A Draft-Day Prospectus: Sub-Surface Scanning

There is a common misperception about the needs of the San Diego Chargers heading into the NFL Draft - that the team needs wide receivers, offensive linemen, secondary help and little else. A closer look at the team's depth chart and A.J. Smith's draft tendencies shows that the Chargers may make several selections that will surprise many on draft day.

As for the apparent need for receiving help, it just plain isn't there. Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker provide veteran savvy and a contagious work ethic; Vincent Jackson and Rashaun Woods are potential-laden youngsters who were high draft picks for a reason; and Kassim Osgood is a special teams dynamo.

The offensive line could use an infusion of talent, but the need is not as dire as many are making it out to be. All five starters return from last season, three of whom are 25 years old or younger - leaving plenty of room for improvement from within.

The need for secondary help is very cornerback-specific. The Chargers already have five safeties on their roster (Marlon McCree, Bhawoh Jue, Clinton Hart, Terrence Kiel and Andre Lott) expected to be on their opening-day roster. The need for cornerback depth is obvious, but incumbents Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence will likely be starters this season no matter which players the team drafts.

The other problem with the assumptions of many surface-level critics is that the Chargers needs actually run far deeper than the big, aforementioned three. The team figures to have two new starting inside linebackers by 2007, so that area should merit attention. Also, Jacques Cesaire is the top reserve at all three defensive line positions, so that could be another position worthy of some draft-day assistance. Finally, the team has no third quarterback - a role that will likely be filled by a draft pick.

"We have a plan to win now and in the future," Smith said. "Plan strategic moves for the future. I don't want to operate on a year-to-year basis. You have to have an eye on the future."

So on draft day, expect A.J. Smith to stick to his usual end-of-April routine. He considers cornerback a position of priority (see Sammy Davis, Drayton Florence), so it will likely get some first-round attention, and will probably be addressed later in the draft as well.

"I would like to get some excitement back there – some competition going," Smith acknowledged.

Then Smith will undoubtedly use multiple mid-to-late picks on offensive line help (Courtney Van Buren, Scott Mruczkowski), nabbing at least one small-school prospect. Linebacker will then be addressed in round three or four (Ben Leber, Matt Wilhelm), with perhaps a big-bodied defensive lineman rounding out the draft (Ryon Bingham). The quarterback position could be addressed at any point, but it will likely be some time on day two.

It is that time of year where lies abound about every team's intentions, as general managers try to keep their true intentions unknown. But draft-related untruths can come from another source - draft experts that fail to examine teams beyond the surface level. Judging by the Chargers' real needs, and A.J. Smith's historical draft preferences, it seems a lot of fans and so-called experts will be very surprised by what the Chargers do on draft day.


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