Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/20/12
The San Diego Chargers endured an uncharacteristically characteristic 2011 campaign: a surprising 4-1 start (considering their recent tendency to show a slow initial burst) was followed by an unprecedented six-game losing streak. Their patented December surge was not enough to avoid missing the postseason for the second consecutive season, as the No. 6 overall offense could not overcome the plentiful turnovers and absence of a pass rush. Consequently, the Italian Trojan has been beckoned to reignite this franchise (along with whoever remains from their fan base) as the AFC power it once was, and it all starts with the NFL Draft.

2011 Record:
8-8 - one measly victory away from reaching the playoffs, and instead losing out on a three-way tie atop the AFC West. Can I relocate my office to Denver?

Positions of Need:
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker. I list both as a package deal, because the Chargers need to pressure the quarterback above all else. They were tied for 23rd in the league with just 32 sacks, and the defense could have afforded more rest on the bench with shorter opposing drives. They cut Luis Castillo, while Stephen Cooper and Antonio Garay are still free agents, and the likes of Corey Liuget and Larry English have yet to perform as first-round selections. Signing Jarret Johnson from Baltimore was a solid first step forward, but new Defensive Coordinator John Pagano requires more toys in this 3-4 scheme, and with the batteries included.

Offensive Line. The other side of the trenches allowed only 30 sacks themselves, but it was an injury-riddled inconsistent unit that most likely played an intricate role in Philip Rivers' 27 giveaways. They retained Pro Bowl-caliber center Nick Hardwick, but with Kris Dielman's announced retirement and the further unlikelihood of re-signing Marcus McNeill, keeping Jared Gaither was unfortunately mandatory. Look for the Chargers to build depth and stability along the offensive line during this April's Draft, preferably with names people will know and remember - always a plus when it comes to guards and tackles.

Running Back/Tight End. While Le'Ron McClain replaces bruising touchdown-machine Mike Tolbert, the Chargers missed Darren Sproles immensely last season and should be in desperate search of their next speedy play-maker out of the backfield. Antonio Gates, meanwhile, is inescapably in decline, and his heir is not currently on the roster. San Diego would be reaching by fulfilling these second-tier needs as early as in the first round, but the two positions typically prove to act as Rivers' favorite targets in this stocked aerial arsenal, so attaining more weaponry is essential.

First Round Target(s):
Plan A - Nick Perry, DE (USC). You can speculate which pass rushers will be off the board by pick No. 18, but the DE-OLB hybrid that is Nick Perry fits perfectly in San Diego's 3-4 defense. He is undersized, but so are Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil in Denver (seriously, trade me), and Perry presents an identically high motor and ability to attack from both on and off the line of scrimmage; moreover, the kid is coachable. The fact that Perry's name still hasn't escalated bodes well for the Chargers. I would also bear in mind fellow crossbreed Whitney Mercilus, but we have enough defensive ends out of Illinois. Trojan Pride prevails once again in the state of California.

Plan B - Jonathan Martin, OT (Stanford). Due to limited workouts at the NFL Combine, Martin has fallen considerably behind Matt Kalil and Riley Reiff and is slipping down the rankings. Enter the San Diego Super Chargers! Although he doesn't display elite athleticism, his established intangibles as Andrew Luck's blind side at Stanford make him a steal if he were to fall to San Diego, whether he or Gaither is then designated to right tackle. However, it will be difficult to pass on Nick Perry regardless (pun slightly intended). Versatile guard Cordy Glenn from Georgia is another possibility.

Two teams that can go in a plethora of directions but could potentially draft the dynamic pass rusher the Chargers covet are the Arizona Cardinals (No. 13) and the New York Jets (No. 16). Then, of course, the Buffalo Bills are sitting there in the No. 10 slot, and no one can ever really predict what they are going to do. I suppose Mario Williams needs a supporting cast...

Trade Winds:
Even if the Chargers did possess the means to woo the No. 3 pick away from the Minnesota Vikings and upstage the Washington Redskins by selecting Kalil, that is not their style. Otherwise Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram, and David DeCastro are not such mind-blowing prospects to the point of warranting that drastic of a jump. If anything, San Diego could explore trading down. There are three clubs with multiple first-round picks - the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns, and the New England Patriots - who should be craving the services of Alabama running back Trent Richardson (who will most definitely slide), and the Chargers become a viable partner. In that case, running back Doug Martin out of Boise State and tight end Coby Fleener from Stanford suddenly appear to be a selections of higher value.

Draft History:
2011 - 1.18 - Corey Luiget, DE (Illinois)
2010 - 1.12 - Ryan Mathews, RB (Fresno State)
2009 - 1.16 - Larry English, DE (Northern Illinois)
2008 - 1.27 - Antoine Cason, CB (Arizona)
2007 - 1.30 - Craig Davis, WR (LSU)

The San Diego Chargers were boasting a promising offseason before I arrived. They wisely let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers purchase Vincent Jackson, wide receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal are certainly worthy substitutes, and the additions of safety Atari Bigby and backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst are underrated. The Chargers are clearly back on track to reclaim a division that is yet again wide open (yes, Peyton Manning, it still is) heading into 2012. Now if only I could draft a new Head Coach.

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