In 2009 San Diego spent a seventh round draft pick on wide receiver Demetrius Byrd. This was a player who they knew would not play in 2009, and might not ever play. They took the chance because it was a late draft pick that went towards a late second-round quality player. Assuming health permits his return to the football field, this could potentially be a great bargain for the team.
Another player whose football career was in jeopardy looks to make himself eligible for this coming draft, USC alum Stafon Johnson*. Having missed an entire season due to a gruesome weight room injury where his larynx was crushed during bench presses, he will not be drafted high at all, and could even run the risk of going undrafted altogether.
This could be a great opportunity for a San Diego team that soon needs to find at least a compliment to Tomlinson. Sproles is a great, versatile weapon, but defenses have had much better success stopping him on runs this year. In six games with significant carries (seven or more) he has only once averaged better than three yards per carry.
Hester and Tolbert have shown some potential, putting up good yardage in garbage minutes. The team however has thus far appeared reticent to attempt an expansion of that role, giving them a combined eight carries in the two games following their big second half against Denver.
Stafon Johnson is a well rounded back, meaning he doesn’t have the pure elusiveness of Sproles, or the brute force of Michael Turner. This may actually be ideal for a tandem back, as the team can run Tomlinson-suited plays through Johnson (that playcalling is, I feel, a big part of Sproles’ reduced success taking handoffs this year).
Despite the strong run the Chargers are having at present, they will have a long wish list in the offseason. This starts with a number of players that they will want to resign, a situation that will probably prevent any aggressive action in the free agent market.
They also have depth and health concerns along both lines. Jamal Williams will be back, but his knees are still plenty creaky, and none of the host of backups stepping in (as admirably as they may be doing) looks to be his heir apparent.
On offensive line they need a starting-quality right tackle to pair with Marcus McNeil. Jeremy Clary is a good backup who can step in to spot start. He is not the answer as a long term starter, and a trip to the second team would expand that area’s depth and versatility as well.
Cornerback is a point of some concern. After making an early push to supplant Cromartie, Antoine Cason found himself sliding down the depth chart, losing his nickel role to Steven Gregory. Even with his success, the team has three cornerbacks total at present. Next to Rivers, Quentin Jammer might just be the most indispensable player on the team just because of what’s behind him.
While you can also make arguments for any number of positions (one more wideout, a true road paving fullback, etc.), the point is that day early to mid rounds can be spent in any number of positions. I don’t think this team will pursue a day one running back.
So why not take a chance on a potential bargain. Use a late round flyer to snag a guy who could very well prove a much higher value than his draft position suggests. If he doesn’t work out and spends most of his time riding the bench, it’s still a feel-good story with great PR for the team. I think that makes for a win-win proposition for a team that can better spend its first day drafting elsewhere.
*Source: “LA Sports Live” radio program 710 espn