Sports in San Diego are cursed.
It may not be as famous as the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Billy Goat, or even the Curse of the 1925 Cardinals, who allegedly claimed a wrongful NFL championship that year, but teams in San Diego can’t win championships
And if there’s a curse that has plagued the Chargers in the last decade—a decade which rivals the 1960s AFL Chargers as the franchise’s best—then it must be the Curse of the Hitman.
It’s been nine years since Rodney Harrison last played for San Diego.
In those nine years, while seven different players assumed the strong safety position that he so fearlessly played, Harrison played in three Super Bowls for the New England Patriots, won two of them and now is an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America.
Kwamie Lassiter, Terrence Kiel, Clinton Hart, Kevin Ellison, Steven Gregory, Paul Oliver and Bob Sanders have all tried to fill Harrison’s shoes and all have been cut from the team.
Even Pro Bowl free safety Eric Weddle saw some action at the strong safety.
But the Chargers aren’t going to move Weddle to the strong side. They’re looking for someone to play alongside him. It’s a search that will continue (and may end) when the team begins the NFL Draft on Thursday with the No. 18 overall pick.
"The search is ongoing until we find somebody that we truly like," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith told the North County Times. "When will it stop? When we find someone like Eric Weddle to play the strong safety position and he proves himself consistently on the field."
There are two sure-fire first-round options for San Diego when they pick Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
Alabama’s Mark Barron may be gone by the time the Chargers get to send in their draft card. Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith might not be good enough to pick at 18 (but maybe in the mid-to-late 20s).
One thing San Diego could do is move veteran corner Quentin Jammer to the strong safety position. Jammer is aging and is about to begin his 10th season in the NFL. That would give A.J. Smith the option to draft a cornerback instead of trying to find a safety to play with Weddle.
Nonetheless, here are a few prospects that the Chargers should look at when the draft begins Thursday.
Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame (video)
Word on the street is that A.J. Smith is in love with the safety out of Notre Dame. The problem is that if the Chargers take him at 18, most would say that the pick was a reach, as Harrison Smith is projected as a sure-fire second-rounder.
But A.J. Smith has been known to make a few surprises before.
Harrison Smith played both safety and linebacker for the Irish. He has a nose for the ball, intercepting seven passes in his junior year. Smith did not have an interception in his senior season, but he did have 10 pass break ups and a forced fumble.
With his experience at linebacker, Smith is comfortable playing close to the line of scrimmage. But of course, he has the speed to cover ground and make the touchdown-saving tackle if he needs to.
If A.J. Smith is looking for a player like Weddle to play with Weddle, Harrison Smith can be that guy. He’s said so as much. The question is whether or not San Diego will take him in the first round or hope that he falls into the second.
Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina (video)
Allen is another one of those hybrid players in this year’s draft. While at South Carolina, he played the “Spur” position, which could be akin to San Diego State’s “Aztec”—a safety-linebacker combination.
And Allen was definitely an impact player for the Gamecocks. Just look at these stats from his senior season: 88 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, one sack and three interceptions.
Allen did not have a great Combine, running a 4.67 40-yard dash, putting him in the middle of the strong safety pack. But he has excellent “game speed” and made a living making impact plays for South Carolina.
If he was on Alabama or LSU he would be a member of the All-SEC first team. But he played for the Gamecocks and still garnered a spot on the All-SEC second team.
If Smith is still looking for a strong safety late Friday night or early Saturday morning (the third or fourth rounds), then Allen might be that sleeper pick that the Chargers are looking for to finally replace Harrison.
Brandon Taylor, SS, LSU (video)
Taylor was probably the forgotten man in the LSU secondary last year. Fast, physical and maybe overly aggressive (sound familiar?), Taylor has all the tools to have an immediate impact for any defense. His draft stock may have fallen because he’s not the best in man-to-man coverage and that he goes for the kill all to often, but that latter characteristic is probably something the Chargers need—a little bit of overt aggression
He pursues the ball well and his 7.5 tackles for a loss last year shows that he can wreak havoc in the backfield.
There is no consensus, however, on where Taylor will go. Some pundits believe that Taylor is a good second-round draft pick. Other mock drafts have Taylor going in the third or fourth round. But he shouldn’t.
(Note: the next two potential picks are cornerbacks, just in case the Chargers can convince Quentin Jammer to move to strong safety.)
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama (video)
If Jenkins hadn’t strayed off the deep end at Florida, then he would have been a top 15 if not top 10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Instead, after being dismissed by the Gators for his second marijuana-related arrest, Jenkins finished his collegiate career at North Alabama. And he stilled shined.
Jenkins has all the tools to be one of the league’s best cover corners. He has great speed, great length and does not get beat often.
Some still think that Jenkins will be selected in the late first round. Most think that he won’t survive the second round.
Either way, if the Chargers decide to roll the dice and put Jammer at safety, Jenkins will be more than a viable option to take his spot opposite of Antoine Cason.
Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida (video)
Thirty-six pass breakups and 10 interceptions. If you’re looking for a corner that doesn’t let anything get by, Robinson is your man.
The junior has had productive seasons every year he’s played for the Golden Knights, including six interceptions his freshman year.
Robinson ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any defensive back at the NFL Combine, clocking in at 4.33 with unofficial speeds of 4.29.
The Chargers like to put pressure on the quarterback by sending a blitzer or two on several occasions, meaning that the cornerbacks will be on islands in man-to-man defense. Not a worry for Robinson, who spent most of the time in that coverage.
Robinson is a projected second-round or third-round pick.
Again, if San Diego sees Jammer at safety, Robinson is another prospect who can fill his shoes at corner.