Drayton Florence via photos.signonsandiego.com
Denver tapped Tackle George Foster as their first round choice. Foster had injury issues through most of his rookie year and would make no impact. He started all 16 games in 2004, not missing an offensive snap. That was a year that would see a team low in sacks with just 15 allowed. He was also part of the force in 2005 that paved the way for Denver RBs to run for a record 2,500+ yards. 2006 reportedly was more spotty, he seemed not to be a perfect fit with the zone blocking scheme and although a great athlete, it didn't always seem to translate into great play. After tragedy struck when cornerback Darrent Williams was gunned down, the Broncos traded both Foster and Tatum Bell to Detroit for Dre Bly. Foster's inconsistent play has continued, he has been benched several times by Detroit; while he has played well he doesn't seem to have lived up to his potential. He did provide part of the core value to acquire Dre Bly and gave two great years, one mediocre year in service to the Broncos.
The Bolts looked at the 6,000 yards given up by their defense and thought, hey, maybe a cornerback would be a good idea. Unfortunately they picked Sammy Davis (30), who spent much of his career watching WRs tap dance past him. Over the three years he was with San Diego he made three total picks and was just poor at defending. The Chargers traded him to the 49ers for their bust WR, and he moved on to Tampa Bay as a backup in 2007. What makes this pick even more frustrating is that they traded down to get an addtional second rounder, but could have had Polamalu with their original pick. Even worse CB Nnamdi Asomugha was taken immediately after Davis by the Raiders. Other CB's taken below him included Charles Tillman, Rashean Mathis and Asante Samuel. As AJ's first shot at the draft it was an inauspicious beginning, an unalloyed bust.
After taking an offensive lineman with their first pick the Broncos went back to the other side of the ball selecting LB Terry Pierce (51). He was injured much of his first season, and an early injury kept him from competing for a starting job in 2004 as well. Seemingly selected to replace Al Wilson, when Wilson signed a new contract Pierce would be shifted from MLB to the outside. With DJ Williams and Ian Gold coming on board, a starting role was not going to happen. He would be cut in 2005 and briefly hook up with the Houston Texans, but finally gave up football to become a financial adviser, where he is apparently quite successful. Mostly injured and just a handful of tackles, this just has to be called a bust.
Having traded down in the first round, San Diego had two second rounders. Still eyeing the wreckage of their 2002 secondary they would select another cornerback, Drayton Florence (46). Florence was a huge hitter who developed into a good cornerback with San Diego. While he never had huge numbers of picks, he became a credible cornerback and made a good tandem with Jammer. He was prone to giving in to emotional play and could make mistakes and penalties. In the 2007 playoff loss to New England he headbutted the NE tight end turning a defensive stand into a field goal. In the 2007 season he would take a cheap shot at Houston QB Matt Schaub, giving him a concussion and knocking him out of the game. He lost his starting job to Antonio Cromartie in 2007 and was unwilling to sign on with the chargers as the nickel back, he moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars where he will start next season. Despite some flaws, this was a solid pick by the Chargers.
The Chargers gaze was still fixated on the secondary as they used their third consecutive pick on yet another defensive back. They chose safety Terrance Kiel. Kiel's time with the Bolts was troubled from the start, he was involved in a carjacking where he was shot three times, but remarkably recovered and made the team. His best season was his softmore season where he had 97 tackles and two picks. His 2005 numbers were down and in 2006 he was arrested for shipping codeine based cough medicine illegally to Texas in a scheme to sell codeine laced soft drinks. He followed that up with an arrest in for urination in public and the Chargers had seen enough. His play was average and the league was cracking down, Kiel was cut. He wrote letters to every team looking for a position, but was not having any takers. Just last month at a July 4th party at Stephen Cooper's house he got into an argument with his girl friend and drove off in a drunken fury. His car left the road, flipped over and he was killed. It was a sad and dismal ending to what had started out as a promising career, many of us who had watched him play had hoped he would straighten himself out and find another team to play for.
The Broncos traded their third round choice.
The Chargers would select Courtney Van Buren (80), an offensive tackle out of Arkansas. Van Buren would start seven games as a rookie, and seem to be on track for a starter position, but would go down in the first game of his second season with a knee injury. Despite, or perhaps because of a rigorous training program, his knee would fail him again in 2005. He would try again in Detoit, but it just wasn't to be. A remarkably upbeat player despite his injuries, he went on to do some color commentary. It is hard to fault the Bolts as Van Buren had never been injurred in college, this was clearly a bust.
