Chargers Draft Decade: A Look Back
2010 – The Pinnacle Of “Good But Not Great”
Biggest Bust: Ryan Mathews
The 2010 draft was very tough to grade to begin the Chargers Draft Decade. Not because you had to judge a bunch of good or bad players but because most picks out of this class are best summed up by the statement, “They were good but just not that great.” That’s why Ryan Mathews lands here for biggest bust. Even in 2010, drafting a running back was quickly becoming an outdated practice and while he certainly wasn’t terrible, he did not leave a lasting impact with the Chargers that fans were hoping for. Mathews only rushed for over 1,000 yards twice in his five years with the team and never scored double-digit rushing touchdowns. Mathews was a solid role player at running back but for a first-round pick, ultimately left more to be desired.
Best Value: Donald Butler
When you’re in the middle rounds of the draft, the best hope is that you find value in a player that turns into a star. The more likely case is you find a solid starter and that is exactly what the Chargers did in Donald Butler. In his five years with the team, Butler finished with less than 100 combined tackles only once and proved a dependable starter in the middle of the defense for most of the decade. Not bad for a third-round pick.
2011 – Struggle Continues
Biggest Bust: Vincent Brown
As mentioned above, when a team drafts a guy in the middle rounds, their absolute worst expectations are that player will be a contributor. Unfortunately, Brown couldn’t even meet those expectations. A hometown talent out of San Diego State, the hope was he could develop to be the number two option, and possible successor, to Vincent Jackson. Alas, that was not the case as Brown failed to catch more than 41 passes during his time with the Chargers and ultimately proved to be a wasted pick.
Best Value: Corey Liuget
It’s tough to say the Chargers found any good value in this draft but their top pick in Liuget wasn’t a total bust so that’s why he landed here. The expectation with first-round picks is high and deservedly so but if a first-rounder turns into a solid eight-year starter, it could be worse. Liuget received a lot of criticism because his sack numbers were never impressive but it’s much more important to judge a defensive tackle off his tackle for loss numbers in which he finished in the double digits three times. Liuget was never the star Chargers fans were hoping he’d be but his career was an overall success.
2012 – Finding The Face Of The Defense
Biggest Bust: Brandon Taylor
The only thing worse than finding out your mid-round pick isn’t capable of being a starter is finding out he’s not even worth a roster spot just a year later. That is exactly what happened between the Chargers and Taylor. The third-round pick out of LSU was placed on the injured reserve list after appearing in just four games in his rookie year and was waived just two years later. He ended his stint with the Chargers with just six career tackles and half a sack.
Best Value: Melvin Ingram
Just two seasons removed from a messy divorce from former defensive star Shawne Merriman, the Chargers were still looking for the new face of their defense especially since it looked like Liuget wasn’t going to be it. They found that and some more in Melvin Ingram. The South Carolina pass rusher was taken with the 18th pick in 2012 and quickly made a name for himself as one of the more reliable edge rushers not just for his pass-rushing ability but for his all-around talent as well. Ingram is currently fourth all-time on the Chargers sack leaders list.
2013 – Two Misses And A Big Hit
Biggest Bust: D.J. Fluker/Manti Te’o
Give credit where credit is due, the Chargers swung for the fences in this year’s draft. Their first two picks were both key players in that year’s National Championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame, particularly targeting the player who arguably should’ve won the Heisman in Te’o. While the Fluker pick is questionable, particularly now, at the time it really wasn’t that bad. However, neither Fluker nor Te’o lived up to expectations. Both players were jettisoned after just four years proving they were never quite able to live up to their draft expectations.
Best Value: Keenan Allen
Probably the easiest part of this entire article. Alluded to previously, when teams are picking in the middle rounds, they hope they can find the diamond in the rough that can change their franchise and that’s exactly what happened with Keenan Allen. What makes this even better is looking at some of the other receivers that went before him like Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Aaron Dobson, and Terrance Williams. Despite his injury troubles, Allen has proven himself to be one of the best receivers in the AFC, if not the league, so this is easily the best pick the Chargers made this year and maybe even this decade.
2014 – Bump In The Road
Biggest Bust: Jason Verrett
This is by no fault of Jason Verrett. The cornerback was drafted in the latter half of the first round and proved that he had the potential to be one of the biggest steals of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he has been plagued with big injuries even past his time with the Chargers. Verrett showed his promise in his sophomore year with the team but unfortunately was never able to overcome the injury bug. He only played more than 10 games in one season for the Chargers and unfortunately garners the bust tag.
Best Value: None
This may seem a little harsh but there was truly nothing good to come out of the draft this year for the Chargers. Second-round pick Jeremiah Attaochu had one solid season with six sacks but was off the team just two seasons later, the rest of their draft picks lasted no longer than three seasons on the Chargers roster or practice squad. Truly a year to forget.
2015 – Hitting Their Stride
Biggest Bust: Craig Mager
2015 is when the Chargers draft luck really started to turn around, evident by their first two picks in this year’s draft who will be discussed shortly. Unfortunately, every draft has to have a bust and that’s where Mager comes in. The third-round pick out of Texas State certainly showed promise when he was given a chance, even picking off Drew Brees in his sophomore year. Unfortunately, Mager struggled with injuries and washed out shortly after despite showing flashes of promise.
