2004 NFL Draft: A Look Back at One of Best Drafts a Team Has Ever Had
The San Diego Chargers finished the 2003 season with a league-worst 4-12 record. They were granted the first overall draft pick and speculation was that they would select the "can't miss quarterback" out of Ole Miss, Eli Manning.
Manning and his agent, Tom Condon, let the Chargers know that if they drafted him with the first pick that he would not sign a contract to play for them. The Chargers selected him anyway knowing that they could get a good amount in return for the quarterback. San Diego then made a trade that sent Manning to the New York Giants for their fourth overall draft pick Philip Rivers and their third round pick in that draft. The Chargers also received the Giants first and fifth round picks in the 2005 draft through the same deal.
In 2005, the Chargers would use that first round pick they received from the Giants to draft Shawne Merriman. Merriman would be a Pro Bowler in his first three seasons and a terror on San Diego's defense earning himself the nickname of "Lights Out."
*New York Giants First-Round Pick: QB Philip Rivers (N.C. State)
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Rivers played behind veteran quarterback Drew Brees in his rookie and sophomore seasons, which was most likely a good thing for him to do as he learned tips and skills from Brees. Brees left San Diego for New Orleans in free agency after the 2005 season, due to the Chargers letting him walk and believing Rivers was ready.
In Rivers first season as a starter, he took the team to a 14-2 record. It could be argued that it was LaDainian Tomlinson who led them to their record by dominating the NFL and carrying the offense on his shoulders, but Rivers did not have a bad season in his own right. He passed for 3,388 yards while throwing for 22 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.
Rivers was selected to be a part of the Pro Bowl in 2006 and has since been named to the Pro Bowl twice in 2009 and 2010.
He continues to be an elite quarterback in the NFL and an amazing talent in the league. Rivers is the franchise player for the Chargers and will continue to be.
San Diego Chargers 2nd-Round Pick (35): DT Igor Olshansky (Oregon)
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The Chargers used their second round pick on a defensive tackle from Oregon, Igor Olshansky.
Olshansky was a big, strong, and powerful defensive lineman who did a good job for the San Diego Chargers during his tenure. He was an immediate starter on defense the season after he was drafted. Olshanksy played five years in San Diego and racked up 179 tackles, 11 sacks, and forced three fumbles as a Charger.
*San Diego Chargers 3rd-Round Pick (65): K Nate Kaeding (Iowa)
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The Chargers acquired the pick to draft Nate Kaeding from the New York Giants through the Eli Manning trade.
The kicker out of Iowa, Kaeding, has been one of the best kickers in the league ever since he was drafted. He has one of the best field goal kicking percentages in NFL history at 86.5 percent. His career long field goal is from 57 yards out.
He has had his struggles in the playoffs as he has missed multiple game-winning or game-tying field goals. He also had a horrific game against the New York Jets in 2009 during the AFC Divisional Round. He went 0-3 in that game from distances of 37, 57, and 40 yards. The Chargers would end up losing that game as well. It could be said that Kaeding is one of the reasons the Chargers struggle in the playoffs.
Kaeding is almost automatic during the regular season, but his playoff woes have been brutal to the team. He is still a fantastic kicker though.
San Diego Chargers 3rd-Round Pick (66): C Nick Hardwick (Purdue)
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The tattooed center out of Purdue, Nick Hardwick, has been as good of a center as they come.
Hardwick played with, at the time, Chargers quarterback Drew Brees at Purdue so drafting him to re-unite them was a very intelligent move to make. In 2006, he was named to his first Pro Bowl. He has been a cornerstone of San Diego's offensive line and rightly so, he was extended by the Chargers during the 2006 off-season to a five-year $17 million contract.
The Chargers have one of the premier centers in the game and this selection in the third round of the 2004 draft is what did it for them.
San Diego Chargers 4th-Round Pick (98): DE Shaun Phillips (Purdue)
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Defensive end Shaun Phillips was the second Purdue player drafted in the 2004 draft and both of them were selected by the San Diego Chargers.
Phillips actually went to Purdue to catch passes from Drew Brees as a tight end. Oh how things have changed since then as he switched sides of the ball in his freshman year to play defensive end. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention in each of his first three seasons and finished his college career with 33.5 sacks, which was a Purdue record.
Phillips is now one of the best outside linebackers in the game today and was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl as a replacement for Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
In his career, all he has done is play great. Phillips has sacked the quarterback 56.5 times in his career, while forcing 18 fumbles and intercepting the football four times. He is the undisputed leader and playmaker on the best statistical defense in the NFL, the Chargers.
San Diego Chargers 5th-Round Pick (154): RB Michael Turner (Northern Illinois)
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Michael "The Burner" Turner was drafted by the Chargers in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL draft.
At Northern Illinois, Turner rushed for 4,913 yards and was an established runner for his college career. The Chargers drafted Turner to play on special teams and be backup to future Hall-of-Fame runningback, LaDainian Tomlinson.
Turner was a great backup for LT and when he was given the ball he made plays with it. Unfortunately for the Chargers and their fans, Turner left the team via free agency in 2008 when he signed a six-year, $34.5 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
Turner has since been named to two Pro Bowls and earned the title as one of the best runningbacks in the NFL. He is a great weapon for the Falcons, but the Chargers never gave him the starting job for the reason being LaDainian Tomlinson.
It sure would have been nice to see Turner wait it out and be LT's successor, but it's easy to understand why he didn't. Good luck to Turner and him continuing his fantastic career, but he should always remember that he was once a San Diego Charger and learned from one of the best ever.
San Diego Chargers Sign Undrafted Free Agent: WR Malcom Floyd (Wyoming)
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Malcom Floyd was an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming. As a wide receiver prospect in 2004, Floyd wasn't even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. How general manager A.J. Smith found out about him and had the confidence to sign him, and then Floyd actually be really good is beyond believable.
Floyd caught his first touchdown pass from Philip Rivers. It was also Rivers' first touchdown in the NFL as well and it was the first of many for the duo.
Had it not been for some injury problems involving his hamstring, he would be more-so looked at as a No. 1 receiver. Floyd has caught 127 balls for the Chargers, while gaining 2,314 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. He has been an important and reliable weapon in the Chargers passing attack and Rivers arsenal.
This is one of the many great finds that A.J. Smith has found in his time as Chargers GM.
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The moves the San Diego Chargers made through the 2004 NFL Draft can and will be thought of as the building blocks for their successful present and future.
They found their franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers to go with their Hall of Fame runningback, LaDainian Tomlinson.
They added a defensive star in Shaun Phillips and a great kicker in Nate Kaeding.
San Diego addressed their offensive line and found a premier center and leader in Nick Hardwick.
The Chargers made value picks with each player and also found several hidden gems. A total of five players that San Diego drafted in 2004 have been to the Pro Bowl and that is a ridiculous number for one team in one draft.
San Diego and the other 31 teams in the NFL can only hope to have a draft that was as successful as this one.
A.J. Smith gets negative criticism based on how poorly he drafts, but to give the man his due, he struck gold with the players he took in this draft.