Grading Ancient History: The 2004 Chargers Draft

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESS

Nine years later, we look back on what might be the greatest draft class ever assembled. A.J. Smith's masterpiece netted the San Diego Chargers seven future Pro Bowlers and nine future NFL starters.

I was quick to jump at the chance to review the 2004 draft for the San Diego Chargers, also known as one of the greatest drafts of all time. A.J. Smith turned this fine weekend into a decent NFL career.

Let's go pick-by-pick:

Eli Manning

Rd.Pick Position Player School

1.1

QB

Eli Manning

Ole Miss

Heading into his second NFL Draft as a General Manager, the Manning family challenged A.J. Smith and Smith didn't blink.

Eli and his Hall of Fame QB father Archie warned the Chargers against drafting the kid out of Ole Miss with their #1 overall pick. Plain and simple, Eli didn't want to play on a bad team. He didn't want to go through the same struggles his older brother went through early in his career.

Luckily, for the Chargers, A.J. Smith didn't care what Eli wanted. He picked him anyway, and waited for the (desperate) New York Giants to call. When they did, Smith got the following package in return for Manning:

Those three players have nine Pro Bowl appearances between them, compared to Eli's three. Is that as good as Eli's two Super Bowl victories? Of course not, but the Giants were a nearly-complete team that needed a QB and traded to San Diego the pieces that A.J. Smith needed to take the team from mediocre to perennial playoff contender.

Grade: A+

Igor Olshansky

Rd.Pick Position Player School

2.35

DL

Igor Olshansky

Oregon

The biggest addition to the 2004 San Diego Chargers? Wade Phillips. The Chargers front office knew how good Wade was, and they knew they had to get him pieces to build his defense the way he wanted. Igor was a big part of that.

Although he probably never lived up to his billing as the 35th overall pick in the draft, he's been an average-to-above-average defensive lineman for most of the last decade. That's not terrible value for a second round selection.

Grade: B-

Nate Kaeding

Rd.Pick Position Player School

3.65

K

Nate Kaeding

Iowa

This is a little high for a Kicker, but the Chargers weren't about to start the season with 37-year-old Steve Christie as their only option.

Nate played for San Diego for the better part of nine seasons and is currently ranked as the 4th most accurate Kicker in the history of the NFL. If you're going to take a Kicker this high, he better be great and Kaeding was (at least in the regular season).

Grade: B

Nick Hardwick

Rd.Pick Position Player School

3.66

C

Nick Hardwick

Purdue

I remember scratching my head at this pick. "Why are the Chargers selecting a Center when they have Jason Ball?", I probably said out loud. When I heard that Hardwick had won the starting Center's job over Ball in training camp, as a rookie, I thought "He must be fantastic!"

Hardwick will always be under-appreciated. No other offensive lineman reads defenses and calls out blitzes like he does. When healthy, he's one of the best pass-blocking Centers that has ever played. I've never seen a pair of offensive linemen work as well together as he did with Kris Dielman.

If the Chargers had won a Super Bowl or two, Hardwick would probably be getting talked about as being a potential Hall of Famer. Unfortunately for him, the team just hasn't had enough success for that. Still, to find a guy in the third round that can start, and play at a Pro Bowl level, for a decade is amazing.

Grade: A+

Shaun Phillips

Rd.Pick Position Player School

4.98

OLB

Shaun Phillips

Purdue

I heard this story once, that Shaun Phillips was upset that he wasn't included as one of the Chargers' "top 50 Chargers players" celebration that they did for their 50th anniversary. I thought about it and...he might have a case. I'm not going to do a whole breakdown, but just know that A.J. Smith found one of the best defensive players in the history of the franchise buried in the 4th round of this draft. That's how hot his hand was on that weekend.

Phillips was a starter for the Chargers for six seasons, and was the team's best pass-rusher for about four of them. That's an average output for a 1st round draft pick, so that's tremendous value down here.

Anyone else notice that A.J. Smith has used his first five picks to net his team six Pro Bowlers? Think about that for a second. We're not even half-way done yet! This is why I love this draft class.

Grade: A+

Dave Ball

Rd.Pick Position Player School

5.133

DE

Dave Ball

UCLA

Dave was always expected to do great things after a fantastic college career, but he was a little small to play DE in the 3-4 defense that the Chargers were switching to. He bounced around the league before getting a shot at DE in Tennessee's 4-3 defense, where he racked up 11 sacks in 19 starts before losing his job due to injury.

This is one of those picks that wouldn't have been so bad if the team hadn't been switching to a defense that didn't fit Ball in any way, but that's how these things go sometimes.

Grade: D

Michael Turner

Rd.Pick Position Player School

5.154

RB

Michael Turner

Northern Illinois

We're down here in the depths of the 5th round and A.J. Smith is still snatching up future Pro Bowlers left and right. I loved this pick at the time. I thought the team could groom Turner to eventually be the team's #1 RB, with LaDainian Tomlinson becoming a part-time RB (similar to what he did with the Jets). Unfortunately, that never happened, and Turner ended up signing with the Falcons around the time LT's legs began to betray him.

Turner started 72 games in five years with the Falcons, making two Pro Bowls along the way. It's not often you find a player like that in the 5th round, unless you are Mike Shanahan.

Grade: B

Ryan Krause

Rd.Pick Position Player School

6.169

TE

Ryan Krause

Nebraska-Omaha

I remember Ryan Krause very fondly, but I may be the only one.

At the end of the 2004 season, with nothing more to play for, Marty Schottenheimer put in all the kids that had been riding the bench all season to play the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs. Fans were wowed by the hands of Malcom Floyd (3 rec, 49 yds, TD), the touch of Philip Rivers (5-8, 33 yds, TD) and the strength of Ryan Krause (5 rec, 81 yds, TD). The future looked so bright, we all had to wear shades.

Unfortunately for Krause, he struggled to stay healthy while Floyd and Rivers climbed up the San Diego depth chart. The only other time he got on the first, he caught 2 passes for 11 yards with the Packers in 2007. A high risk, high reward pick is about what you'd expect in the 6th round.

Grade: C

Ryon Bingham

Rd.Pick Position Player School

7.204

DT

Ryon Bingham

Nebraska

Here's a dude that kicked around on the roster, filling in as a decent backup defensive lineman, for about five seasons. That's not bad for a 7th round pick.

Grade: B

Shane Olivea

Rd.Pick Position Player School

7.209

T

Shane Olivea

Ohio State

An immediate starter at Right Tackle, even as a rookie, this had potential to be one of the best picks of the entire draft. Olivea was such a solid starter that the team reworked his contract, signing him to a six-year deal worth $20 million after his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, every draft class seems to have one sad story and for this one, the sad story is Olivea.

Shane struggled with an addiction to pain medication. The Chargers released him in February 2008 after he failed a drug test and skipped a follow-up test. Jeromey Clary moved into the starting job at RT and held it until the selection of D.J. Fluker in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Let's call this another high risk, high reward pick that started out great but didn't end so well. Pretty standard for the 7th round. The different between Olivea and most is that the team got four good years out of him before things went south.

Grade: A

Carlos Joseph

Rd.Pick Position Player School

7.254

T

Carlos Joseph

Miami (Fla.)

Joseph hung around on the Chargers' practice squad for a few years before moving on to the Jaguars and, eventually, the AFL. He was the only player from this draft class that didn't make the active roster in 2004, and he's one of only two (along with Dave Ball) from the draft class that never started a game for the Chargers.

Grade: D

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