The NFL Scouting Combine is a gathering place for coaching staffs and executives from all around the league. It's also an event that NFL pundits flock to from all around the country. Below is an accumulation of opinions from national media experts on the San Diego Chargers.
1. On the Chargers 2013 Season:
Adam Schefter, ESPN: If you rooted for the Chargers, you had to be really happy because nobody picked them to make the playoffs, and they made a run. They challenged Denver, which went to the Super Bowl. And there was no reason that the Chargers couldn't have come away victorious in that game. They had chances to play with Denver, just didn't make a couple plays when they had to. But, Philip Rivers showed that he is a franchise caliber quarterback. They got the running game going, they got great plays from (wide receiver) Keenan Allen. They need to get some more plays on the defensive side of the football, but if you are Chargers fan, how could you not be pleased with what you saw last year?
Rich Gannon, CBS: I thought it was kind of a roller coaster season, but it was a lot of fun to watch. I give them a lot of credit for overcoming a lot of adversity, for them to never stop believing in themselves, and for really what I thought was an incredible finish. I mean, to be able to finish the last month of the season the way they did, to win at home against Kansas City and win in the playoffs, it certainly carries a lot of momentum going into the offseason and it's something to build on in 2014.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: I was surprised because so many teams have a rough start to the season. They find a way to turn around. You don't give up. That's the sign of resilience. What do you do when it looks like it’s over? Do you just give up, or do you find a way to continue to compete? It's a testament to Coach Mike McCoy that he kept the team focused. The team didn't give up. It kept pushing in the right direction and we knew from early on the team was talented. Look what it did to Philadelphia early in the season. We knew this team could win games. It was just great to watch it happen and see them sneak in.
Bill Polian, ESPN: First of all, great coaching job. They were able to put together a good group and get some production from some old guys who have kind of plateaued. They did a great job with the draft -- (tackle D.J.) Fluker and Keenan Allen. You can make a very strong argument for Keenan Allen as the Rookie of the Year. So, all of that worked.
Jason La Canfora, CBS: Even in their heart of hearts, I don't think they knew that they were that good. When you looked at that team, it looked like a 'tweener team -- some guys maybe a little old, some guys still a little too young. I think Mike McCoy -- if you would have done the voting for Coach of the Year maybe one or two weeks later, if you would have done it the second week of the playoffs, I'm not saying he would have won that thing, because Rivera did a great job and Andy Reid did a great job, but I think he got overlooked a little bit. Talk about maximizing talent, I thought they exceeded any expectations. I looked at them in training camp and thought, if they win six games it's a hell of an accomplishment. They almost won double that.
2. On the Chargers Free Agency Options:
Jason La Canfora, CBS: "They are not going to be splashy in free agency. The cap situation isn't ideal. Signing (linebacker Donald) Butler -- they're going to try to invest in their own, and then be judicious about what makes sense in free agency. (Linebacker Dwight) Freeney, hopefully he is healthy. Hopefully some of the moves last year pay a little more dividends this year. A guy like (wide receiver) Danario Alexander, is he ever going to stay healthy? How much can you spend on a guy like that? I think they have some tricky decisions ahead, but this is a team that wants to go through the draft. They want to grow together. (Quarterback) Philip (Rivers), I think, is still in his prime. If you get a few more of the guys on defense on the field that you thought would be on the field, if you get both your pass rushers on the field at the same time -- a novel concept -- that would be a good thing. I think it's going to be more about growth from within, and this is a deep draft class. You've got the opportunity to find immediate starters in a couple of different spots. Their focus, I believe, will be on the draft. If there's a value free agent or two that makes sense for them, you do it. But it has to be the right guy at the right price.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: You're always looking for impact players. Look at what the Seahawks did. If I'm the Chargers, I look at the film of Super Bowl XLVIII and I study every play as to what the Seahawks did to the Denver Broncos and I figure out what I can take from that and make my team better equipped to master the Broncos. Look, your best bet is to master your division. Look at the Patriots. They're in the mix every year because there is no one else in that division that can compete with them. So they win their division, they get the home playoff games and they're in contention for a bye. The Chargers need to focus on how they can master the other three teams in their division. I think it starts with breaking down that Seahawks Broncos Super Bowl tape and saying, how can we be more like the Seahawks?
Rich Gannon, CBS: I think they have to continue to improve in a number of ways. I think defensively, they have to be able to impact the quarterback more and be more effective with the rush. That will help everything on the back end. Clearly, I think they can get better at the corner position because you look at that division, you have to go up against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I think Kansas City is going to try to make an emphasis to get better at wide receiver. You have to be really deep and talented at that group. I think that's an area where they can get a little more depth and talent. And I think when you look at the offensive side of the ball, they have to get healthy at wide receiver, we know about that. I was really impressed with what I saw from (running back) Ryan Mathews. I thought, for a guy that wasn't healthy late in the year, he really toughed it out and had a terrific year. Always look at the offensive line, because you have a quarterback that is maybe not as mobile, but is very effective when the protection is good around him. I think that's an area to look at as well.
