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San Diego Chargers 2009 NFL Draft Grades

Larry English, OLB, N. Illinois (Round 1, Pick 16 - 16th Overall)

I don't think anyone was really surprised by this choice. In the past week we began discussing AJ Smith's past picks and how we almost never know who the guy is before he's drafted. AJ did it again, drafting what he believed to be the best player available at 16. This was not the most exciting pick, but it's one that provides the defense with some sorely-needed depth.

The more I watch of Larry English, the more he looks like a fearsome pass rusher. He's built in a similar mold as Merriman - strong, fast and tenacious. After sitting through 2008, I like the idea that an injury to Merriman or Phillips no longer means our defense turns into wet paper. This pick also has me fearing the upcoming offseason and negotiations with Merriman a little less. Most importantly though, our pass rushing linebackers are deeper than ever with Merriman, Phillips, English and Jyles Tucker.

2009 Outlook: Not a starter, but Larry English will see plenty of time on the field.

Pick Grade: B+

Louis Vasquez, OG, Texas Tech (Round 3, Pick 14 - 78th Overall)

Immediately Louis Vasquez becomes our widest offensive lineman. McNeil is the heaviest at 335lbs, but Vasquez matches that weight while being three inches shorter. This pick is all about potential. He has unbelievable size and strength to go with great quickness off the line and quick, nimble feet. Louis' only drawback seems to be that he spent so much time in pass-blocking at Texas Tech that he has little experience driving the defender back or pulling down the line. These things can be taught.

2009 Outlook: With an outstanding camp Louis Vasquez could possibly compete for the starting RG spot. It's more likely that he'll sit out most of 2009 while having his skills refined.

Pick Grade: B

Vaughn Martin, DT, Western Ontario (Round 4, Pick 13 - 113th Overall)

Here's the risk pick. The one that the fans know nothing about because we don't typically watch Canadian College Football. At 6'4", 330lbs Martin has the size to be the Chargers Nose Tackle of the future. Although he was not invited to the combine, during his workout for NFL teams Martin ran the 40 in about 5 seconds, did 33 bench press reps and somehow did the 20-yard shuttle in 4.31 seconds. By comparison, Larry English ran the 40 at 4.88 and did the 20-yard shuttle in 4.38 seconds. It's quite possible the Chargers just drafted a player with Jamal Williams' size and Shawne Merriman's speed.

The one reason I'm down on this pick is it seems to be a major reach. Martin was expected to go undrafted or possibly get grabbed in the 7th round.

2009 Outlook: Because the Chargers need depth on the defensive line, Vaughn Martin may end up as a backup of some sort for the upcoming season. However, he is a project and will need to adjust to the rules of American football as well as the size, speed and ferocity of the game before he has any chance of starting.

Pick Grade: D

Tyronne Green, C, Auburn (Round 4, Pick 33 - 133rd Overall)

A pick of tremendous value. Green will replace Newberry, who was effective but might have the creakiest knees in football. Tyronne provides good size (6'1.5", 309lbs), strength and versatility (he played OG at Auburn). To add to that, his athleticism makes him a tremendous pull blocker who hits the second level with power and keeps his head on a swivel.

2009 Outlook: Barring any injury, Tyronne Green will not see any playing time in 2009 but will be sitting behind a former Pro Bowler and learning the Center position from him. Grabbing a Center in the draft was seen as a priority after consecutive injury-plagued seasons from Hardwick.

Pick Grade: A

Gartrell Johnson, RB, Colorado St. (Round 4, Pick 34 - 134th Overall)

This is a pick I'm very excited about. Although I believe LaDainian Tomlinson to be a great player, I have spent many games screaming at my TV for the Chargers to get a power back. Or, when they knew they had one in Michael Turner, for them to use a power back. Not necessarily because I think a big, bruising runner would have more success in certain situations of the game but because LT needs to be taken care of so we can extend his career and get the most from him. This was gone over in great depth here, but to summarize: The Chargers have worked Tomlinson harder than any other back in the league since his rookie season and he's starting to break down because of it. It's time to let somebody else take that pounding and have LT healthy for the playoffs.

As for Gartrell Johnson, I think he's a fantastic player. He's built like a MAC truck and he runs like one too. From what I've seen of him as a college player, he almost never goes down from the first or second hit. As a matter of fact, it usually takes two or three guys to get him down. Johnson is the polar opposite of Darren Spoles. He is not very fast and is not going to be able to make it to the corner for an outside run. Gartrell Johnson takes the ball and runs straight up the middle, but his strength and determination make him very effective at that.

2009 Outlook: Gartrell Johnson is going to get a lot of looks. He's going to be out starting RB in the preseason to save Sproles from the pounding and I think he's going to impress a lot of people. As the Charger short-yardage back I'm looking for a first-year similar to Brandon Jacobs' second year: 96 attempts (less than 7 per game), 423 yards (4.4 yards per attempt), 9 TD.

Pick Grade: B

Brandon Hughes, CB, Oregon St. (Round 5, Pick 12 - 148th Overall)

I thought after a night of sleep I'd wake up and realize why this pick was made. Nope. Brandon Hughes is an undersized corner (5'10.5", 182lbs) with good speed. The scouting report on Hughes describes him as "feisty, physical and quick" when playing the run or a screen pass, so he likes to hit. Due to his size he has a hard time fighting through blocks and has only average ball skills (and hands). His ceiling seems to be as a nickel corner.

2009 Outlook: Brandon Hughes will not see the field in 2009. With five or six cornerbacks ahead of him on the roster, Hughes will most likely end up on the practice squad.

Pick Grade: D-

Kevin Ellison, S, USC (Round 6, Pick 16 - 189th Overall)

Rodney Harrison, part two. Kevin Ellison is a linebacker with good enough ball skills to play safety. He is without a doubt a strong safety, one who likes being the 8th man in the box and laying a big hit on a RB or a WR coming across the middle. Ellison's scouting report says he's very good at defending TEs over the middle, but struggles with covering a RB or WR near the sidelines.

The question I'm asking with this pick is if the big, hard-hitting strong safety with marginal cover skills is still an asset in the NFL. The Chargers let Rodney Harrison go, the Cowboys let Roy Williams go and it seems teams are looking more for fast/quick players that can lay the lick (like Polamalu) than a linebacker to play in the secondary.

2009 Outlook: Kevin Ellison could end up taking the starting safety spot away from Clinton Hart with a good training camp. If he shows the same level of ability or better in coverage as a rookie, I have no reason to believe they'd put Hart out there. Even if Ellison doesn't win the job out of camp, he could be the starter by the end of the season.

Pick Grade: B-

Demetrius Byrd, WR, LSU (Round 7, Pick 15 - 224th Overall)

I always liked Demetrius Byrd. He was one of those players that I couldn't quite put my finger on why I liked him so much, but it seemed like when the ball was in the air he just wanted it more. In reality, there are several things I can take out of that sentence and translate. One, he plays with passion. Two, he has the strength to fight for the ball. Three, he's a QB's best friend (a receiver who comes back to the ball). Four, he's tough. Fifth, he's the best college receiver I've seen at making an over-the-shoulder catch in-stride. And finally, Byrd has a burst of speed that cannot be captured in statistics or measurements.

Byrd was projected to go in the 5th round or higher, but a recent one-car accident has put him in the hospital with no news as to the severity of his injuries. If he fully recovers, it's a steal. If he doesn't, it was still a good risk to take.

2009 Outlook: Recovery, I imagine. Depending on the severity of his injuries, Byrd may not be able to play at all this season. In his first healthy year I expect Byrd to be our 4th receiver and push for the slot receiver spot.

Pick Grade: B