Grading the San Diego Chargers Draft
The notion of assigning a grade to players who have never touched the football field on a professional level is a time-honored tradition that all logical arguments cannot dispel.
The true value of these players will not be known until at least a full season (potentially two or three) has passed, but the idea of perceived value can give some idea as to how well a team fared on draft weekend.
Here are San Diego’s picks; studied and graded as best as they can be at this point in their yet-to-be-started careers.
Round 1 Pick 12: Ryan Mathews Grade B+
Analyzed to death before the draft ever began as San Diego’s likely choice, it was no surprise that the power runner was selected as the Chargers' replacement for Ladainian Tomlinson.
His between the tackles strength and a good burst should be a solid fit for a team that will not be putting a big tight end or full back in front of him.
Respecting his ability in the box will help open space outside of it for San Diego’s vertical passing game to continue to thrive, a great dynamic that was hamstrung by Tomlinson’s inability to get past even minimal contact last year.
So why is such a great fit for the team graded a B? The pick of the player himself gets an A while the trade up to land him slips it a small peg.
Losing a very high second-round pick in a deep draft is painful, especially when several first-round talents like Sergio Kindle and Golden Tate were still available, but addressing the second primary need in Round Five helps considerably.
Round 3 Pick 79: Donald Butler Grade B
Butler is an interesting choice. As a direct replacement for Tim Dobbins he is easily an upgrade who could potentially unseat Stephen Cooper in a couple years.
The degree of need at inside linebacker is debatable, however, after Brandon Siler’s emergence in 2009. That said, Butler was rated an upper second-round talent by several pundits and rounds out a workmanlike group by adding a much more athletic element. He could easily end up being the best ILB on the team.
He also has the tools to be a special team beast as well as become the team’s best coverage linebacker.
An A-/B+ for value at 79, he drops some because of how much of a need he fills and the fact that San Diego had to trade up to secure him.
Round 4 Pick 110: Darrell Stuckey Grade B-
Darrell Stuckey is not the flashiest name in a draft that featured several standouts at the position, but with Kevin Ellison’s physical tools limiting his potential upside, the team needed an upgrade—especially in coverage.
Stuckey’s smallish size for a strong safety (6'0", 205 lbs) may allow Ellison to stay in for obvious running downs, but he is far more versatile and athletic, and is considered a good value pick that could have gone in the late second round in a less deep safety class.
Moving up from 126 to 110 was a nice subtle gambit in the Ryan Matthews trade, though it can be argued whether that factor be applied here or in Round One.
Round 5 Pick 146: Cam Thomas Grade A+
Thomas and Reshad Jones rank as the biggest steals of the round. San Diego was successful on several levels with this pick.
In terms of value they landed an upper third-round player halfway through the fifth. What makes the value pick even more of a standout is that it also addresses a glaring need by filling out the undersized DT lineup with a 330-pound clog in the middle.
He is not the potential game-breaker of Dan Williams, or the immovable rock of Terrence Cody, but he can step in and secure a position filled by a host of journeymen in 2009, while also going a full two rounds below where it was expected San Diego might take him.
In the third round he’s a solid B for the average value but great need he fills. In the fifth he can’t be anything but an A.
Round 5 Pick 168: Jonathan Crompton Grade C
Crompton is a player with great potential who could be molded well by the San Diego coaching system—which turned out two of the four players to receive MVP votes last year—in a low-pressure environment that won’t need him to take a snap for a few years (if ever).
He is a decent value as a late fifth-round pick, but when two of the top three from this quarterbacking class slip a full round below expectation that perceived fourth-round ranking becomes fluid.
So why the suspect grade? As a fifth rounder he doesn’t offer much as a potential RFA bargaining chip (like third-round choice Charlie Whitehurst), and should be spending at least the next two years as third on the depth chart.
Ignoring that I personally favored the still available Dan LeFevour with this pick, several solid options were available in the seventh or via undrafted free agency.
Round 7 Pick 235: Dedrick Epps Grade B-
San Diego needed an additional tight end after Brandon Manumaleuna signed with Chicago earlier in the offseason. A heightened emphasis at the position kept any high-value picks from dropping into the seventh, but San Diego still landed a solid choice in Epps.
He should step in as the best blocker of the team’s troika, and pairs decent hands with that blocking ability.
So why the lukewarm grade? Because Epps doesn’t bring that much different to the table from Kris Wilson. Both are hard-working (but slightly undersized) H-back types who have decent hands but aren’t considered true receiving threats. They can be determined blockers, but sub-250 lbs frames will keep either from getting any type of short-yardage push.
If Wilson had left and Manumaleuna been retained, his skill set would have been a nice middle ground and change of pace, but in San Diego’s current grouping, a more focused role player would probably have been a better fit than the multi-tool tight end.
Total Grade: B
San Diego landed the best non-speed back in the draft in Ryan Mathews as well as a very high value pick by waiting for the fifth round to secure Cam Thomas.
Stuckey and Butler could easily work their way into the starting lineup before season's end, while Crompton and Epps fill out depth in areas that needed it.
San Diego made the most of only securing six players by making sure that there were no reaches and that all were considered good value.
The multiple trades to move up could be questioned. However, addressing that is impossible because one can never know just where a player would have dropped to, but it does have to be given some consideration.
A few positions that could have used an additional name (developmental corner, third wideout, successor to Boone at DE depth) also should be considered. Especially when a Jevan Snead could have been brought on undrafted, and that later fifth gone to fill an opening that has a better chance of seeing the field.
San Diego definitely came away much better after this weekend, but there are enough nitpicks to keep it out of A territory.