Adam Schefter, ESPN: They probably need some more depth at the wide receiver position. The offensive line was just a hodgepodge unit, mishmash all year long due to injury. They need to get healthier there. They need to solidify, they need to protect Philip Rivers, open up holes in the running game. I think a lot of it extends to the offensive line. I think if they can get some help for D.J. Fluker and those guys, I think it would really help that team a lot.
3. On the Chargers 2014 Draft:
Jason La Canfora, CBS: I think the wide receivers class is really special and I think this is a team that's going to want to continue to get explosive, even with what Keenan did as a rookie. You know, as (tight end Antonio) Gates is getting toward the end, you'd love to have another guy who can take the top off -- a speed guy. I think there will be a lot of people who make sense. They could go a lot of different directions. If there's a pass rusher there who makes sense, I think you still have to be looking in that regard. You know, The way Mathews came on at running back that has to really make people feel good about the future. If he can stay healthy, maybe that's one position that you can scratch off the list that a year ago, people probably would have been saying, 'Hey, in 2014 they might be in the market for a running back.' I think if they can find explosive players on either side of the ball with where they're picking, that's the way they'll want to go. Keep adding dynamic players, because they've built a pretty good core there.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Well, if you like a guy a lot in the late first round, what happens is he'll end up going early, and that's the beauty of this. If we knew what Keenan Allen was going to be, he'd have gone a lot higher. That's why I love this process. I love it and I hate it, because we get so obsessed with how the draft boards shake out and where you get value and where you get a steal. I mean, look at what people said about the Seahawks draft two years ago. People were giving them C-, D , F-. You don't know until they start playing. Keenan Allen is a prime example of that because he would have been taken a hell of a lot higher if we would have known what he was going to become.
Sal Paolantonio, ESPN: I think they need to figure out how to be a cover team, a team that will take away the best wide receiver of the opposition, whether it's in the division or outside the division. I think that's so important, and I think they need another safety, for sure. They need help defensively all across the board -- more pass rush, more coverage ability at the corner position, more hitting ability at the safety position. The Seahawks taught us a very important lesson in Super Bowl XLVIII. Here you had the most prolific offense in the history of the NFL, right? 606 points, they scored. Younger, faster, stronger beats anything. And that's what the Chargers have to do.
Rich Gannon, CBS: There are so many good players. I think it's a really deep and talented group at wide receiver so that's always a possibility. At 25, a lot can happen in front of them you just have to be patient with the process. That's what happens when you have a good team and you make the playoffs like that. But I just thought it was an incredible finish for a team that a lot of people counted out in November.
Adam Schefter, ESPN: At 25, we're so early in the process that I wouldn't answer that right now, just because I'm not capable of answering that right now. They are here to meet with the players and figure out who they want at 25. The one thing that we do know about this draft: this one of the deeper drafts that we've seen in a long time, one of the deepest drafts in the last 10 or 20 years. So San Diego is going to have a prime opportunity to come away with a great player, not only at 25 in the first round, but at 55 or whatever number they are picking at in the second round because there is a great chance here to build up a lot of depth for any team. So if you're San Diego and you come out of this with an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman or an offensive lineman and a wide receiver, or a cornerback, you get the picture. They are going to get the chance to have some sort of combination of players that really upgrade that roster.
Albert Breer, NFL Network: It's hard to say at this point. I'd be lying if I said I had the whole thing down at this point. There is still a lot for a lot of us to learn. What I can say is that you're going to get a really good player there. What I've been told is that maybe 10 to 12 players in this draft are better than anybody in last year's draft which is an incredible thing when you think about that's just the top shelf. Then you're working down, so if you're drafting in the 20s, you might be getting a player who in another year could be a top-10 caliber player. There will be good players down there and it will be interesting to see what they do at some of the positions that have some more depth. The offensive tackle position has a lot of depth and there are good players there. There are a lot of good receivers in this draft so if they wanted to supplement something with Keenan Allen… there are a lot of different ways you can go because of the depth of the draft. The nice thing for somebody like the Chargers is you don't have to press a need in the first round because there are going to be good players further on down the line, which is part of the product of having so many underclassmen declaring.
Kevin O'Connell, ESPN, Former SDSU QB: The best thing about what the Chargers were able to do last year was they made the playoffs. They not only made the playoffs, but they won a game and they were a couple games from playing in the big one. So, they're in a position where I really think they can go best available. Obviously, I think they're pretty set at the quarterback position. I think that depending on what they decide to do really, anywhere else, is if they can get a dynamic, game-changing type player whether it be a corner, maybe adding another receiver, who knows maybe adding somebody up front on either one of the offensive or defensive lines. I think that they can really do that, but this draft is deep. There are a lot of guys that can really help the team. I think they'll do a great job, like they did last year when they pretty much got three first-round picks with their first, second and third-round picks.