San Diego Chargers: The 10 Best Rookies in Franchise History

Alex Ramirez@@alexramirez127Correspondent IAugust 17, 2011

San Diego Chargers: The 10 Best Rookies in Franchise History

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    Some players come and go in the National Football League, and others are consistent throughout their career.

    Many players have great rookie seasons, then nothing after that. Other players have average rookie seasons but turn out to be great. In professional football, anything can happen.

    San Diego has been known for drafting talented players. They've also been known for letting them go. Examples—Michael Turner, Rodney Harrison, Drew Brees, etc.

    Some of the Chargers' greats didn't even have decent rookie years. Antonio Gates, arguably the best Chargers tight end ever, only had 329 yards. Still, there are many others that had great rookie seasons in San Diego.

    Here are the 10 best rookies in Chargers history. Sorry guys, Ryan Leaf didn't make the cut.

10. John Hadl

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    There have only been a few quarterbacks who have played their rookie seasons in San Diego: Dan Fouts, Ryan Leaf, Craig Whelihan and John Hadl.

    While each of them had similar numbers, Hadl had the best.

    Hadl was drafted in 1962 by the Chargers out of the University of Kansas.

    John started just 10 games his rookie season, throwing for 1,632 yards and 15 touchdowns.

    The numbers aren't that big, but for a Charger's rookie quarterback, it is. Hadl played with San Diego for 10 years. (1962-1972)

9. Terrence Kiel

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    Terrence Kiel was the Chargers strong safety from 2003-2006, before Eric Weddle took over the position.

    Kiel wasn't a well-known guy. He wasn't one of the premier safeties, but he was a very underrated player.

    He reminds me a lot of Quentin Jammer now. Great player, just no attention.

    In 2003, San Diego used their 62nd pick in the second round to draft Terrence Kiel.

    The expectations weren't huge, but he would have lived up to them anyway.

    Kiel had a big role to fill. He was replacing Charger's great, Rodney Harrison.

    Kiel only started eight of the 16 games in his rookie season because of the transition into the NFL. He recorded 59 solo tackles with nine assisted. He also added two interceptions. 

    In 2008, Terrence Kiel was coming home from a party at Stephen Cooper's house when he drove into a wall which ejected him from the car and killed him.

    R.I.P. to a short-term great in Chargers history.

8. Sid Gillman

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    You might think it's interesting to see a coach on here, but with the success of his first season, it was hard to leave him off.

    Sid Gillman was the very first coach of the Chargers all the way back in 1960.

    At that time, they were still the Los Angeles Chargers.

    It wasn't Gillman's first year coaching, but it was his first for the Chargers.

    In 1960, Sid led the Chargers to a 10-4 record, which won the AFL West.

    In the playoffs, Los Angeles won the conference game and advanced to the then-called AFL Championship, which is the Super Bowl today.

    The Chargers played a great game but came up short 24-16 to the dominant Houston Oilers.

    Out of every Chargers coach, Gillman has the most success, as well as the fastest.

    He's an all-time great who should be recognized more often.

7. Antoine Cason

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    Antoine Cason will be entering his fourth year in the league.

    He was drafted 27th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.

    It was the second year in a row that San Diego drafted a defensive back No. 1 overall. Antonio Cromartie was the player in 2007.

    Cason had a much better rookie season than people think.

    Cason had 59 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, two interceptions, and one touchdown in his rookie year.

    Cason blew Cromartie's rookie stats away. Cromartie had only 20 solo tackles, four assisted, and no interceptions.

    The reason Antoine Cason's rookie season doesn't stand out is because that was Cromartie's breakout year.

    That was the season that he had the 10 interceptions, which led the NFL.

    Cason did well in the backup position. He was the No. 3 cornerback on the roster, behind Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie.

    Antoine Cason is a very consistent player. His speed and elusiveness give him a huge advantage at the position.

    With Cromartie being gone these last couple of seasons, the fans have started to see his athleticism and quality production. Every year he tends to get better.

6. Don Woods

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    Don Woods was a running back from the University of New Mexico who was selected all the way in the sixth round by the Green Bay Packers.

    Woods was released at the end of training camp, and the Chargers signed him for the 1974 season. 

    Woods started playing for the Chargers in Week 3.

    By the end of the season, he had rushed for 1,162, which set the NFL record at that time.

    He also rushed for more than 100 yards in seven consecutive games.