The Broncos had not one, not two, but three fourth rounders, and with the first they hit on running back Quentin Griffin (108). Griffin was a promising back who ran for 345 yards his first season. In 2004 he ran for 156 yards his first game, but went down with an injurry in the seventh week. He was cut, briefly resigned, then cut again. He signed with KC in 2006, but didn't make the team. He has been bouncing around in Europe and most recently in Canada. He refused to play in a pre-season game in Sasketchewan saying he didn't want to be hurt, his coach, still enraged, fired him at the airport. This was a bust.
Defensive Tackle Nick Eason (114) was Denver's second fourth rounder and the second to be brought low by injuries. He would make a few tackles his rookie season, but go down with an ACL injury in his second year. He was cut and sent to the practice squad from there. He spent sometime in NFL Europe, then kicked around with Cleveland, and finally the Steelers where he is currently playing as a backup, but has never been able to crack a starting lineup. For the Broncos he has to be classified as a bust.
Completing the trifecta of fourth round busts was Bryant McNeal (128). He got off to an inauspicious start, he just disappeared for three days during training camp with no explanation. He was cut and put on the practice squad. He moved on to the Oakland Raiders practice squad and started selling Land Rovers on the side. Unfortunately he didn't actually own any Land Rovers and the police put out a warrant for his arrest. This was too much, even for the Raiders, and they cut him too. He is now trying to break back into football, or maybe it was Land Rovers. He was trying to break back into something at any rate.
The Chargers went for Linebacker Matt Wilhelm (112) out of Ohio State. It looked like it might be a brief stint when Wilhelm was picked up for a DUI just prior to his rookie training camp, but he turned out to be a special teams kamikaze and a competent backup. That skill and commitment gave the Chargers the latitude to let Donnie Edwards return to the Chiefs last year. There was some concern amongst the fans and Wilhelm had something of a slow start, but picked up his level of play as the season went on. He ended up with 97 tackles and three interceptions. To develop into a quality starter from the fourth round is great value here.
To go with their two fourth rounders, the Broncos had two Fifth rounders. With the first they decided on Ben Claxton (157), a center out of Mississippi. He failed to make the cut in his first training camp, he did catch on for two games with Atlanta, before playing in Berlin and various practice squads. He was tuning up for law school when he got a call from the Patriots; that didn't work out, but he has landed in Seattle now. Could this be the breakthrough for him finally?
With the second fifth rounder the Broncos called on wide receiver Adrian Madise (158). He would make the cut and play 11 games, the highlight being a 80+ yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In the final preseason game in 2004 Madise would break his hand, then he would be suspended four games for violating the substance abuse policy. He was on the bubble and that led to his being cut, he signed briefly with Washington but never played for them. He has kicked around Canadian and Arena football teams, but is currently not signed with anyone. Two receptions and one great return, this is largely a bust.
The Chargers annoyed a number of fans with their fifth round choice of punter Mike Scifres (149). We had an awesome punter, Darren Bennett who consistently hit 40 yard net punts. AJ thought Scifres was the best punter he had seen, and darned if it wasn't a great move. After one year spent kicking off he took over from Bennett and has been averaging over 40 yards ever since (46 yards last year). Getting one year to watch a probowler show how its done was an enormous boon. He also can put a nice backspin on the ball that keeps it from rolling into the endzone and has caused more than a few fumbles. In last years playoff game against the Colts he nailed a 66 yarder and averaged over 50 yards.
With their final pick the Broncos took a chance on Defensive End Aaron Hunt (194). A pretty typical sixth round story, he failed to make the cut, signed briefly with the Cardinals, then moved on to the Dolphins. He finally played some in NFL Europe, before returning to play in the CFL. Reportedly doing very well with the BC Lions, he was rookie of the year in 2006.
The Chargers picked out Hanik Milligan (188), DB out of Houston. He missed his rookie season with a pectoral injury. In his second season he never cracked the starting lineup, but he made the Pro Bowl as a special teams member. A ferocious hitter, he was hoped to be the next Rodney Harrison, but it wasn't to be. Unhappy with limited playing time and grousing about his contract was the end of the line for Milligan with the Chargers in 2006. He did get picked up by the Cardinals, was released in 2007 and is now with the Rams. Not bad value for a sixth rounder, but eventually the roster got too deep to keep him.
I haven't been covering past the sixth round because their stories usually end up in Europe/Canada if that. I should mention that in the seventh round the Chargers picked up Andrew Pinnock. Still with the Bolts, he will be taking over for LoNeal at the Fullback position. He has been a solid backup and has good hands coming out of the backfield. For a seventh rounder quite a find.
