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The San Diego Chargers Wasted Their Draft Pick

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The San Diego Chargers should have never drafted Melvin Gordon. That much we already know.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Gordon is not having a very good preseason. In fact, despite the fact that he's the San Diego Chargers' starting running back, he looks completely ill-suited to be playing in actual NFL regular-season games at this point. He looks like a rookie who will need a bunch of time to get used to the NFL game, if he ever can.

This article is not about that, though. It has very little to do with the preseason action, at all, really.

This article is about venting my frustration, in hopes that I can get it all out right now and then forget about it for the rest of the season. This article is about therapy. Take the ride with me, won't you?

The Chargers Wasted Their Draft Pick

The first thing I want to tackle today is....wait. Hold the phone. That header is wrong. Let me update it.

The Chargers Wasted Multiple Draft Picks

There we go.

What did all of the experts say leading into this year's NFL Draft, and every NFL Draft for the last five years? Drafting running backs in the first round is dumb! Running backs are a dime a dozen! They're affected more by their offensive line than by their actual level of talent!

To the experts, Tom Telesco thumbed his nose. Not only was a running back worth a first round draft pick, he was also worth a fourth round draft pick! And so he traded them both to move up and take Melvin Gordon with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Cut from the Polian Cloth

To understand Tom Telesco's obsession with drafting Running Backs early, you have to understand who he learned the NFL front office game from: Bill Polian.

Follow the front offices that Polian has worked in and you found a lot of running backs draft in the first round...

  • Greg Bell (1984)
  • Ronnie Harmon (1986)
  • Thurman Thomas (1988)
  • Tim Biakabutuka (1996)
  • Edgerrin James (1999)
  • Joseph Addai (2006)
  • Donald Brown (2009)

And, lest we forgot that another Polian student that shared the Colts' front office with Telesco, Ryan Grigson, traded for first-round draft pick Trent Richardson one year after he was drafted when the Cleveland Browns wanted nothing to do with him.

I'll say this, Polian was smart enough to stop drafting RBs once he got his hands on Thomas and James. However, he was part of the "old school" philosophy that starting RBs were only found in the first round of the NFL Draft. If one guy didn't work, he'd draft another RB in the first round two years later.

By the way, the Colts' best rusher last year was former 7th round pick Ahmad Bradshaw. In 2012, it was 5th round draft pick Vick Ballard. (In 2013, it was Donald Brown, who ran for a whopping 537 yards.)

Here were last year's NFL rushing leaders:

  • DeMarco Murray (3rd Round)
  • LeSean McCoy (2nd Round)
  • Le'Veon Bell (2nd Round)
  • Marshawn Lynch (1st Round)
  • Matt Forte (2nd Round)
  • Alfred Morris (6th Round)
  • Arian Foster (Undrafted)
  • Frank Gore (3rd Round)
  • Eddie Lacy (2nd Round)
  • Justin Forsett (7th Round)
  • Mark Ingram (1st Round)

Whew. Okay. I wanted to go until I hit a player that was drafted in the first round and still with his original team. My argument is that Marshawn Lynch doesn't exactly count for this example since he was so terrible through his first few seasons that the Bills traded him away for next to nothing.

So, Mark Ingram. The 11th leading rusher last season is the top dog when it comes to 1st round picks that are still with their current teams, and it's worth mentioning that he was the 28th overall pick instead of the 15th. Also worth pointing out that the Saints were 7-9 in a very weak division last season.

What the heck made Telesco look at a list like this and think that his team couldn't possibly win games with a strong rushing attack without trading up in the first round and drafting Melvin Gordon in the middle of the first round?

(Note: The next 1st Round RB on the list is Steven Jackson at 19th, and he was drafted before anyone realized that drafting RBs in the first round is dumb.)

The Ryan Mathews Conundrum

Ryan Mathews was not a bad guy, or a bad player. He just wasn't perfect. He had flaws in his game. His pass blocking wasn't great, he had fumbling issues early on, and he had a hard time staying healthy.

So, why did the Chargers fans hate him? Because of expectations.

In 2010, A.J. Smith traded his first, second, and fourth round picks to move from #28 up to #12 to select the kid from Fresno State. Here's what Wonko wrote about the trade when it happened:

Make no mistake, this is a bold move by A.J. Smith and will be talked about for years. Unlike the last few bold draft moves that the Chargers GM has made, this player is expected to come in and produce right away. We should all be excited to see him suit up in the Blue and Gold.

Source

If you're not seeing the similarities in the situations, I can't help you.

Fans are not just expecting Melvin Gordon to replace Ryan Mathews. They're expecting him to be better than Ryan Mathews. They're expecting him to be everything that Ryan couldn't be, to finally reach their high expectations, despite proof that it doesn't always go like that.

It's nearly an impossible situation, and it's one reason that you see the Chargers in a tough pickle heading into this season...

The Branden Oliver Corollary

Branden Oliver was an undrafted free agent rookie last season. He made the team with an impressive preseason performance, and was pushed into the starting lineup when the guys ahead of him were injured.

As an undrafted free agent rookie starter, Oliver exceeded (low) expectations. He was solid. He was hard to tackle. He occasionally made big plays. He very rarely appeared hesitant, and almost never left yards on the field.

While Melvin Gordon has looked like he's not ready for the NFL in the preseason, Branden Oliver looks ready for stardom. He performed well behind a terrible offensive line last season, and their improvement is seeing a direct improvement in his game as well.

In three preseason games, Branden Oliver has carried the ball 19 times for 75 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught one pass, which was turned into a 70 yard touchdown reception. If San Diego could get that type of production out of him every week, he'd win the MVP Award.

And it's not as if an undrafted free agent making the leap to one of the league's best RBs in his second season would be unheard of. In his rookie season, Arian Foster averaged 9 carries and 42.8 yards per game. Next year, it went up to 20.4 and 101 yards per game. Last season's 11.4 carries and 41.6 yards per game for Oliver isn't too dissimilar of a starting point.

Let's Get Back to the Point...

A lot of people say that I'm negative. That everything I write about the Chargers is pessimistic or critical. They say I'm not a fan.

I am a fan of the San Diego Chargers, and what I want is a team that plays and operates intelligently. When the team is missing opportunities that even I can see, they're screwing up. (Seriously, I'm not that smart.) When they're the last team to realize that RBs are a dime a dozen, they're screwing up.

That's how you end up wasting your first and fourth draft picks, and it's also how you end up with your most expensive RB at the bottom of your depth chart.

When it comes to the NFL, running backs have less value that almost every other position. Maybe if the Chargers front office realized that, they would not have wasted their first round draft pick this year.