As much as it may seem like I'm mean for thinking it, I'm glad this list has had a little bit on controversy. Many didn't agree with me leaving off Philip Rivers (not drafted by the Chargers), Jamal Williams (supplemental draft pick) or Antonio Gates (not drafted at all). Others didn't like that LaDainian Tomlinson, arguably the greatest Chargers player of all time, came in as the #3 greatest draft success of recent memory for the Bolts.
These are all valid points and things that I struggled with in making this list. However, I stick by my top 10 and am happy to finally announce to you all who is number one. But first, because this is being posted about a week later than it was supposed to be, a free shout out to Bud Light! "Bud Light, it's the only beer that my mom will drink!" (Editor's note: Any jokes about my mom in the comments will get you immediately and permanently banned)
The rules of my selections stated that players drafted in 1994 or sooner were the only ones eligible. Lucky for Rodney Harrison that I picked that year, otherwise he would not have made the cut and would not have been the #1 draft success of the San Diego Chargers.
The biggest reason Harrison is up this high is not that he was a great player, which he was, but is that the Bolts found such a great player in the middle of the 5th round. This was no A.J. Smith "best draft ever" either. The team lucked into Harrison. Here's how that draft went for San Diego:
Isaac Davis, G Arkansas
Vaughn Parker, G UCLA
Andre Coleman, WR Kansas State
Willie Clark, CB Notre Dame
Aaron Lang, TE New Mexico State
Rodney Harrison, SS Western Illinois
Darren Krein, DE Miami (FL)
Tony Vinson, RB Towson
Zane Beehn, Kentucky
Outside of Parker and Harrison, do you recognize any of those names? Me neither. I can't imagine the team was picking Rodney and saying "This guy's a future Hall of Famer who will help turn this team around when paired with Junior Seau." The only other player picked in Harrison's round with any kind of success was the Packers' selection of Dorsey Levens.
Much of Harrison's Hall of Fame resume will center on him winning two Super Bowls (and almost a third) with the New England Patriots after being released by the Chargers. In San Diego's defense, Harrison's last two seasons were disappointing (especially in terms of coverage) and they needed to get younger/cheaper quickly. Before being released, though, Harrison built a resume that easily makes him the best Safety in Chargers history.
Here's his stats from his time in blue and gold: 123 games (97 starts), 759 tackles, 21.5 sacks, 26 INTs, 21 defended passes, 8 forced fumbles, 2 touchdowns. That makes up for about two-thirds of his career totals, which makes sense considering he played 9 of his 15 seasons with the Chargers. He made the Pro Bowl twice, both times with San Diego.
When a team uses a top 5 pick on a player, their range of expectation in somewhere between "Superstar for a long time" to "average starter". When they're picking guys like Shaun Phillips in the 4th round or Rodney Harrison in the 5th, the range of realistic expectation is somewhere between "average starter" and "washout". When a team can take one of these guys and turn them into a Pro Bowler, or 7+ seasons of them being a top 3 player at their position, that's about as good a value as you're going to get from a draft pick. That's why the choice could not have been anyone but Rodney Harrison.
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