Is Smith the Source of San Diego's Problems?

The San Diego Chargers, often lauded for their depth, have been exposed by a rash of injuries early this year. How did this happen to a team with a three-deep mentality? Two words: bad drafting.

When evaluating A.J. Smith's draft history, it's only fair to look at his selections between 2004 and 2009. His tenure as GM began in 2003, but his initial draft was all about carrying out the offseason plan of his predecessor, the late John Butler.

Smith showed a shrewd eye for talent early in his stint as GM, especially in the first round. Philip Rivers (2004), Shawne Merriman (2005) and Antonio Cromartie (2006) have each earned at least one Pro Bowl invite already. Rivers has already been locked up with a second contract -- a six-year, $92 million blockbuster -- as has San Diego's second first-round pick in 2006, Luis Castillo (five years, $43 million).

After 2006, Smith's first-round picks have been far less impactful. Buster Davis (2007) has only 24 catches over the last two-plus seasons and is currently relegated to the inactive list. Antoine Cason (2008) is a nice nickel back but is in no way a star player. Larry English (2009) was brought in to make sure the pass rush stayed afloat if Merriman was injured again; well, Merriman is out and the pass rush is AWOL.


GM A.J. Smith
Kevin Terrell/Getty
Worst of all, some of Smith's picks that initially looked like home runs are quickly spoiling into duds. Merriman is testing the team's patience with his off-the-field antics and inability to stay healthy -- he is in the final year of his rookie deal and is unlikely to re-sign. And Cromartie has played with a bull's-eye on his back the last two seasons and has become a massive liability.

Beyond the first round, Smith's track record has been hit-and-miss. He has uncovered some steals that have given credence to his "draft guru" label, including: Shaun Phillips (fourth round, 2004), Vincent Jackson (second round, 2005), Darren Sproles (fourth round, 2005) and Marcus McNeill (second round, 2006).

Smith has also uncovered several gems from undrafted free agency, a list that includes Antonio Gates, Kris Dielman and Stephen Cooper.

Unfortunately, Smith has failed to restock the cupboards at some key positions. One of the reasons the team is so thin on the offensive line is because Smith insists on taking linemen late in the draft, only to wind up missing on players like Carlos Joseph, Wesley Britt, Wes Sims, Jimmy Martin and Corey Clark.

And what about the team's lack of power out of the backfield, an issue that has contributed to the Chargers being the only team in the league averaging less than 3 yards per carry (2.7)? One has to think this wouldn't be such a dilemma if Marcus Thomas (fifth round, 2008) or Gartrell Johnson (fourth round, 2009) panned out.

Then there's the defensive line, currently the team's biggest weakness. Smith has invested just six of 46 draft picks in the D-line since 2004, only two of which came in the first three rounds.

Overall, 30 of Smith's 46 draft picks (65 percent) since 2004 are still on the roster. That's quite an impressive figure…until you look at the roster.


Do you blame Smith for San Diego's struggles? Talk about it in the message boards.


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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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