Taking a Look at A.J. Smith's Past Charger Drafts

So, the football season is officially over.  Now is the time when the thoughts of every red-blooded football fan turn to the upcoming draft.  Sure, we'll have free agency before then, but every quality team in the NFL gets the majority of its players, the backbone of its team, through the draft.  A lot of the reactionary fans tend to either blindly claim that A.J. Smith is either the biggest genius or the biggest idiot they have ever seen assemble an NFL football team.  The only way to really be objective about this is to take a look at past drafts.  AJ admitted last year at this time that he had to do better, so let's take a look back as see how he has done.

Keep in mind that you typically need three years to evaluate a draft.  By the third year, a player can be accurately evaluated as to their NFL potential.  For some players it comes earlier, but typically we need to give a player three years.  I've looked at every player we've drafted since 2001, plus any draft slots we traded away and what we got for them.  I've also included Undrafted Free Agents (UDFA) who we picked up after the draft and made an impact (either here or elsewhere in the league).

Each player is objectively measured on a scale from "made team" to MVP.  A full time starter is any player who earned a starting spot and held on to it.  Guys who started a long time yet were just injury replacements will not be categorized as full time starters (like Mooch this year), but guys who knocked someone out of their starting position and held onto it will be categorized as full time starters (like Ellison this year).  Anyone who was either selected to the pro bowl or made it there as an injury replacement gets marked as a pro bowler (If David Garrard continues to go to the pro bowl I will need to rethink this).  A player name formatted with strike-through is no longer on the team.

So, let's get to it!

 

2009
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(16) Larry English   Y Y Y        
2(47)   traded to NE for Hester pick (2008)              
3(78) Louis Vasquez   Y Y Y Y      
4(113) Vaughn Martin   Y Y          
4(133) Tyronne Green compensatory pick (Michael Turner) Y            
4(134) Gartrell Johnson compensatory pick (Drayton Florence).               
5(148) Brandon Hughes On IR all rookie season Y            
6(189) Kevin Ellison   Y Y Y Y      
7(224) Demetrius Byrd on Reserve / Non football injury list Y            
UDFA C.J. Spillman Made team out of camp (Active 7 weeks) Y Y          
UDFA James Holt Started on practice squad, but was pulled up mid-season Y Y          
2008
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(27) Antoine Cason   Y Y Y (nickel)        
2(57)   traded to miami for Chris Chambers              
3(69) Jacob Hester Traded 5th rounder and 2009 2nd rounder to NE to move up Y Y Y        
3(90)   traded in 2007 to move up to pick Weddle              
4(125)   Used in 2007 Supplemental Draft - Oliver              
5(160)   traded to NE to move up to pick Hester              
5(166) Marcus Thomas compensatory pick (Donnie Edwards)              
6(192) DeJuan Tribble   Y            
7(234) Corey Clark   Y            
UDFA Mike Tolbert   Y Y Y        
UDFA Brandyn Dombrowski   Y Y Y        
UDFA Ogemdi Nwagbuo   Y Y Y        
2007
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(30) Buster Davis   Y Y          
2(37) Eric Weddle Moved up, trading our 62 overall pick plus 93rd, plus 167th, plus 2008 3rd rounder Y Y Y Y      
2(62)   traded for Weddle pick              
3(93)   traded for Weddle pick              
3(96) Anthony Waters compensatory (Drew Brees, Reche Caldwell, Ben Leber, Justin Peelle) Y Y          
4(129) Scott Chandler Y            
4 (S) Paul Oliver 4th Round Supplemental Pick Y Y          
5(167)   traded for Weddle pick              
5(172) Legedu Naanee compensatory (Drew Brees, Reche Caldwell, Ben Leber, Justin Peelle) Y Y          
6(204)   traded to Nashville for Volek              
7(240) Brandon Siler Y Y Y Y      
UDFA Jyles Tucker   Y Y Y        
UDFA Antwan Applewhite   Y Y          
2006
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(19) Antonio Cromartie   Y Y Y Y Y Y  
2(50) Marcus McNeill   Y Y Y Y Y Y  
3(81) Charlie Whitehurst   Y            
4(113)   traded to StLouis for Manumaleuna              
5(151) Tim Dobbins   Y Y Y        
6(187) Jeromey Clary   Y Y Y Y      
6(188) Kurt Smith from miami (for Cleo Lemon, we also got AJ Feeley)              
7(225) Chase Page                
7(227) Jimmy Martin from minnestota (for Fonoti)              
UDFA Steve Gregory   Y Y Y Y (nickel)      
2005
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(12) Shawne Merriman from NYG in Manning Trade 2004 Y Y Y Y Y Y  
1(28) Luis Castillo   Y Y Y Y      
2(61) Vincent Jackson   Y Y Y Y Y    
3(91)   traded to bucs in McCardell Deal              
4(130) Darren Sproles   Y Y Y        
5(144)   from NYG in Manning Deal, traded to Bucs for Roman Oben              
5(164) Wesley Britt                
6(177) Wes Sims from Miami (for David Boston)              
6(203)   traded to bucs in McCardell Deal              
7(242) Scott Mruczkowski   Y Y Y        
2004
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(1)   drafted Eli Manning then traded for Rivers, 3rd round pick (65), and 2005 1st and 5th rounder              
1(4) Philip Rivers From NYG in Manning Trade Y Y Y Y Y Y  
2(35) Igor Olshansky   Y Y Y Y      
3(65) Nate Kaeding From NYG in Manning Trade Y Y Y Y Y Y  
3(66) Nick Hardwick   Y Y Y Y Y    
4(98) Shaun Phillips   Y Y Y Y      
5(133) Dave Ball   Y Y          
5(154) Michael Turner from miami (for Seau). Full time starter and Pro Bowler with Atlanta Y Y Y        
6(169) Ryan Krause   Y Y          
7(204) Ryon Bingham   Y Y Y        
7(209) Shane Olivea from atlanta (for Trevor Gaylor) Y Y Y Y      
7(254) Carlos Joseph compensatory pick              
UDFA Wes Welker Didn't make it out of camp, eventual repeat pro bowler w/ NE              
2003
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(15)   trade to Philly for Philly's 1st and 2nd              
1(30) Sammy Davis from philly for #15 Y Y Y (nickel)        
2(46) Drayton Florence   Y Y Y Y      
2(62) Terrence Kiel from philly for #15 Y Y Y Y      
3(80) Courtney Van Buren   Y Y          
4(112) Matt Wilhelm   Y Y Y Y      
5(149) Mike Scifres   Y Y Y Y Y Y  
6(188) Hanik Milligan   Y Y     Y (special teams)    
7(229) Andrew Pinnock   Y Y Y        
UDFA Kassim Osgood   Y Y     Y (special teams) Y (special teams)  
UDFA Kris Dielman   Y Y Y Y Y Y  
UDFA Antonio Gates   Y Y Y Y Y Y  
UDFA Jacques Cesaire   Y Y Y        
UDFA Stephen Cooper   Y Y Y Y      
2002 - Butler
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(5) Quentin Jammer   Y Y Y Y      
2(39) Toniu Fonoti   Y Y Y Y      
2(48) Reche Caldwell from 2001 vick trade Y Y Y        
3(71) Ben Leber   Y Y Y Y      
4(103) Justin Peelle   Y Y Y        
5(142) Terry Charles   Y            
6(178) Matt Anderle                
7(216) Seth Burford   Y            
2001 - Butler
Rnd. Player Notes Made Team Played occasional starter full time starter pro bowl repeat pro bowl MVP
1(1)   traded with Falcons for #5, #67, 2002 2nd rounder and Tim Dwight (for Michael Vick pick)              
1(5) LaDainian Tomlinson from vick trade Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
2(32) Drew Brees went on to make additional Pro Bowls with the saints Y Y Y Y Y  
3(63)   trade for trevor Gaylor              
4(96)   traded to NE for 4th and 5th rounder              
3(67) Tay Cody from vick trade Y Y Y        
4(112) Carlos Polk from NE trade Y Y          
5(132) Elliot Silvers   Y            
5(139) Zeke Moreno from NE trade Y Y          
6(164)   trade to dolphins for Nate Jacquet              
7(201) Brandon Gorin   Y            
7(244) Robert Carswell compensatory Y            