    After such a great season, Woods was selected as the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    From then on, injuries plagued the rest of his career. He only rushed for about 2,000 more yards in the next five years.

    Don Woods was a great addition to the team in 1974 with a great rookie season in the NFL.

5. John Jefferson

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    John Jefferson was the San Diego Chargers' No. 1 receiver from 1978-1980.

    He was selected out of Arizona State with the 14th pick of the 1978 draft.

    Jefferson was well known because of the goggles he wore while he played.

    He received the nickname "Space-Age Receiver."

    Jefferson had an outstanding rookie season in San Diego.

    He had 56 receptions for 1,001 yards. That's an average of an amazing 17.9 yards per catch.

    Jefferson reached the end zone 13 times as well in his rookie season, which lead the league.

    Jefferson is an all time great wide receiver in San Diego.

    He had more than 1,000 receiving yards in all three seasons as a Charger. For a guy who played for San Diego for a short amount of time, he was a very proficient receiver and elite scorer.

4. Junior Seau

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    In 1990, the San Diego Chargers drafted Junior Seau, a linebacker out of USC.

    They used the No. 5 pick in the draft to select him.

    The "Tasmanian Devil" was a fan favorite in San Diego.

    The energy he brought to the field was incredible. He was always ready to play the game.

    In his rookie season, Seau started 15 games. He recorded 85 tackles and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

    Junior left USC after—ironically—his junior year. Seau definitely lived up to the expectations in a hurry.

    Junior Seau was the type of guy who was feared by offensive players. He was a hard-hitting phenomenon.

    Like many other players on this list, Junior's rookie season was just the beginning of his very successful career.

    Seau is definitely a San Diego great, and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at some point.

3. Shawne Merriman

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    Lights out!

    Weren't those the good days?

    The Chargers defense always had that one guy people feared. First it was Junior Seau, then Rodney Harrison, then Shawne Merriman.

    What Merriman did in his first couple years in San Diego was unbelievable.

    The San Diego Chargers selected Shawne Merriman out of Maryland with the 12th pick of the 2005 draft.

    The pick that San Diego used to get Merriman actually came from the trade in 2004 that landed Philip Rivers.

    In his rookie season, Shawne Merriman didn't start till Week 7, but he still recorded 10 sacks with a total of 43 tackles.

    Impressive to fans, he was voted in to play in the Pro Bowl. H

    is success as a rookie didn't stop there. At the season's end, Merriman received the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Out of the 50 voters, 28.5 voted for Merriman.

    Shawne Merriman was a guy fans wanted to watch play.

    His fiery attitude, lights-out dance and speedy pass rush was exactly what made him the player he is today.

2. Leslie O'Neal

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    In 1986, the San Diego Chargers used the eighth pick of the draft to select defensive end Leslie O'Neal.

    Leslie came out of Oklahoma State University. He attended the college for four years.

    O'Neal is a 6'4'', 281-pound quarterback chaser.

    In his rookie season, Leslie recorded 82 tackles, including 12.5 sacks. He also had two interceptions, and one was returned for a touchdown.

    O'Neal was an animal on defense in his first year in the league.

    Because of his outstanding season, Leslie O'Neal was awarded the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    O'Neal went on to have 701 tackles in his career, with 132.5 sacks as well. Leslie made the Pro Bowl six times.

    Leslie O'Neal was a great defensive player for the Chargers, and should be recognized more often.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson

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    Tomlinson was the fifth pick in the 2001 draft.

    He was taken over Michael Vick, a quarterback the Chargers needed and were looking at.

    Instead, Drew Brees was drafted later in the day to fill the void at quarterback.

    San Diego already had made one bad decision with Ryan Leaf. They couldn't pass up the talented running back from TCU.

    LaDainian Tomlinson could very well be the best player in San Diego Chargers history.

    Over the years, he's accomplished a great deal of achievements. He is the sixth-leading rusher of all time, has been to five Pro Bowls and has won the NFL MVP Award.

    From 2001-2009, the San Diego Chargers were Tomlinson's team.

    In his rookie season, LaDainian began his career fast. Tomlinson rushed for 1,236 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He also made 59 receptions for 367 yards. 

    The Chargers had a poor 5-11 record that year, but Tomlinson showed immediate success. His explosive play helped the quarterback situation between Doug Flutie and Drew Brees.

    In his rookie season, LaDainian let everyone know what was in store for the future.