The Chargers Plan: the Draft

Draft day is the most influential day of the off season. Put aside the salary cap, championships, or just about any other factor that will dictate free agency, the draft is an opportunity for coaches and GM's to prove that they are truly the best at what they do. Next to what happens on the field, the draft is the best indicator of how good an organization actually is.

My Charger brethren, in this third and final installment of the "Plan" series, we will take a look at the Chargers' past drafts and try to decipher if our administration has been upfront with us in claiming they have "a plan".

Is it just me, or have the Chargers had the same problems approaching each of the past three drafts? For some reason, offensive and defensive line is one of, if not, the biggest positions of need going into the 2004 draft. How is this possible when it was also our biggest need going into both the 2002 and 2003 drafts as well? One would think the "powers that be" would have addressed at least part of the problem by now. It has been apparent for the past three years that our offensive and defensive line has constantly struggled, yet we keep relying on "skill-heavy" drafts to solve the problem.

Let us ponder a few numbers for a moment. In the first three drafts of the AJ/Butler administration, we have spent four picks on cornerbacks in the first three rounds. We have only spent two selections on offensive line, and no selections on defensive line. Considering our offensive line was "nothing to write home about" when change in the administration occurred, it is no mystery to me why it has not improved.

None of us will knock taking players like LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees in the first two rounds. But with the drafting of these players, why do we still put the majority of emphasis on skill positions and not the line? Is the game not won "in the trenches?"

Would we have won fewer games last year if we had picked Bryant McKinnie instead of Quentin Jammer, and Kwame Harris instead of trading back? We sure could not have done much worse. I know everyone can do the "Monday Morning Quarterback" thing, but our draft stubbornness regarding the line becomes more and more evident each year.

The only conclusion we can draw is that our administration feels that there is a bigger gap between the top linemen on the board than the skill players. So, once the first three or four linemen are selected then everyone else is more or less the same. In their defense, we have been able to find some jewels in the UDFA route. Jason Ball was a gift from the football gods, and Phil Bogle was a nice find as well. But can a franchise be realistically built this way? The Steelers have one of the best overall records in the NFL for the past ten years. There draft motto is "when in doubt, take a lineman". Ours seem to be, "when in doubt, trade back, and load up on skill players".

This leads us to the second day of the draft. I think it is safe to assume that players taken on the first day have a better chance of contributing than those taken on the second day. But championship caliber teams consistently seem to produce better players on day two than a team like the Chargers do on day one. And, for draft junkies like myself, the second day is more fun because it allows us to see how right or wrong the self proclaimed gurus actually are (including yours truly).

Depending on the team's philosophy, the lower rounds are usually picked according to value. Some teams, though, might do this the third round down, and others might do it the first – of course all this depends on where a team is selecting and who is available. Common sense would tell us that truly pitiful teams pick according to value in the later rounds because they are more than just a player away from being competitive. So, assuming the Chargers take the best players available in rounds four through seven, it is hard to critique their philosophy. Instead, we must look to see how consistently our lower rounds contribute, on any level.

In the first three years of the post Beathard administration, we have chosen thirteen players in rounds four through seven. Of the first draft, only Carlos Polk and Zeke Moreno remain. Polk plays good special teams, and Moreno started twelve of sixteen games last year. That type of production is OK, but considering this team is coming off a 4-12 season, I am not exactly doing back flips. Regardless, Polk and Moreno only make up forty percent of the selections in rounds 4-7 that year. That number, quite frankly, stinks. Championship teams get better production from their lower rounds; even if that means half of the players remain perennial backups. The goal is to have the majority of picks making a long term contribution in some fashion.

In the 2002 draft, the numbers are very much the same. Of those taken only Justin Peele remains, and for how long is uncertain. Peele has not developed into the player we had hoped. He showed promise his rookie year and has been missing in action ever since. Matt Anderle, Seth Burford, and Terry Charles (the other picks) have been gone for quite sometime, and it is not like we cut them trying to avoid the five year retirement plan either. Even though one could make an excuse for Charles (blowing out his knee), Anderle was cut halfway into the preseason, and Burford has been lost into the oblivion known as NFL Europe. Assuming Peele lasts through preseason because he blocks as well as our offensive tackles that makes twenty-five percent. That number, again, is obviously unacceptable.

Next on the list is the class of 2003. I am happy to say all of them still remain, but it is too early to draw any conclusions. Andrew Pinnock and Mike Scifres are not in jeopardy of losing their jobs. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Matt Wilhelm. And, of course, everyone is hoping Hank Milligan has a full recovery. Even if all goes well with these four, our total percentage is still no where close to being where it needs to be. That, in combination of taking only five linemen (offense or defense) out of twenty-four overall picks in the last three years, it is no surprise to at least this Charger fan that we had the dubious distinction of being "on the clock" in December, again. But do not worry, Marty and AJ still assure us they have a "plan".

In the recent draft, the team did make a complete turn by not only using the majority of their picks on linemen, but if one were to add up all the offensive and defensive line picks in drafts 2001-2003, you would still fall short of the selections used on linemen in the 2004 draft by two. Again, like the move to a 3-4 and our no nonsense approach to free agency; I was very happy with the recent draft. But yet, this is evidence of another change from our administration in midstream.

Well boys and girls, I hope you have enjoyed the recap of the Charger's pitiful play for the past three years in these series of articles. I also hope that I have not made any of you suicidal. In looking at what the administration has done this year opposed to the past three I do see a "plan" in place. I am not writing these articles criticizing the changes. I have supported every change to this point. What I am critical of is why it took so long to make these changes. Why were these philosophies not adopted initially? I can understand fine tuning a philosophy, but completely gutting it is a different story. In writing these articles, if we had to define what their "plan" is, I would have to say it is doing everything opposite of what they have been doing for the past three years. So in a way, I guess I am cautiously optimistic.

Byran Martin can be reached at byranmartin@sandiegosports.net

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