Chargers look to reverse fortune in team’s top 3 NFL draft pick history


Dec 6, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy reacts during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft is still three months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the players each team may select. After a disastrous 4-12 season, the San Diego Chargers sit at the No. 3 spot in the first round.

Will the team select Laremy Tunsil, Joey Bosa or DeForest Buckner? Will the team draft someone else entirely? Many options are on the table with pro days and the scouting combine still to come, but those are three names the team will take a long, hard look at.

Fans who have stood by the Chargers for a length of time can tell you that the team hasn’t had the best of luck when it has selected inside the top three picks of the draft. The team was able to strike gold back in 2001 when it traded the No. 1 overall selection and moved back to No. 5, eventually selecting LaDainian Tomlinson. All he did was go on to be one of the best running backs in league history.

But as far as the team actually selecting a player within the top three picks of the first round, it hasn’t gone great. There have been just three instances of this in team history, excluding the 1963 season when the team selected Walt Sweeney No. 2 overall when it was part of the AFL. Here is a look at each of those picks.

1974: Bo Matthews, Running Back, Colorado

Bo Matthews ran for just 1,339 yards and 11 touchdowns in 33 career games at the University of Colorado. The Chargers still felt they had seen enough of him to select him with the No. 2 overall pick of the 1974 draft.

Matthews didn’t run for many more yards as a professional. He lasted just six seasons in San Diego, gaining just 1,362 yards on the ground and scoring only 11 touchdowns in that time. He finished his career with the Miami Dolphins after a two-year stint with the New York Giants.

1998: Ryan Leaf, Quarterback, Washington State

To this day, many fans of the Chargers are likely still seething over this pick. Though it didn’t seem like a bad pick at the time, Ryan Leaf is widely considered one of the biggest busts in draft history.

Leaf threw a total of 13 touchdowns to go along with 33 interceptions in his entire stint with the team. After being equally bad with the Dallas Cowboys, he was jettisoned from the league by 2001.

Leaf never looked like the quarterback who threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns in 1997 at Washington State while he was in the NFL. He never looked even close. He was prone to every mistake imaginable and just looked lost playing the position.

And to think that Bill Polian debated taking him over Peyton Manning that year.

2004: Eli Manning, Quarterback, Ole Miss

Yes, the Chargers were able to turn this around. After all, they ended up with Philip Rivers following the 2004 draft, but the player that was selected with the No. 1 overall pick that season—by San Diego—was Eli Manning.

You know the story, Eli pulled off his best John Elway move and refused to play for the Chargers. Forcing the team’s hand, Manning was traded to the Giants for Rivers and extra draft picks, which were used to select Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.

The Chargers came out of the draft looking pretty good that year, but what does it say for the franchise and its ownership when the most coveted player in the draft has no interest whatsoever in playing for you?

Since 2004, the Chargers haven’t been anywhere near the top three picks. In fact, the highest player the team has selected in the first round since then was D.J. Fluker, who was taken with the No. 11 overall pick in 2013.

There are some players with great potential on the board this year and this will be an important draft for the Chargers, who will need to do their homework in order to come out with a player who can be a cornerstone piece of the franchise for the next decade.