Chargers Jump 16 Spots to Select Matthews

I feel compelled to comment on last night’s move by AJ Smith to select running back Ryan Matthews from Fresno St.  Having at one time been an active participant in the draft room happenings, I think I have a bit of an understanding of what went down.

I think Ryan Matthews is a fine player, and I think he’ll have a long and productive career here in San Diego with the Chargers.  He’s a well-rounded player with good speed, ideal size, and good quickness.  I have no qualms about the choice.

What I do question is the price paid to move up in the draft.  Here’s the trade in its entirety:  The Chargers get the twelfth pick in the draft, a fourth round pick (#110 overall), and a sixth round pick (#173 overall), the Dolphins get linebacker Tim Dobbins, the 28th pick, a second round choice (#40 overall obtained from Seattle in the Whitehurst trade), and a fourth round choice (#126).

It’s interesting to note that in this deal AJ and Executive VP Ed McGuire managed to actually move UP in the fourth round, which in and of itself is a bit of a mini coup.  And while running back was certainly a dire need, I still think the overall price paid was too high.

Like I said, I think Matthews will be a fine player, but that’s a helluva lot to give up to move up to take a player that most draft analysts had falling to the bottom of the first round.  And I’m just guessing here but I don’t think this move was originally in the plans.

While I think it’s highly probable that Matthews was the targeted player all along, I don’t think that Smith and McGuire (and Player Personnel Director Jimmy Raye) expected to have to jump up so high to get him.  But the landscape changed when former Chargers Assistant GM and current Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix turned in the unexpected choice of Clemson running back CJ Spiller.  That changed the landscape a bit.  Suddenly Matthews became arguably the highest rated running back on the draft board.

The Bills’ choice of Spiller caught most folks off guard because the Bills still have the very talented if mercurial Marshawn Lynch on their roster.  What this tells us is that due to his multiple run-ins with local law enforcement, his recurring personality conflicts with team management and the coaching staff, and with his replacement firmly in place, the new regime in Buffalo has essentially decided to send Lynch packing.

This turn of events sent Smith into a bit of a panic mode.  If he wanted to get his man, he was going to have to make a move, and fast!  Now, there’s no telling–particularly from an outsider’s perspective–what the other teams ahead of the 28 spot had in mind.  But I can tell you from experience that when you’re in that draft room you can get a pretty good feel for what other teams are thinking about players that are still on the board.  And they likely had a pretty good idea that someone else was going to take Matthews now that Spiller was no longer available.

So Smith dug deep into his pockets and made a deal.  And he overpaid, just as he overpaid in order to trade up to draft Eric Weddle, and just as he overpaid for Jacob Hester.  The main difference this time is when those trades were made, the Chargers had the luxury of trading away draft picks–the roster had far fewer dire needs at the time as they were seemingly already stocked full of top flight players.  This time around the roster isn’t so stacked, and there are a lot more dire needs than in drafts past.

Had he managed to hold on to that second round pick, he would’ve been able to fill the roster with TWO immediate impact players instead of just one.  Which is just the elixir called for, as the team needs a viable replacement for the recently departed Jamal Williams at nose tackle as well as a primary ballcarrier.  Sure, you can say they need a free safety as well, but that was a secondary need (no pun intended) compared to the urgency to fill the running back and defensive line spots.

Smith and McGuire may still pull a rabbit out of their shared hat and find a way to add that impact nose tackle.  And I must say, that swapping fourth rounders to move up 16 spots is a minor stroke of genius.  But I still think that with the addition of Dobbins to the draft picks they gave up too much for a player that isn’t considered the surefire superstar LaDainian Tomlinson was when he was chosen with the fifth pick in the 2001 draft.  And while they’ve addressed their most pressing need on offense, they’ve still left their defense in a very vulnerable position.

One interesting side note that I can’t help but get a little excited about:  With the departure of Dobbins, the Chargers will now need to find some depth at inside linebacker.  It has been widely speculated that Kirk Morrison, the former San Diego State Aztec star, has fallen out of favor in Oakland.  And with the Raiders’ selection of Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain with the eighth pick, it could signal the end of Morrison’s tenure in Oaktown.  Which could conceivably signal his return to San Diego.  This could get interesting……

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