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San Diego Chargers Draft Busts - #5 Toniu Fonoti

This list is starting to get fun. Toniu Fonoti is a great number five, because there's still so many Charger fans that both loved him as a player and hate what he became.

All you really need to know about Fonoti is that he's big. 6'4" and 350lbs means that even in "playing shape" he's roughly the size of Jamal Williams, but probably could not run as fast. In college, that size (and the strength that came with it) were enough for him to dominate the line of scrimmage.

The Chargers thought that size and strength would translate to the NFL, and for a while it did. What they didn't account for was how much Fonoti liked to eat and, conversely, how much he did not like to work out.

Talk to a Chargers fan that was around in the early 2000s and bring up Fonoti. You'll hear some wonder in their voice as they talk about how great they thought Toniu was going to be. That perceived potential was enough for the Chargers to make him the 39th overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft. He was just a few picks away from being a first-rounder.

Fonoti's career actually started out quite good. He started 14 games in his rookie season and was seen as a building block of a young team, now being coached by Marty Schottenheimer, that included young stars at QB (Drew Brees) and RB (LaDainian Tomlinson). He was a decent pass-blocker at RG, and his sheer size and strength made him an above-average run-blocker. This is the stage of his career where people gained faith in Fonoti's ability to be a huge monster while also staying in shape. It looked like he was on his way to being worth the high draft pick.

Toniu's second year was spent on Injured Reserve, but I can not find the exact reason why. It appears it was a foot injury of some sort, but that's as specific as everyone seems to have gotten.

By the time Toniu returned in 2004, his old spot at RG had been taken by veteran Free Agent Mike Goff. Fonoti started every game at LG, and was better in his third year than he had been as a rookie. The center of the Offensive Line, which included Hardwick between Fonoti and Goff, was a big reason that the team finished 3rd in the NFL in points scored and made the playoffs.

Things were looking okay until 2005. Fonoti came into camp overweight (this would become a trend), and ended up battling injuries right up to the point where he lost his job to a young and nasty converted DT (and project of Marty Schottenheimer's) named Kris Dielman.

The timing of all of this was terrible. Not only was Fonoti showing signs that he was going to have difficulty staying fit and healthy, but he was due to be a free agent at the end of the season. All signs pointed to him becoming one of the top-paid Guards in football, and the Chargers front office did not want to chain themselves to him with a long-term deal. They quickly shipped him off to the Minnesota Vikings for a 7th round draft pick (which I believe became Jimmy Martin). Vikings fans thought they had gotten a steal.

Here's how Fonoti's career looks after being sent packing by the Chargers during the 2005 season:

2005 Minnesota Vikings (1 start)
2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (signed in the offseason, cut in training camp, signed to the practice squad)
2006 Miami Dolphins (signed mid-season due to injury, 0 starts)
2007 Atlanta Falcons (signed in the offseason, cut in training camp)
2008 Carolina Panthers (signed in the offseason, cut in preseason)
2009 Detroit Lions (signed in the offseason, cut in preseason)

And now he's out of football at 29 years old, mostly due to injuries and weight problems. The thing you have to ask yourself with this bust is whether or not two good seasons are worth a high 2nd round pick. I believe that's poor value, and that's why he made my list.

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