Best Draft Picks of the A.J. Smith Era

Given that A.J. Smith just finished his seventh draft as the general manager of the San Diego Chargers, decided it would be a good time to look back at some of his most successful draft picks. Here are seven selections that stood out above the rest, one in every round.

Editor's Note: This feature recognizes only players still on San Diego's roster.

First Round: QB Philip Rivers (2004)

Simply put, Rivers is the best player on the Chargers roster. He's coming off a sensational season in which is led the NFL in passer rating (105.5) and touchdown passes (34). The Chargers get second-guessed by some for rating Rivers ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, but GM A.J. Smith is plenty happy with the man he picked.

Honorable Mentions: LB Shawne Merriman (2005), CB Antonio Cromartie (2006)

Second Round: WR Vincent Jackson (2005)

Smith knew Jackson would be a project when he selected him out of Northern Colorado, but the payoff was worth the wait. Jackson put it all together last season, becoming the first Chargers receiver since Curtis Conway in 2001 to top the 1,000-yard barrier (1,098). Jackson also developed as a deep threat, leading the AFC with seven catches of 40-plus yards.

Honorable Mention: Marcus McNeill (2006)

Third Round: C Nick Hardwick (2004)

Hardwick has been a full-time starter since his rookie season and has injected the interior line with a nasty demeanor. He uses excellent leverage to generate movement in the running game and is stout in pass protection, as well, allowing an average of only two sacks per season.

LB Shaun Phillips
Harry How/Getty

Honorable Mention: Nate Kaeding (2004)

Fourth Round: Shaun Phillips (2004)

Phillips uses the fastest first step in the NFL to wreak havoc off the edge. He's averaged more than 8.5 sacks per season over the last four years, forcing a total of 11 fumbles in that span. He's also shown improvement in pass coverage and has three career INTs, including one he returned 18 yards for a TD.

Honorable Mention: Darren Sproles (2005)

Fifth Round: Mike Scifres (2003)

Scifres has been trying for years to grab the attention of Pro Bowl voters and finally leapfrog Shane Lechler for the right to represent the AFC in the all-star game. The work he did against the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs should finally do the trick. Scifres pinned the Colts inside their own 10-yard line on five of his six punts, kicking the Chargers to the biggest upset of Wildcard Weekend.

Honorable Mentions: Tim Dobbins (2006)

Sixth Round: Jeromey Clary (2006)

Clary quickly made the ascension from the practice squad to the active roster to the starting lineup, and is the only returning offensive lineman who started every game last season. He is a blue-collar player and a bit of an overachiever, but the coaching staff likes his grit. He still gives up too many sacks, but part of the reason for that is because the Chargers rarely give him help in pass protection.

Seventh Round: Brandon Siler (2007)

Siler is a demon on special teams, piling up 21 tackles in kick coverage in 2007 and 15 more in 2008. He's also carved out a spot in the goal line defense, coming up with a handful of huge stuffs last season. With San Diego's inside linebacker rotation in flux, Siler will have an opportunity to earn even more playing time this season.

Honorable Mentions: Ryon Bingham (2004), Scott Mruczkowski (2005)

Who are your favorite picks from the Smith era? Talk it out in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the 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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