams, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, C Dennis Norman, T Jon Runyan, LB Marques Harris, LB Dontarrious Thomas, C Eric Ghiaciuc (signed with Cleveland) DRAFT NEEDS NOSE TACKLE -- Former Pro Bowler Jamal Williams was lost in the season opener due to injury, and the result was a defense that struggled to stop the run. Williams signed with Denver in the offseason after the team cut him. The most glaring need on the roster is the lack of a quality two-gap tackle, a position crucial to the success of a "30 front." RUNNING BACK -- Darren Sproles is a dynamic player, but he's small and isn't effective between the tackles. LaDainian Tomlinson was released, but was a mere shadow of his former self anyway. San Diego needs to find a powerful runner who'ill compliment Sproles. RIGHT TACKLE -- The offensive line is outstanding in pass protection, but shaky in run blocking. One area that could use an upgrade is right tackle. Jeromey Clary's the starter and Brandyn Dombrowski is his backup. Neither player is stellar. CORNERBACK -- Antonio Cromartie was traded to the Jets, but Antoine Cason should step in well as a starter. The Chargers also signed Donald Strickland and Nate Vasher in the offseason. Cornerback isn't a huge need for San Diego, but some young depth would be nice.