2011 NFL Draft Grades: Grading A.J. Smith's 8 NFL Drafts
The last eight years have been difficult for Chargers' fans. We have had to weather the ups and downs of a franchise that has loads of Pro Bowl talent, but have been unable to reach the Super Bowl and dreams of winning a World Championship.
The man behind building this Super Bowl caliber franchise is Chargers' general manager A.J. Smith
Smith, has been in the front office of the Chargers since former general manager John Butler made his way west from Buffalo.
While Smith has been widely considered a great judge of talent, others see him as stand-offish and running the Chargers as if it was his team and not the Spanos family's.
A.J. Smith doesn't hold a soft spot in my heart, and while I believe he may be a good judge of talent, until the Chargers reach the Super Bowl, he will still be "The Lord of No Rings".
Let's take a look back at how A.J. Smith has fared in the NFL Draft over the past eight years as Chargers' general manager.
2003 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Sammy Davis, Overall Grade C-
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The 2003 NFL Draft brought change to the San Diego Chargers front office.
Former Chargers general manager John Butler had passed away after his battle with cancer, which led to the promotion of assistant general manager A.J. Smith.
While Smith had been touted as a great judge of talent, his first draft as Chargers general manager could have proved otherwise.
Smith, selected Texas A & M defensive back Sammy Davis with the 30th overall pick. Davis' production was non-exsistent and after two seasons with the Chargers he was shown the door.
However, there was an upside to this draft. Smith, drafted Western Illinois punter Mike Scifres with the 149th overall selection. Scifres has made a huge impact for the Chargers special teams, and remains as the only player from the Chargers' 2003 draft class to still be on the team.
2004 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Eli Manning, Overall Grade A+
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Chargers general manager A.J. Smith didn't have a good first go around with his first NFL draft however, with some crafty planning and manuvering the 2004 NFL Draft would end up being one of the best in franchise history.
The Chargers coming of what would have to be one of their worst seasons in team history were the proud owners of the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Eli Manning who was being touted as the second coming of big brother Peyton, was expected to be the first overall pick.
Days before the draft Eli, and his father Archie publicly voiced their displeasure with the Chargers franchise and announced that Eli would not play in San Diego. A.J. Smith didn't care what the Manning's had to say an drafted Eli with the first overall pick anyways.
An hour after the Chargers selected Manning, a trade had been announced. Smith traded Manning to the New York Giants for their fourth overall selection, North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, as well as the Giants 2004 third-round pick.
That wasn't all the Chargers received for Manning, the Bolts also received the Giants first and third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
In the end, it wasn't a bad deal for a whiny punk that would rather play in front of the harsh fans and harsh winters of New York City than the sun and surf of beautiful San Diego.
2005 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Shawne Merriman, Overall Grade A
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After an impressive trade during the first-round of the 2004 NFL Draft, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith looked as if he could do no wrong.
Smith, improved on a solid 2004 NFL Draft with an even more impressive 2005 NFL Draft.
The Chargers held two picks in the first-round of the 2005 NFL Draft, their own and one courtesy of the trade that shipped ungrateful and whiny quarterback Eli Manning to the New York Giants.
With their first selection the Chargers decided to beef up their defense by drafting University of Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman. A.J. Smith continued with improving the defense by selecting Northwestern University defensive tackle Luis Castillo with San Diego's second first-round selection.
However, Smith wasn't done there. He would go on to select Northern Colorado wide receiver Vincent Jackson in the second-round and a diminutive but speedy Kansas State running back Darren Sproles in the fourth-round with the 130th overall pick.
2006 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Antonio Cromartie, Overall Grade B+
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After finding success in the 2005 and 2006 NFL Draft's, the San Diego Chargers were looking to the 2007 NFL Draft to find even more valuable pieces to complete what fans would hope be a Super Bowl caliber franchise.
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith took a gamble with the 19th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Smith selected Florida State University defensive back Antonio Cromartie.
Cromartie suffered an ACL injury in his left knee during voluntary workouts before his junior year. There was speculation that Cromartie may never return to full form, but Smith was willing to bet against that.
The Chargers also found gold in the second round. With the 50th overall selection, the Chargers' drafted Auburn tackle Marcus McNeill. McNeill was immediately placed into the left tackle position and given the task of protecting quarterback Philip Rivers blind side.
As for the 2007 NFL Draft, Smith would find himself going three for three in drafts with positive draft picks.
2007 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Buster Davis, Overall Grade C
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As they say all good things come to an end.
