The Beauty of AJ Smith's Draft: Keeping the Chargers Hungry

Heneli IongiAnalyst IApril 29, 2010

SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 29:  Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on November 29, 2009 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers.  Many analyst and fans alike say many things about the Chargers—somewhere on the grounds of being the most talented team in the entire NFL.  Statements like, "No other team has the quality of depth like the Chargers."  Those are some very strong words, aren't they? 

The men behind the success of the Chargers are those that we as fans tend to scrutinize during the offseason: the Chargers' current GM, AJ Smith, and the late John Butler.  

You would be surprised to realize that this talented team this season has nearly one third of the players from non-BCS (nBCS) conferences.  Is it coincidence or maybe a secret draft strategy by the scouting department and AJ Smith?

Twenty-one players.  That's right.  That's how many players are currently on the Chargers roster as of now without the undrafted rookie free agents that are from nBCS schools.  Twenty-one players out of 65.  Crazy, is it not?  Out of those 21 players from nBCS schools, eight of them are currently slotted starters.  

There are many advantages to having these type of players than players from huge BCS schools.  Before I get to the reasons why I feel this way, let's take a look at the Chargers' current nBCS players.

The current Chargers from nBCS schools are Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson, Legadu Naanee, Gary Banks, Brandyn Dombrowski, Scott "Mooch" Mruczkowski, Antonio Gates, Mike Tolbert, Ryan Mathews, Marcus Mason, Billy Volek, Mike Scifres, Eric Weddle, C.J. Spillman, Stephen Cooper, Larry English, Antwan Applewhite, Jacques Cesaire, Alfonso Boone, Derrick Jones, and Vaughn Martin.  That's a talented list right there, isn't it? 

It's not easy to assume that players from the BCS schools aren't hungry for success. There are more bust players coming from the BCS schools than players coming from nBCS.  I tend to think a lot of that has to with nBCS players being hungry for success 'cause they want to prove they can hang with every other player that came from bigger schools.  Which brings this theory I have of AJ Smith.

AJ Smith drafts players with major upside.  If you look at players from BCS schools, they tend to go up against NFL-like competition the time.  Going from high school straight to that type of environment is pretty tough.  Players are being asked to learn how to play at a pro level after high school by going to a BCS program.

Players that go to nBCS schools have a chance to progress and master playing the game at a lower level and then continue to progress towards a more difficult level like the NFL, meaning they learn and progress little by little without peaking.  

Most BCS players who already play at a NFL-type level already peaked to their full potential, so when GMs draft them they know what they are getting, but with a player that already peaked, there isn't much that person can improve on.  There are many of those type of players in the draft and in the past.  

For example, LaDainian Tomlinson.  He played in the WAC conference back when TCU was part of it.  He went from high school to a nBCS program and was able to slowly progress and become better.  He ran a 4.6-4.7 as a freshman.  If he was to go to a BCS school, no one as we know it would have heard of a LaDainian Tomlinson 'cause they recruit big players with great speed straight out of high school.  L.T. would not have even had the chance to start.  

As L.T. progressed during his years at TCU, he ended up starting and running a 4.4-4.45 at the combine.  He rushed for over 2,000+ yards during his senior season.  

It's safe to say he mastered the game at that level where it may not be NFL competition.  It's another level he mastered without peaking.  In doing so, when he came into the NFL, he would only get better playing against better competition.  

As you all know, it shows in his numbers as he progressed through his career in San Diego as he peaked in 2006 and 2007, running into the history books as one of the best RBs of all time, breaking multiple records and two rushing titles.  That's six years of progression from the day he got drafted.  Ain't that something?

We have a player like L.T. in Ryan Mathews.  He's from a WAC (nBCS) school.  He rushed for major yardage and like L.T. during his draft, Mathews was the most balance RB.  Mathews came into the draft with many doubts facing him, similar to what  L.T. faced when he got drafted.  But like L.T., Mathews will improve and get better.  He'll play with a chip on his shoulder, always proving that spending a first-rounder on him from a nBCS was the best investment the Chargers made in the draft.

Players from nBCS schools chosen in the first round showed major progress in the current NFL and past—players like L.T., Joe Flacco, Jerry Rice, Dominque-Rogers Cromartie, Ryan Clady, and Chris Johnson.  

If a team's scouting department scouted these players from nBCS schools well, they would realize that there is a plethora of talent that can play in the NFL.  

The Chargers have one of the best scouting departments in the league.  People would say, if these players are so good why don't the Chargers pick them early?  The answer is simple: because none of the teams are taking them early, benefiting the Chargers to get these steals in later rounds.  Many teams that don't do their scouting can't benefit like the Chargers who find major potential throughout the draft.

The Chargers found steals from nBCS school and find steals in underrated players from BCS schools that don't get as much exposure as others.  

Hell, lets look at the starting eight players on the Chargers roster that are from nBCS schools: Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates, Ryan Mathews, Mike Scifres, Eric Weddle, Stephen Cooper, and Jacques Cesaire.  

It's funny that every analyst talks about the Chargers' weapons as if they came from BCS schools.  Whoever thought that the key playmakers surrounding Philip Rivers are all from nBCS schools?  Funny thought, ain't it? 

Even the backups like Mike Tolbert and Legadu Naanee are from nBCS schools.  I think a lot of teams should look at the Chargers and re-evaluate the way they draft.  Not to mention the Chargers have a nBCS player on every level of the defense at D-line, linebacker, and DB.  Ain't that something?

So is this coincidence or is this team made this way on purpose?  I think AJ Smith does a beautiful job of bringing many nBCS players with promise and major upside.  If you look at the current undrafted rookie free agents, you'll realize where AJ Smith is getting his talent.  Out of the 20 undrafted rookie free agents, 13 of them are from nBCS, D-II, and D-III.  No other team has more nBCS school undrafted free agent signings than the Chargers.

So when analyst and fans favor the Chargers, always think, they are always the underdog.  Always proving that they could hang with everyone else.  No team, especially with the Chargers' postseason failures, is more hungry than the San Diego Chargers.