Undrafted Free Agents
While also uncovered in this series thus far, there were enough great undrafted free agents that I felt they needed to be mentioned. Antonio Gates' story is pretty well known. A college Basketball player, at 6'4" he was considered a tweener and unlikely to thrive in the NBA. While 19 teams were interested in giving him a try, San Diego just got lucky that Gates picked them to play for. While he hadn't played football at all in college, his athletic skills were amazing. A perrenial Pro Bowler and likely HOF candidate, the 1,000 yard seasons and accolades just keep piling up, the Bolts just struck pure gold.
The second undrafted player was Chris Dielman a Defensive End converted to Guard. He is not an all pro, he is not Pro Bowler; what he is, is a mean SOB that any team would love to see at Guard. Part bulldog and part pitbull he plays to the very end of the whistle. Just the other day in a closed practice it was reported that two players had gotten into it; I wasn't sure who the other player would be, but sure enough Dielman was one of them. He is also loyal, he was offered 9 million more to go play in rainy Seattle; but one last offer by SD has him right where he belongs, leading LT into the endzone.
The final player the Chargers picked up was Kassim Osgood. Technically a WR, he is basically a guided missile on special teams. He hasn't quite cut it as a WR on the Bolts, but he commands a double team on every kickoff and punt return and is now a perrenial Pro Bowler. He will go free agency, the Chargers have him locked down until 2010, until then he will be a fixture on SD's special teams.
The Broncos went 9-7, but failed to make the playoffs. While it was a winning season and an improvement on the prior year; nothing short of the playoffs would do for the next year. Brian Griese had his second tough year; throwing a number of interceptions. The defense gave up less yards, but a lot of points; no doubt partially due to field postion on turnovers. The running game was solid as always; they seemed just a few components away from putting everything together. One thing the Broncos were sure of, they had seen enough of Brian Griese; he was not going to work as a replacement for John Elway.
San Diego continued on an upward arc going 8-8 overall; including a 6-1 spurt to start the season. The Offense was the key to most of the victories, as the defense continued to give up huge yardage. The secondary was particularly atrocious; while they had picked up Quentin Jammer the prior year, due to a hold out he really had no impact in 2002. While the second half of the season was dismal, there was a sense that the team was moving in the right direction.
Jake Plummer seemed to be at least part of the answer as the Broncos went 10-6. The Broncos would start off a sparkling 5-1, but would just break even over the last ten games. Interceptions were way down, Clinton Portis was running well and the defense had come a long way giving up 40 fewer points over the season. While interceptions were down, so was overall passing yardage. But the team had made the playoffs as a wildcard (Kansas City would take the division with a 13-3 record), definite progress from the prior year. Unfortunately they would face a fearsome Indianapolis team and this game would be over by half time, 31-3. The Broncos were good enough to make the playoffs, but did not yet have the horses to go deep into them.
The Chargers season began a woeful 0-5; they would finish out at 4-12. The story of the season could be seen in the points allowed, 441, good for 31st in the league. Drew Brees threw for 21 TDs, but like Griese 19 interceptions; those were mistakes the Chargers could not afford with their defense. If there was a bright spot, it was the running game which averaged a league leading 5.1 yards per carry. But being dreadful hath its rewards in the NFL, they were to get the number one draft choice for the second time in three years.
This was just a bad draft for Denver. While the Broncos only had two picks in the first three rounds, one was a bust, the other was useful, but spotty. Foster did make some of the great rushing years possible, and was part of a formidable unit, yet he struggled within the system. He did provide part of the value in the trade for Dre Bly, but has continued to underperform for the Lions. Of the remaining eight picks, not one made an impact; most never even made it out of training camp. Overall I give this draft a D.
The Chargers first round choice, Sammy Davis, never reached expectations. Rather than being part of the solution, he became part of the problem. Drayton Florence would become a solid, if unspectacular starter. Kiel too was a bust. Where the Chargers were saved in this draft was in the lower half, they got a solid punter, backup fullback and a starting linebacker. Overall I give them a C for this draft, it is pretty sad drafting when Drayton Florence is the premier draft pick between both the Broncos and the Bolts. The undrafted players are in a sense unfair to factor in since some of who you get is just pure luck and the best undrafteds go to the worst teams in hopes of making the roster; but if you add in Gates, Dielman and Osgood the Chargers added a number of great young players not reflected in this grade.