GM A.J. Smith worked this draft to perfection. He identified his players; he pursued them aggressively; and he reeled in six prospects who will patch over every sizable hole on the roster.
Smith set the aggressive tone on Thursday by moving up 16 spots in the first round to get Fresno State's Ryan Mathews. The Chargers will plug Mathews right into the starting lineup, where he will take over for LaDainian Tomlinson.
"He's my favorite running back," said Mathews of Tomlinson. "It's really an honor. You can't fill shoes like that; LaDainian wore his own shoes. He is great."
Butler will replace Tim Dobbins on defense and Kassim Osgood on special teams. He projects as a backup but could be a starter as early as 2011, as Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett are both in contract years.
Thomas gives the Chargers a big-bodied nose tackle who can anchor the middle of their 3-4 defense. Although he will rotate with Ryon Bingham and Ogemdi Nwagbuo, he could play a key role in the run defense's resurgence.
"I'm all about excitement and having fun on the field," Thomas told SD Bolt Report last week. "We're going to have fun out there on the stage, because once you step onto the field it's like you're on a stage and fans are going to love how we perform."
What's most impressive is how Smith traded up three times in the draft and still came away with six quality selections. He also left the Bolts in good shape for 2011, when the Chargers will have three third-round picks -- one may be a second-rounder -- but no fourth- or fifth-round selection.
Sandwiched between Butler and Thomas was Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey. The sure-tackling safety gives Ron Rivera the type of three-down defender he wanted at that position. Last season, San Diego was forced to deploy Kevin Ellison on running downs and Steve Gregory and/or Paul Oliver in passing situations.
Stuckey, like Butler, will also be a major contributor on special teams.
Smith rounded out his eighth draft as general manager by harkening back to his three-deep mantra. He snagged Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton, who will replace Charlie Whitehurst as the No. 3 QB, and Miami's Dedrick Epps, who will fill the void created by Brandon Manumaleuna's departure.
Crompton will spend his rookie season learning the ropes, then could potentially move up to No. 2 next season, as Billy Volek enters the final season of his contract. Epps is a two-way tight end penciled into the No. 3 spot behind Antonio Gates and Kris Wilson.
How do Chargers fans feel about this year's draft? Find out 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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.