As we continue on through our list of the Chargers greatest (recent) draft successes, we're going to see more than a couple of guys like Shawne Merriman that should be higher on the list but flamed out too quickly.
As Kevin Acee noted in his very good (and critical) story about A.J. Smith's draft history today, Merriman is the last draft pick made by Smith that had an immediate impact on the team. So immediate, in fact, that Shawne won the award for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 despite starting just 10 games (due to a lengthy holdout over contract negotiations).
Merriman's second season was similar, but much better, than his first. It was again shortened to just 12 games after a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing substances. However, in those 12 games Merriman was nothing short of dominating. He collected 17 sacks, collected 63 tackles, defended 8 passes, forced 1 fumble and intercepted a pass as well. If it weren't for the suspension, many thought that Shawne would've won the Defensive Player of the Year award instead of Jason Taylor.
Shawne's third season was maybe his most promising. It showed that he was able to remain consistent, collected 68 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 4 defended passes and forcing 2 fumbles. Also, he started in a career-high 15 games before being injured in a game against the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the playoffs. He was a shell of himself during the rest of the Chargers run to the AFC Championship Game.
That game against the Titans is really the moment when Merriman went from potentially being one of the most important defensive players in the history of football to a "flash in the pan". Since then the stories have been less about Merriman's on-field accomplishments and more about his off-field persona or the injuries that have kept him off of the field.
The stats say that Shawne started in 14 games in 2009, but it doesn't seem like it. He played injured most of the season, while still fighting back from the knee surgery that made him miss all of 2008. He ended the season with just 4 sacks and 36 tackles.
In 2010, Merriman started one game for the Chargers before being injured again. He was released by the Chargers and signed by the Buffalo Bills once he got healthy, where he promptly got injured in his first practice and never got on the field. In the offseason, Shawne did the right thing and signed a new deal to stay with the Bills and hopefully turn his career around for the team that took a chance on him.
For the Chargers, they got excellent value out of this pick (not to mention, Shawne was part of a package ,along with Philip Rivers and Nate Kaeding, that the team got for Eli Manning) for about three seasons before injuries derailed Merriman's career. Had he kept up with the pace of those seasons, Merriman might've been at the top of this list.
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