In seeking an explanation for the Chargers' 13-2 record, one need look no further than the 2001 draft. The Chargers traded the top pick to the Atlanta Falcons in order to move down and accumulate additional picks. Atlanta chose Michael Vick with the top choice and San Diego selected LaDainian Tomlinson four picks later.
Of course, San Diego would have never landed Tomlinson had the Cardinals selected him with their No. 3 overall pick. Instead, the Cardinals, who had selected current Bears running back Thomas Jones in the first round the year prior, selected offensive tackle Leonard Davis.
Although Davis had been a starter from the get-go, he has been inconsistent and failed to establish himself at any one position, playing both guard and tackle for extended periods of time. Tomlinson, meanwhile, has established himself at several positions, including running backs, wide receiver and quarterback.
"LT is more than just the performance," said head coach Marty Schottenheimer. "There is the leadership aspect of it."
The Cardinals got their L.T. (as in left tackle) during that draft, but the Chargers will take their L.T. any day of the week.
Turning a New Leaf
The Chargers were desperate for a quarterback prior to the 1998 draft, which just happened to include cannot-miss franchise passers Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. San Diego, owning the No. 3 pick and scared of missing out on both quarterbacks, sent the Cardinals (owners of the No. 2 pick) two first-round picks, one second-round selection and four-time Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf to move up a single spot.
Leaf was a monumental disappointment, finishing his career with 14 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and a passer rating of only 50. Arizona turned the draft picks it received into defensive end Andre Wadsworth, safety Corey Chavous and wide receiver David Boston, who would go on to spend the 2003 season with the Chargers.
Wadsworth was a bust, netting just eight sacks in his three years in the league; Chavous is now a starting safety for the Rams and has 20 career interceptions; Boston had a few big years in the desert that landed him in the Pro Bowl, but has struggled since; and Metcalf spent just one modestly productive year in Arizona.
Rolling with Rivers
Philip Rivers has been masterful in his first year as a starter, throwing for 3,157 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions while earning Pro Bowl honors. Still, there was a time when critics thought the Chargers may have been better off without him.
During Drew Brees' resurgent 2004 season, it was easy to wonder how much better San Diego could have been had it selected Larry Fitzgerald at the top of the draft instead of trading down for Rivers. That 2004 team went 12-4 and made the playoffs, and a player of Fitzgerald's caliber could have put it over the top.
Now, it is clear San Diego made the right choice. Not only did Rivers prove to be a stud, but the Chargers netted fellow Pro Bowlers Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding, as well as veteran tackle Roman Oben, in the trade down.
"You have two or three guys that are playmakers and difference-makers because they are such great athletes in the draft," explained assistant general manager Buddy Nix. "Last year one of them was Shawne Merriman."