As the 2016 NFL Draft quickly approaches — four weeks and counting as we go to print — the Chargers still have a number of positions to fill and/or backfill in order to compete for a division crown. Injuries to starters and lack of depth at key positions contributed to going winless in the AFC West last season.
Although he hasn’t been a big participant in free agency thus far, the players General Manager Tom Telesco did retain and sign off the open market allows him more freedom to select the proverbial “best player available,” rather than drafting for a positon of need.
Currently picking No. 3 overall, Telesco has said he is open to trade down if the price is right. And with the Browns signing quarterback Robert Griffin III last week, there should be a few teams calling Telesco hoping to trade up if the Browns bypass a quarterback with the second pick.
Speculation has Telesco keeping the pick if Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil happens to fall to No. 3 or a trade offer isn’t worth it for Telesco to move down in the draft. In their latest mock drafts, a number of prognosticators have the Chargers selecting one of three players if Tunsil is off the board — DB Jalen Ramsey (Florida State), DE DeForest Buckner (Oregon) or DE Joey Bosa (Ohio St.).
Scouts project Ramsey a better fit at safety than cornerback and some see him as the replacement for the departed Eric Weddle. Regarded by many as the most talented player in the draft, Ramsey would appear to be the best pick for Telesco on two accounts — first, Ramsey is versatile enough to plug-in at safety, outside corner and inside covering the slot receiver. Secondly, he adds much-needed depth and speed to a secondary whose starting cornerbacks (Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers) are coming off injuries.
Whether they stand pat and make their selection from the third spot or opt to trade out for more draft picks, one thing is for sure — if the Chargers could somehow replicate the drafts of 1975 and 2004, they would climb back to the top of the AFC West much faster.
Prior to those drafts (perhaps the two best in franchise history), the Chargers were coming off seasons where they finished 7-9 and 4-12, respectively. However, the players selected in both these drafts laid the foundation of what would become the two most successful eras in franchise history — the Air-Coryell years (1978-1986) and the Schottenheimer/Turner years (2002-2012).
For this story we will look at the ’75 draft where the Chargers landed three All-Pros, three solid starters and a running back drafted in the seventh round whose trade played a major role in the success of Air-Coryell.
The draft had 17 rounds in 1975 and it was the last year it was held at the end of January (the 28th and 29th). The Chargers owned 24 picks overall, four within the top 33 and two picks in rounds one, two, five, six, eight, 11 and 13. Players with an asterisk would be inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame and their names grace the banners hanging at Qualcomm Stadium.
Round 1 — Gary Johnson*, DT, Grambling (8). Known as “Big Hands,” Johnson played 10 seasons for the Chargers and was a two-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler. One of the most dominant defensive players in team history, his 17.5 sacks in 1980 remain a team record. Johnson was inducted the Chargers Hall of Fame in 1999 and is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Traded to San Francisco during the 1984 season, Johnson won a Super Bowl with the 49ers that same season (Wikipedia).
Round 2 — Louie Kelcher*, DT, SMU (30). One of Chargers’ fans all-time favorites, during his eight seasons in San Diego, Kelcher earned three trips to the Pro Bowl (’78, ’79 and ’80) and one-time First-Team All-Pro. He was named team captain five consecutive seasons (1977-81) and started 90 of the 100 games he played for the Chargers, including 577 tackles and 39 sacks. Traded to San Francisco prior to the ’84 season, Kelcher also won a Super Bowl with the 49ers that same season. Inducted into the SMU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 (Wikipedia).
Round 2 — Fred Dean*, LB, Louisiana Tech (33). A two-time Pro Bowler (’79 and ’80) and one-time All-Pro (’80) during his seven seasons with the Chargers, Dean garnered seven sacks, 93 tackles and four fumble recoveries as a rookie. His best years as a Charger were in ’78, ’79 and ’80 where he recorded 15.5, nine and 10.5, respectively (Pro Football Hall of Fame). Selected as the Chargers Lineman of the Year in ’79, he was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame in 2008. Just one month into what was his seventh season in San Diego, Dean was traded to San Francisco where he won two Super Bowls (1981, 1984). He is a member of the Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame (Wikipedia).
The Endzone: Aside from making the Chargers Hall of Fame, Johnson, Kelcher and Dean were also named to both the Chargers 40th and 50th Anniversary Teams, respectively. The trio, along with fellow defensive lineman Leroy Jones, were locally nicknamed the “Bruise Brothers” (American Football Database).
The other key players drafted in ’75 were cornerback Mike Williams (Round 1/22); safety Mike Fuller (Round 3/73); offensive tackle Billy Shields (Round 5/136) and running back Rickey Young (Rpund 7/164). Williams, Fuller and Shields became solid starters for the team while the trade of Young to the Minnesota Vikings for All-Pro guard Ed White solidified the offensive line that key to winning consecutive AFC West titles (’79, ’80 and ’81) and protected Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. Player information provided by the San Diego Chargers media guide unless otherwise noted.