Three years ago, the Chargers took a pass rusher described as “a natural athlete … experienced, smart and competitive,” in the Pro Football Weekly 2009 Draft Preview. He was supposed to come in, start across from Shaun Phillips and create one of the top pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
This season, the Chargers took a pass rusher described as “highly athletic with fluid movement skills … confident and completive,” in the Pro Football Weekly 2012 Draft Preview. He, too, will be expected to come in, earn a first-string job and create a pass-rushing duo with Phillips.
The first player, Northern Illinois OLB Larry English, has recorded seven sacks in three seasons and has been an injury-riddled disappointment. His poor production since entering the league is the reason that this year the team opted to take the second player, South Carolina OLB Melvin Ingram. If the Chargers are going to have an elite defense, they will need Ingram to produce at a much higher level than English.
Given his college background, Ingram would seem to be a perfect choice for the Chargers. He can get to the passer — 10 sacks last season — and is a strong run stopper who can play several positions. With experience on special teams, Ingram will surely have a role on both punt- and field-goal-block teams for San Diego. The Chargers also like to rotate linebackers, so the pick gives more depth at a position that was in great need of it entering the offseason.
However, the risks with Ingram are that he turns into English 2.0. He had only one dominant season in college and will be playing a position (outside linebacker) in the pros that he didn’t play much of as a Gamecock. Injuries were also an issue, although Ingram’s broken foot that caused him to miss his entire sophomore year was back in 2008.
In free agency, the Chargers signed OLB Jarret Johsnon, a strong run stuffer who is going to be a force on first and second downs. If GM A.J. Smith landed a difference maker in Ingram, he’ll have himself a great linebacker rotation with Johnson, Phillips, pass-rush specialist Antwan Barnes, whatever they can get out of English, along with the rookie.
If Ingram isn’t a difference maker, however, and the team took another athletic, competitive linebacker who doesn’t pan out, Smith might be looking for a new job when the 2013 draft rolls around.