A.J. Smith's Tendencies Leave Clues for Draft

The NFL draft is days away and the question on minds of Chargers fans is simple: what is A.J. Smith going to do? To shine some light on the matter, Chargers expert Michael Lombardo takes an in-depth look at Smith's draft tendencies. Find out what that means for the Chargers, and for Brandon Flowers, in this SDBoltReport.com exclusive.

The scenario first arose earlier today in Scout.com's intersite mock draft. The Chargers go on the clock at No. 27 and Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus and Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Flowers are both available. While logic dictates Cherilus would be the obvious choice – he would have a chance to start on opening day by beating out Jeromey Clary – A.J. Smith's draft history gives Flowers the edge.

Smith rarely invests high draft picks in offensive linemen. In his five years as general manager, Smith has drafted nine offensive linemen. Six of those linemen were selected in round five or later and none was selected earlier than No. 50 overall. In fact, it has been more than 20 years since the Chargers selected an offensive lineman in the first round (James FitzPatrick, 1986).

On the flip side, Smith has an affinity for burning early picks on cornerbacks. In his tenure with the Chargers, Smith has drafted three cornerbacks in the first two rounds and has never selected a cornerback any lower than that. It is significant that Smith took over as general manager one year after the Chargers spent a top-five pick on cornerback Quentin Jammer. It appears he places a higher premium on depth at cornerback than he does at offensive tackle.


Darren Sproles was a fourth-round pick in 2005
Harry How/Getty

As for the team's need at running back, Smith seems content to fill that void in the middle rounds. He has drafted two halfbacks in his tenure, Michael Turner (round five) and Darren Sproles (round four).

Another trend to keep an eye on is Smith's tendency to target players from small schools. His motto has long been: "We don't care where you play, we'll find you."

The Chargers have backed up that statement by mining talent from schools such as Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Colorado.

Smith's most interesting inclination is to trade out of the first round. That's what he did in 2004, peddling Eli Manning for Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, Nate Kaeding and Roman Oben. He also moved down in 2003, swapping pick No. 15 for Nos. 30 and 62 (Sammy Davis and Terrence Kiel).

Smith was the assistant general manager in 2001 when the Chargers traded the rights to Michael Vick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for LaDainian Tomlinson, Tim Dwight, Tay Cody and Reche Caldwell.

That 2001 swap is pertinent again, as the Chargers are rumored to be in trade talks with the Falcons. Smith is again looking to trade out of the first round and may be willing to do so for the Falcons' second- and third-round selections.

Such a trade would allow Smith to stay true to all of his draft tendencies. He could use the second-round pick to draft a corner early (Flowers) and could use the third-round pick for his middle-round running back (Matt Forte, Tulane). Smith could then kill two birds with one stone by drafting a small-school offensive lineman late in the draft, such as Weber State tackle David Hale.

The Chargers conducted private visits with Flowers, Forte and Hale in recent weeks. While those may not be the exact names Smith calls on draft day, expect the pattern to remain the same.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


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