San Diego Chargers: Defending the Larry English Draft Selection

Today we're going to be talking about Larry English. Same deal as yesterday, when I went back and tried to figure out why the San Diego Chargers selected Buster Davis in 2007. Why did the Chargers pick Larry English and was it the right move at the time?

 

Team Need

This was not a hard math problem to figure out. In 2007, the Chargers defense was dominating and finished the year with the league lead in turnovers (10 interceptions for Antonio Cromartie alone). In 2008, Shawne Merriman missed the entire season and the pass-rush died. Along with it went the Chargers' strong defense and any ability to create turnovers (they finished 2008 ranked 17th in turnovers and 31st in pass defense).

Merriman was slated to return from knee surgery in 2009, but A.J. Smith had to plan for the worst. He needed a strong OLB as security for Merriman's knee, as well as Merriman's impending big contract demands. The secondary was there, as was the rest of the defense, but it needed a pass-rush to go. Larry English was that guy that was supposed to make the 2009 Chargers return to their 2007 glory long-term.

Other immediate team needs included RG (Mike Goff was leaving), ILB (Tim Dobbins needed to be replaced) and WR (Chris Chambers was showing his age). Eventual team needs sprang up during the season, like SS (Clinton Hart was weak without a strong pass-rush) and NT (Jamal Williams went down with an injury early in the season).

 

Free Agency

Another case of an immediate need that should've been filled via free agency (as was the ILB spot with Kevin Burnett), but there was no viable free agent candidates. Here are the best pass-rushers available to be signed that offseason:

Much like when the team needed a WR, these guys were not going to step in and fill the hole left by Merriman in the short or long term.



2009 NFL Draft

This was a first-round heavy on pass-rushers, but a good chunk of them have missed as bad or worse than the Larry English selection. Here's the first seven pass-rushers drafted, in order:
Seven pass-rushers in the first 46 picks of the draft and only two of them turned out to be any good. This is what happens when such an important position leaves such a barren crop of free agents, teams are forced to take chances. Nobody knew that Clay Matthews would be better than Ayers, English and Maybin. Each pick was a bit of a crapshoot, and the Packers got the luckiest. It could be worse, the Chargers could've picked Aaron Maybin 11th overall.

Let's take a peek at Larry's scouting report heading into the draft, which couldn't be more glowing:
One of the premier pass rushers in the collegiate game, English ranks second to Phillip Hunt of Houston (33.5 sacks for minus 229 yards) among the NCAA's active players with 31.5 sacks for losses totaling 220 yards. His 31.5 sacks set the school all-time record and rank fifth in Mid-American Conference history. That total also ranks seventh in NCAA annals. His five sacks vs. Idaho in 2007 is topped by just two other players on the NCAA single-game record books.

English wreaked havoc in the opposing backfields throughout his career. His 63.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage set the school career record and rank fifth on the NCAA all-time record chart (the NCAA began compiling sack and tackle for loss totals beginning in 2000), as he is just the seventh player in major college annals to register 60 or more tackles for loss since those statistics were recognized by the NCAA.

Source

English was seen as a great pass-rusher, run-stopper and team leader. He'd be the perfect replacement for Shawne Merriman.....right?

 

Bad Luck/Injuries

There was one part of that scouting report on English that caught my eye. Here it is:

His banner junior campaign came to a crashing halt in the Poinsettia Bowl, as he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that would require surgery.

The injury bug continued in 2008, as English suffered a torn pectoral muscle in spring drills. He played nearly all season with pins in his broken thumb, but he still led the team with eight sacks and 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage, ranking fourth and third, respectively, in each category among MAC players.

Buster Davis had a few normal college injuries, but this seems overwhelming. A torn ACL, a broken thumb and a torn pectoral muscle all in the same calendar year? Most of his injuries in the NFL have been related to his feet, which leads me to believe that the training staff missed something when trying to make sure that his ACL, thumb and pectoral were fully healed.

When he got on the field and was healthy, English did a good job of pressuring the QB and seemed to be getting close to turning those pressures into sacks after his rookie season. Unfortunately, we'll probably never get to see what English could be if he was able to stay healthy for a few years and play as a starter in the NFL.

 

Both of these picks, English and Davis, get brought up in the criticism of A.J. Smith. Neither one was necessarily untalented, just injury-prone. That leads me to believe that we're blaming the wrong person/people. We should be blaming the doctors or training staff that gave Smith the okay to draft these guys. For the most part, Smith was just following the blueprint of filling a need with what seemed like the most talented player at that position in the draft.

As far as where English was selected, many people found out on draft day that the New England Patriots were planning on drafting English a few picks after the Chargers. After English was selected, the Patriots traded their pick away to the Ravens, who traded it to the Packers....who selected Clay Matthews. If you think the Chargers are kicking themselves for landing an injury-prone Larry English with Matthews still on the board, imagine how the Patriots feel for trading away the pick after English was taken instead of selecting Matthews as a consolation prize.

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