When scouting college prospects, Chargers GM A.J. Smith has always subscribed to the theory: “It's not where you play, but how you play.” And it was hard not to notice just how productive Charles Martin was during his time at West Texas A&M.
Martin dominated as a senior with 95 catches for 1,867 yards (19.7 avg.) and 22 TDs. And while those numbers represented career-highs for Martin, his 2008 campaign was hardly a statistical anomaly. He started his final three collegiate seasons and averaged 78 catches for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns during that span.
"I hope the production will transfer," Martin said. "The big thing was, coming from a small school, a Div. II school, was just being able to open a few more eyes. I don't think that numbers necessarily are everything, but I think that, coming from my position, it opened some eyes to give me the opportunity in the NFL."
The biggest knocks against Martin are his marginal speed and his lack of experience vs. top competition. He ran his 40 in 4.62 seconds, raising questions about his ability to create separation in the NFL.
Martin's college receivers coach, Joel Hinton, believes Martin will adjust smoothly to the speed of the pro game. Hinton compares Martin favorably to another undrafted free agent with limited foot speed, former Denver Broncos standout Ed McCaffrey.
"[Martin] has the same kind of the work ethic, body type and all that kind of stuff," Hinton said. "They kind of look similar in that aspect."
All the hard work in the world won't land Martin a spot on this year's active roster, barring a rash of injuries at the position. Instead, he must work to earn a spot on the practice squad and stick around till next season. Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers, Malcom Floyd and Kassim Osgood are all entering contract years, so a spot may become available for Martin in 2010.
First, he must keep showing the Eric Parker-like traits that landed him a pro contract: strong hands, impressive agility, unbridled determination and a tireless work ethic. If he can do that, Martin believes he'd be an excellent fit in San Diego's offense.
"I think I could help move the chains and help do some stuff in this offense," he said. "Obviously, I'm young in NFL years and I have a lot of learning mentally to do, and I think that when I can catch up to speed mentally and just go out and play football, I think I'd fit in great."
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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.