Draft Board Mayhem: Why SD Had To Draft Cason

The Chargers caught a lot of bad breaks on Saturday, starting with the selection of Matt Ryan at No. 3 and ending with the Dallas Cowboys trading up to grab Mike Jenkins. A.J. Smith settled for Antoine Cason, a safe pick at a position of need. However, that same mentality resulted in the underwhelming selection of Buster Davis just a year ago.

The selections of Antoine Cason and Buster Davis are very similar. Both picks were determined by need more than value. Both landed experience players without the upside of a Antonio Cromartie or even Vincent Jackson. And both Cason and Davis were expected second-round picks who went earlier than projected.

That is not to imply Cason was a bad selection. He has the size (6'0", 190 pounds) and athleticism the Chargers need to replace CB Drayton Florence. He is also experienced, starting all 46 games in his four-year career at Arizona. He will be ready to step in and play right away as the nickel back, and should contribute on special teams, too.

CB Antoine Cason
Wily Low/AP

However, it's unlikely Cason was plan 1A for the Chargers. A.J. Smith wanted to trade down to acquire extra draft picks, with the team rumored to be in talks with the Atlanta Falcons. The thought was that the Falcons would ship their second- and third-round picks to the Chargers in exchange for the No. 27 pick, which would allow Atlanta to land its quarterback in Brian Brohm or Chad Henne at the end of round one.

Unfortunately, that plan went out the window when the Falcons opted for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with the third overall pick.

The bad news kept coming for the Chargers, as the Denver Broncos set off a run on offensive linemen by choosing Boise State tackle Ryan Clady with the No. 12 pick. Six offensive linemen were selected between picks 12 and 21, including Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus, who many believed to be San Diego-bound.

The final blow came at No. 25, when the Dallas Cowboys leapfrogged the Chargers to nab free-falling cornerback Mike Jenkins (South Florida). Jenkins was projected by many to land somewhere in the top half of round one and would have presented fantastic value at No. 27.

Tom Marino, a pro scout who worked in the NFL for more than 30 years, considers Jenkins the top cornerback in this year's draft. As for Cason, Marino believes he lacks foot-speed and a low center of gravity, making him unworthy of a first-round pick.

The Chargers obviously disagree. It's hard to argue with A.J. Smith's logic, since he's worked the draft in a nearly flawless manner over the last four years. Nonetheless, Smith opened himself up to questioning after last season's top pick, Buster Davis, caught only 20 balls and averaged less than 10 yards per catch.

With the Chargers seemingly a player or two away from winning the Super Bowl, has Smith gone from drafting for value to drafting for need? The selection of Cason makes one wonder.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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