Best Value: Melvin Gordon/Denzel Perryman
Melvin Gordon’s career with the Chargers was an overall success despite its tumultuous end. If Gordon had managed to stay healthy and consistently stay on the field, he likely would’ve rushed for over 1,000 yards four or five times rather than just once. Despite his lack of continuity in the health department, Gordon was a legitimate touchdown scorer for the Chargers after his infamously bad rookie year in that area.
Meanwhile, Denzel Perryman is still an important contributor with Los Angeles to this day, and if he can stay healthy, he has proven he can be one of the more dependable players in the NFL.
2016 – Beginning Of The Future
Biggest Bust: None
This draft is a lot like the previous year’s. There are some Mager types like Joshua Perry but the first two picks have been so good that calling any pick in this year’s class a full-on bust doesn’t feel fair to the Chargers front office.
Best Value: Joey Bosa/Hunter Henry
At this point, it just seems picking the Chargers’ first and second-rounders as the best value picks is the easiest thing to do but that’s just how well they drafted over this span. Hitting on both of your first picks is a seemingly easy task that is actually much harder than it looks. Joey Bosa’s career has spoken for itself so it takes hardly any explanation on why he’s here.
While some would argue that Henry doesn’t belong on this list due to his injury history (a valid point) his impact is so obvious when he is on the field that he simply can’t be left out.
2017 – Best Undrafted Rookie Of The Decade
Biggest Bust: Forrest Lamp
When the Chargers drafted Lamp, it could have ended up being one of the best picks of the entire draft. Now, three years later, that notion could have held if Lamp could stay healthy. Lamp missed his entire rookie year due to a torn ACL, fought a knee injury in 2018, and played in seven games before breaking his leg last season.
The Chargers, understandably, moved on trying to find other answers at the other guard position given Lamp’s draft classmate Dan Feeney’s success. Maybe Lamp can rebound but for now, the second-rounder has not lived up to expectations.
Best Value: Austin Ekeler
Picking Ekeler over first-rounder Mike Williams was not an easy choice it was made for this reason: the only way to fit both would be to include the best pick and the best value but the argument that Ekeler fits both is a good and valid one.
Williams hasn’t been a bust by any stretch of the imagination but his transition to the NFL has been a slow one. Meanwhile, Ekeler’s effect on the offense has been felt from the get-go. There’s a reason the Chargers felt comfortable letting Gordon walk and Ekeler is a big part of it.
2018 – Rounding Out The Defense
Best Pick: Derwin James
What was at the time heralded as maybe the steal of the first round has proven many analysts right as the Chargers were undoubtedly able to grab a top-10 talent with the 17th pick. Being named a Pro Bowler and earning a spot on the first-team All-Pro list is no small task especially for a rookie but that is exactly what James did. While his last two years have been plagued with injuries, the Chargers definitely know they have a star at their safety spot for years to come.
Best Value: Justin Jackson
It remains to be seen how well Jackson can really perform in a dual-back system with Ekeler. With even more competition with the early emergence of rookie Joshua Kelley, it can’t be ignored that for a seventh-round pick, Jackson has overperformed. Simply making the roster is impressive enough but proving that you can be a solid change-of-pace back along with a good special teams player? Jackson is the rare seventh-round hit so far.
2019 – Close But No Cigar
Biggest Bust: Trey Pipkins
It’s tough to call a player with only one year under his belt a bust but Pipkins is the rare case where it’s almost undoubtedly true. He played in three games last year and lost the case to be the starting left tackle to Sam Tevi this year. Not only that but he is seemingly behind XFL standout Storm Norton on the depth chart. He’s quickly falling behind and it looks like it’s going to take a big stroke of luck for Pipkins to get his shot at being a starter.
Best Pick: Jury’s Still Out
Wrestling between Nasir Adderley or Jerry Tillery for this spot but the fact is, neither has really earned it yet. Adderley was showing promise during his rookie year but it was cut short when he landed on the IR.
Tillery was buried on the depth chart behind Brandon Mebane. Tillery’s Week 1 showing against the Bengals showed why he was a first-rounder and is a good sign for future success but as stated above, the jury is still out for most of the members of this draft class.
2020 – Setting The Foundation
This year’s draft had the distinct feeling of the start of a new era for the Chargers. While he won’t be mentioned in either subsection, Kenneth Murray was clearly selected to be an added face of the Chargers defense behind Bosa as Los Angeles enters a new decade and a new stadium. Meanwhile, the two other players that will be discussed have set the foundation for a thriving offense for years to come.
Best Pick: Justin Herbert
It’s boring to see Herbert here but there’s a reason why he’s constantly been talked about this offseason. Days leading up to the draft, rumors abounded that the Chargers or Dolphins would attempt to trade up to get their quarterback, whoever that may be. Instead, both teams sat back and got both of the quarterbacks they wanted. Herbert took over for an injured Tyrod Taylor in week 2 and hasn’t looked back. His record may show 1-4, but he is doing things on the field that Hall of Fame quarterbacks didn’t do in their first 5 games.
Best Value: Joshua Kelley
It’s hard not to play to recency bias here with Kelley’s Week 1 performance proving he very well could be the running back of the future for the Chargers. The fourth-rounder out of UCLA looks like he can be the perfect complement to Ekeler and a three-down back when needed.
Who was the best draft pick of the last decade? Join the discussion below!