Bolt Report Card: Reviewing the Chargers' 2009 NFL Draft
This article first appeared on NFLTouchdown.com
There are few people who take to the mantra of "build from the draft" like Chargers GM A.J. Smith does. San Diego's biggest signing in the offseason was coming to terms with LaDainian Tomlinson in a restructuring deal over the next three years.
Only one player from outside the organization was added via free agency, former Cowboys LB Kevin Burnett. This made the Chargers' draft all the more important, as it is quite clear that the team shouldn't be expected to make any big moves in the outside market.
With eight picks going into the draft (but only two in the first 100 overall), the onus was on A.J. Smith and Co. to make a big splash.
Here's an overview of their selections.
Round One, Pick 16 (overall): Larry English (DE/OLB), Northern Illinois
Brought in to form a three-pronged attack with LBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, the 6'2", 255-pounder shouldn't be expected to play DE at the highest level unless he bulks up.
San Diego severely lacked a prominent pass rushing attack when Merriman was out for 15 games last season. English is thus also meant to be an insurance policy should injuries attack any one of the Chargers' starters at the outside linebacker position.
However, English is somewhat of a reach at 16 and comes off as a luxury, especially with San Diego's more pressing need for an inside linebacker, a safety, and offensive line help (with plenty of blue-chip prospects still available at the time of English's selection).
Round Three, Pick 78: Louis Vazquez (G), Texas Tech
The Chargers went about replacing Mike Goff with Vazquez, a guy who is just as tall (6'5") and heavier (333 lbs.) than Goff, and looks to be the front runner in the internal competition to replace him. A solid pass blocker in college (Texas Tech ran a spread offense), Vazquez is—on paper, anyway—an upgrade over Goff, who despite his solidity was getting on in years at the age of 33.
Round Four, Pick 113: Vaughn Martin (DE/DT), Western University
Could very well be the steal of the draft. A guy with Martin's versatility, first and foremost, is very important to a team like San Diego, which has run a 3-4 defense since the Wade Phillips days.
He will receive an extended audition to take over Igor Olshansky's spot on the defensive line. Martin reportedly impressed various teams in a workout but probably slipped to the fourth round due to the lower level of competition he faced in Canada.
Round Four, Pick 133: Tyronne Green (G/C), Auburn
Green will be thrown into the mix to fill Goff's spot at right guard, and he provides insurance should All-Pro center Nick Hardwick become injured. Probably a backup at this point, his youth and size are his biggest assets.
He was drafted despite the team's need for a tackle, as Jeromey Clary has been less than impressive.
Round Four, Pick 134: Gartrell Johnson (RB), Colorado St.
A hugely impressive prospect in high school, Johnson's stock dropped considerably in college. He didn't do much to help it at the combine as he ran a 4.81 in the 40-yard dash, second slowest among running backs.
This picks speaks volumes about the team, as they recognized the need for a RB but didn't want to pull the trigger on a deal that could've potentially landed them Chris Wells, Donald Brown, or even LeSean McCoy. Johnson is intended to provide a bruising change-up and complement Darren Sproles' and Tomlinson's speed.
Round Five, Pick 148: Brandon Hughes (CB), Oregon St.
Antonio Cromartie was less than stellar last season after playing with a hip injury, and 2008 first round pick Antoine Cason has yet to develop. Hughes plays into the Chargers' insurance plan to help bolster a pass defense that gave up a lot of big plays in 2008.
Round Six, Pick 189: Kevin Ellison (S), USC
A nice, safe pick in round six considering the Chargers needed a safety and Ellison was the best available player. However, with plenty of top-tier guys available as late as round three, why did San Diego wait this long to draft a position they desperately needed?
Round Seven, Pick 224: Demetrius Byrd (WR), LSU
Few things in life are certain, but you can usually bet on death, taxes, and A.J. Smith picking a player from LSU in the draft. Despite the underwhelming performances of Buster Davis and Jacob Hester (both LSU picks) at the pro level, Smith goes to the Tiger well once more in selecting Byrd.
Smith obviously disagreed with the consensus idea that San Diego needed an offensive tackle, as he passed on Michael Oher and didn't employ any of his later picks to at least bolster the depth behind Jeromey Clary.
Jumping at the chance to draft English isn't mind-boggling, but it's somewhat of a head scratcher considering the Chargers had more pressing needs. The rest of his picks range from solid to inspired, and most of the team's sins stem from omission.
With a bevy of talented players expected to go in round one still available in round two and beyond, San Diego didn't pull the trigger when it came to the opportunity to draft someone like Rey Maualuga or LeSean McCoy.
The grade might seem harsh considering there have been many kind words regarding most of San Diego's picks, but a team like this should be held to a higher standard considering the fact that they make no effort to get better through free agency.
The lack of aggressiveness shown by Chargers brass in the free agent waters should translate to heightened aggressiveness when it comes to the draft. It just didn't show this year.
Final Grade: C
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