2006 Draft Review: Bolts Hit First Five Picks

The San Diego Chargers were built through the draft. And while everyone wants to talk about the 2004 draft class, where GM A.J. Smith hit big on eight of his 11 picks, the 2006 class was special in its own right. Four players from this draft are now starters; and each will play a pivotal role in the direction of the 2009 season.

1. CB Antonio Cromartie, Florida State (19)- Cromartie has been up and down during his first three seasons in the league, but the up was so far up that it's difficult to second-guess this selection. Cro' put opposing quarterbacks on notice in 2007 when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions and scored touchdowns in three different ways (interception return, fumble return, missed-field goal return). That's the form he must return to in 2009, as a hip injury and a general lack of focus turned him from a bully into a bull's-eye last season.

2. OT Marcus McNeill, Auburn (50)- McNeill stepped into the starting left tackle spot as a rookie and played his way into two of the last three Pro Bowls, so this was clearly an excellent value pick. Nonetheless, his play has been inconsistent over the last two seasons after a phenomenal rookie campaign. It is vital that McNeill bounce back from offseason neck surgery and reestablish himself as a premier left tackle, especially as he enters a contract year.

QB Charlie Whitehurst
Stephen Dunn/Getty

3. QB Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson (81)- Whitehurst is as gifted as any No. 3 QB. He has moxy, a big arm and the ability to push the ball down the field. However, he is buried on the depth chart behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. Whitehurst will likely spend one more season holding the clipboard before leaving in free agency in search of a shot at playing time.

5. LB Tim Dobbins, Oklahoma State (151)- Dobbins emerged from a crowded pack at inside linebacker to carve out a significant niche. He started eight games last season and played most of the snaps in the base defense, giving way to Matt Wilhelm in passing situations. The competition will be even more intense this season with the addition of Kevin Burnett, but Dobbins' ability to stuff the run and make plays on special teams ensures he will play a vital role.

OT Jeromey Clary
Doug Pensinger/Getty

6a. OT Jeromey Clary, Kansas State (187)- Clary followed the ideal path for a late-round pick. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad; he moved into the starting lineup during his second season; and he showed marked progress in his third year. Clary still must do a better job of handling speed rushers, but he has emerged as a solid starter at right tackle.

6b. K Kurt Smith, Virginia (188)- The Chargers drafted Smith as a kickoff specialist, but he never showed enough to merit the position. It's hard to justify spending a pick on a third kicker unless: 1) there is a glaring need at the position; or 2) the player is too skilled to pass up. Neither was the case here, which makes it sting even more that the Chargers picked Smith ahead of Pro Bowl CB Cortland Finnegan, who went to the Tennessee Titans 27 selections later.

7a. DL Chase Page, North Carolina (225)- Page was drafted to provide depth on the defensive line, but he was never able to crack the active roster. He was picked up by the Miami Dolphins midway through the 2006 season and spent one-and-a-half years there before falling out of the league.

7b. OL Jimmy Martin, Virginia Tech (227) – The Chargers were hoping Martin could develop into a utility lineman who could back up multiple positions. Unfortunately, he got lost in the sea of late-round offensive linemen accumulated by the Chargers and never found a way to stick.

What are your thoughts on the Class of 2006? Talk about it in the message boards.

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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