Chargers general manager A.J. Smith even said as much in an interview in January, when he was scouting pass rushers, a position that the team may look at when it has the No. 18 pick in the first round Thursday from Radio City Music Hall.
“I’m focused on pass rush every year,” Smith told the Union-Tribune. “Are we looking for that now? Yeah.”
The team might be more desperate for a pass rusher this year more than most.
San Diego had 32 sacks in 2011, good enough (or bad enough) for 23rd in the NFL.
Add to that the notion that the AFC West might have the best quarterback rotation in the league and there is a definite sense of urgency at Chargers Park when it comes to creating havoc in the backfield.
Peyton Manning just signed with the Denver Broncos. The Raiders still have Carson Palmer and the Kansas City Chiefs will start Matt Cassel—and both are former Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
But that is just the beginning of the laundry list of elite quarterbacks the Chargers defense will face. Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger are all quarterbacks that are on the San Diego schedule in 2012.
If the Chargers are going to be successful, they need a more productive pass rush. Here are some guys that might be able to give San Diego that extra pressure off the edge.
Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State (video)
McClellin is one of those players whose draft stock has jumped exponentially the last few weeks. And that jump was validiated when McClellin got the surprise of his young career after being invited to be at Radio City Music Hall for this year’s draft.
And he deserves it. McClellin had 16 sacks in his final two years at Boise State, earning first-team all-conference honors in the WAC and Mountain West.
McClellin has a relentless motor (as seen by the highlights video in the link above) and is quick off the edge as evidenced by his 4.63 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
McClellin also gives any team versatility. He lined up at multiple positions in the front seven for the Broncos, mostly biding his time at outside linebacker and defensive end—a position that San Diego has not seen a lot of production out of seen Luis Castillo’s second year with the team when he recorded seven sacks.
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama (video)
If the Chargers are looking for impact at defensive end, look no further than the 2012 BCS title game defensive MVP, Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw played most of his time with Alabama at linebacker, but most scouts view him as a NFL defensive end, and one that can thrive as a pass rush specialist in a 3-4 scheme like the one San Diego utilizes.
Upshaw had 17 tackles for loss last year to go along with 8.5 sacks, good enough for second-best and fourth-best respectively in the defense-oriented SEC.
Unfortunately, he ran a relatively slow 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and has had off-the-field issues while at Alabama. But workouts aren’t everything and those “character issues” happened when he was an underclassman in Tuscaloosa.
He was arguably the Crimson Tide’s most impactful defender last year and he could have the same effect, especially if all he has to work on is focus on one aspect—getting the quarterback.
Mychal Kenrdicks, OLB, California (video)
Kendricks spent his senior season in Berkeley at inside linebacker. But he was an undersized inside linebacker and can move back to the rush specialist he was for Cal in 2010.
Not only did Kendricks have 8.5 sacks to lead the Bears in his junior season, he also ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at the Combine this year. His 4.47 seconds would put him among the fastest at tight end and would even challenge a few safeties and defensive backs.
Kendricks is a versatile player who has a nose for the ball and can go around defenders easily. He can also cover well, which can be useful if the team needs a linebacker who can drop back into coverage or disguise its blitzes.
He isn’t a first-round draft pick, but if San Diego is still looking for a rush linebacker in the second or third rounds, then Kendricks—the Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2011—should be that guy.
Miles Burris, OLB, San Diego State (video)
If the San Diego still needs a rush linebacker once day three (rounds four-seven) of this year’s NFL Draft begins, then the team can look in its own backyard.
Burris—as part of the Aztecs rebirth in college football—was one of the team’s most consistent players and one of SDSU’s most feared defenders. Burris had a total of 17.5 sacks in his final two years with San Diego State. He also had 28.5 tackles for loss in that same time span.
The knock on Burris is that he is not athletic enough. But, if all he has to do is go after the quarterback and stop running backs in the backfield, he doesn’t have to be a star athlete.
All he has to do is focus on disrupting plays behind the line of scrimmage, which he did plenty of in college.
Cordarro Law, DE/OLB, Southern Miss (video)
Here is someone who is definitely flying under the radar but can have a huge impact in the NFL, even though he has been a productive defensive end for most of his career with the Golden Eagles.
Law finished his career at Southern Miss with 27.5 sacks, including 9.5 his senior season. Add to that his 22 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles and Law can be a major presence, especially on throwing downs.
He is definitely a last day pick, with most questioning his motor and his speed. But if he does not have to play every down—and with Jacques Cesaire, Corey Liuget and Luis Castillo he will not—then Law can be a valuable pick up in the sixth or seventh round.