Tryonne Green gets a high grade. (AUTigers.com)
How hit-or-miss is the NFL Draft? Just look at the offseason of the San Diego Chargers, which has included the release of recent draft picks Anthony Waters, Scott Chandler and DeJuan Tribble. Will this year's draft class be any better? We go pick-by-pick in handing out this year's grades.
1. OLB Larry English, NIU -- B-minus
English should spark a pass rush that bagged only 28 sacks last season. However, Shawne Merriman’s return should do plenty to help the pass rush, as well, so this strictly a luxury pick. Ole Miss OT Michael Oher may have provided better value and could have been an Opening Day starter at right tackle. English was rated as the No. 36 prospect in the draft by Scout.com.
3. OG Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech -- B-plus
A.J. Smith made it an offseason priority to help a running game that sputtered to a No. 20 ranking last season. Vasquez has a great combination of strength and size that well help get the job done. He will be given every opportunity to beat out Kynan Forney for the starting job at right guard. An interior threesome of Vasquez, Kris Dielman and Nick Hardwick would be as nasty as any in the NFL.
4a. DE Vaughn Martin, Western Ontario -- C-minus
Martin is a rare physical specimen with an incredible combination of size and athleticism. That being said, he is extremely raw after playing college football in Canada and the Chargers have an immediate need at right defensive end. It’s unrealistic to expect Martin to contribute much as a rookie, which puts the onus on Jacques Cesaire and Ryon Bingham to help the defensive line improve from within.
4b. C Tyronne Green, Auburn -- B-plus
Green started at guard during his final two seasons at Auburn, but the Chargers plan to use him at center. He should provide an instant upgrade over last year’s backup center, Jeremy Newberry, and brings considerably more upside. The only drawback is that it’s hard to imagine any scenario (outside of injury) in which Green cracks the starting lineup at guard or center any time in the near future.
4c. RB Gartrell Johnson, Colorado State -- A
Smith had said this year’s draft was deep in “championship-quality” running backs and he found one in Johnson. The bruising runner is strong between the tackles and will add a power element to the running game that was missing last season without Michael Turner. He is a perfect complement to LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles and will also contribute on special teams.
5. CB Brandon Hughes, OSU (No. 148) -- D
Hughes is a physical corner who is strong in man coverage and experienced against top competition. Nonetheless, consider these two questions: Is he capable of challenging Cletis Gordon? Is he really an upgrade over DeJuan Tribble, whom San Diego released the day after the draft? It says here the answer to both questions is “no.”
6. SS Kevin Ellison, USC (No. 189) – A
The Chargers have a glaring need at safety and found great value in Ellison. More importantly, his physical in-the-box style of play is something none of the team’s other young safeties possess. He should make an instant impact on special teams and in situational packages on defense. He also has the potential to develop into a starter if he can stay healthy.
7. WR Demetrius Byrd, LSU (No. 224) – B
The seventh round is always a crapshoot, so the Chargers were smart to roll the dice on Byrd despite his serious car accident just over a week ago. He has a chance to learn the ropes in 2009 and make an impact in 2010, when the team’s receiving corps will likely be thinned by free agency. The trick for Byrd will be sticking around that long; he may have to spend his rookie year on the practice squad unless the Chargers part ways with Kassim Osgood before the season begins.
FINAL GRADE: B-minus
No one can accuse the Chargers of drafting for need, although that may have been the best thing to do coming off an 8-8 season. The keys to this draft will be the three linemen and how quickly they can crack the rotation -- if at all. The Chargers are in win-now mode and need this year's class to contribute.
What do you think of these grades? Would your report card look vastly different? Talk about it in our 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.