Will Bolts choose uniqueness or versatility?

May, 2, 2014
May 2
8:00
AM ET
One of several debates happening in every NFL personnel department leading to the draft is whether to choose uniqueness or versatility when comparing players with similar draft grades.

Will a team pick a player who does one thing really well? Or will they select someone based on the player's ability to do several things at a reasonably high level?

In a quest to find an elite pass-rusher, the Chargers have gone down both roads with uneven results.

In 2009 under the leadership of general manager A.J. Smith, the Chargers selected Larry English of Northern Illinois in the first round with the No. 16 pick. English showed he could do one thing really well in college: rush the passer.

English finished with 31.5 career sacks and 63 tackles for loss at Northern Illinois, but has just 11 sacks in five seasons with the Chargers. His 2013 season was cut short after he suffered a torn biceps while sacking Peyton Manning in a 28-20 loss to Denver in Week 10.

English played mostly defensive end in college, with his hand on the ground. So there was some concern about how he would make the transition to outside linebacker, developing an ability to drop in coverage and play in space.

While English could have played better, he's still young (at age 28) for a pass-rusher, a position where players traditionally take longer to develop.

In 2012, Smith selected another pass-rusher in the first round, picking up South Carolina product Melvin Ingram with San Diego's pick at No. 18 overall.

Unlike English, Ingram came from a power conference. He was known for his versatility in college, playing defensive tackle, defensive end and outside and inside linebacker for the Gamecocks.

His senior season, Ingram finished with 31 tackles, 10 sacks and 2 interceptions while playing mostly defensive tackle in 14 games.

In his return from a serious knee injury late last season, Ingram totaled just eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble during the regular season.

But Ingram's impact can't be measured by statistics alone. He brought an added boost to practice sessions, along with an infectious energy and enthusiasm that rubbed off on the rest of the defense during games.

Ingram still has only two sacks in 20 NFL games. So Ingram's talent level, like English's, has not matched his production in the NFL.

In need of another talented pass-rusher, the Chargers will likely have to choose between productive edge rushers like Auburn's Dee Ford or Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu, or someone who provides more versatility, like BYU's Kyle Van Noy or Oregon State's Scott Crichton.

So which will Chargers general manager Tom Telsco select -- uniqueness or versatility?

Telesco, like most head personnel men nearing the draft, was vague in his response.

“It depends on how good that unique skill set is,” Telesco said. “Blue-chip players are basically difference-makers. So if you've got a guy that's a difference-maker in one area, it may trump it. Those are a lot of the discussions we're having right now, comparing players with similar value, and what do they do.”

Eric D. Williams

ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter

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