The 2007 NFL Draft was the first time we noticed a possible chink in the armor of Chargers general manager A.J. Smith.
After three solid drafts over the previous three years, the 2007 NFL Draft proved to be less than spectacular.
Smith selected Louisiana State University wide receiver Craig "Buster" Davis with the 30th overall pick, however Davis never lived up to the expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick.
Davis spent more time on the bench or injured than he did on the field. In the end Buster was truly a bust.
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith made an interesting move by trading up in the second round to select Utah State safety Eric Weddle. While Weddle has made an impact in the Chargers secondary, he doesn't necessarily fit the mold as an NFL safety.
2008 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Antoine Cason, Overall Grade C+
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The 2008 NFL Draft really wasn't all that exciting for the Chargers.
After a mediocre 2007 NFL Draft, that left most Chargers fans wanting more improvements, the 2008 NFL Draft would leave fans scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong.
The Chargers were the owners of the 27th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft and with that pick, Smith drafted University of Arizona defensive back Antoine Cason. The pick confused some fans, especially when the Chargers had great players in defensive backs Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie.
Cason would be billed as the future of the Chargers secondary, and a future replacement for Quentin Jammer.
With Lorenzo Neal having been shown the door during the offseason, the Chargers were in need of a fullback to create holes for Chargers running back LaDainain Tomlinson. Smith, used the 69th overall selection to draft Louisiana State University fullback Jacob Hester.
Hester, has proved to be a good ball carrier in short yard situations for the Chargers, however due to his small frame, Hester hasn't yielded the results the Chargers were looking for in a hole creating fullback.
2009 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Larry English, Overall Grade C
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For Chargers general manager good drafts and bad drafts happen to come in three's. After less than stellar drafts in 2007 and 2008, the 2009 NFL Draft
The Chargers finished their 2008-09 season at 8-8 while claiming their fourth straight AFC West title, however since the draft order is based on the final regular season standings the Chargers would have the 16th overall pick in the draft, when technically they should have been drafting later in the first-round having made the playoffs.
A new rule would go into effect for the 2009 NFL season, that prevented teams from getting a better draft pick should they make it into the postseason.
With the 16th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft the San Diego Chargers selected Larry English, linebacker, Northern Illinois.
English was suppose to be the thunder to Shawne Merriman's lightning and give the Chargers' defense a much more explosive punch, however as of this moment English has yet to live up to those expectations. He has found himself on the Chargers' bench due to injuries more often than not.
2010 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Ryan Mathews, Overall Grade B+
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After three drafts Chargers fans wish they could have back, the 2010 NFL Draft showed great promise.
The Chargers originally owned the 28th pick in the draft, however another draft day trade by Chargers general manager A.J. Smith saw the Chargers jump to the 12th overall pick.
Having moved up in the draft, Smith used the 12th overall pick to select Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews.
Mathews would be expected to start immediately, after the Chargers released running back LaDainian Tomlinson in the offseason. Tomlinson had been a huge factor in the driving force of the Chargers high powered run offense.
Ryan Mathews would learn that he had some mighty big shoes to fill.
The Chargers also made a move to revamp their linebacker corps by selecting University of Washington linebacker Donald Butler. Butler's rookie season would be cut short after suffering a season ending injury during training camp.
Hopefully, Butler will be healthy this season and be able to make an immediate impact for a Chargers' linebacker corps that was depleted by injuries in 2010.
2011 NFL Draft, Top Draft Pick: Corey Liuget, Overall Grade C
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Having missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, there was no doubt that the Chargers were going into the 2011 NFL Draft looking to improve a defense that finished the 2010 season at number one, however fans were treated to an unexpected surprise.
When the Chargers were scheduled to pick with the 18th overall selection, instead of selecting the top pass rusher still left on the board, A.J. Smith chose to select University of Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget.
However, that wasn't the unexpected surprise.
The surprise came in the late second round with the 61st overall selection. Instead of looking to add depth to an injury depleted linebacker corps and select a pass rushing, playmaking linebacker, Smith chose University of Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton.
Mouton, who on some mock drafts was projected to be a late seventh-round selection or end up being picked up by a team as an undrafted free agent. Fans questioned why Smith would use such an early pick on a player like Mouton, his answer was simple, improving the Chargers special teams.
While I don't agree with using a second-round pick to improve special teams, the Chargers special teams could definitely use the help. Who knows, maybe Mouton is the second coming of Junior Seau.
In the end I was hardly impressed with another A.J. Smith draft.