Sources include wikipedia and this nifty site: http://www.prosportstransactions.com/football/DraftTrades/ .  Also, http://www.kffl.com is a good site to figure out exact dates on call-ups or historical inactive lists.

In terms of production, let's assume the last two drafts still need some maturing before they can be evaluated.  One thing that jumps out is the sheer number of pro bowlers picked.  At least 2 per year until 2007.  Through 2007, he has averaged over 2 pro bowlers per year.  For comparison, I looked through wikipedia and came up with the chart of how many players from each round of each draft made the pro bowl.  I know the pro bowl isn't the perfect indicator, but it is probably roughly good enough.

Pro Bowl Counts

Year
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 Avg.
Round 1 12 14 10 11 8 11
2 5 2 4 5 4 4
3 3 5 2 0 0 2
4 2 2 2 6 2 2.8
5 4 1 1 0 0 1.2
6 4 1 1 1 1 1.6
7 0 0 2 1 0 0.6
UDFA 6 5 5 1 0 3.4
TOTAL 36 30 27 25 15

The average number of pro bowlers picked per draft per team is 0.8.  So when AJ is averaging 2+ that is significantly better.

Also, AJ's rate of success with his top picks is very good.  Outside of Sammy Davis and Buster Davis all his first and second round picks draft picks have become full time starters and 5 of 12 are pro bowlers. 

Looking at second day picks (rounds 3-7 and I think this definition is changing this year since round 1 will be its own day) 8 of 29 have become full time starters, with an additional 4 making the pro bowl.

Another interesting stat is the quantity of picks.  A GM can stockpile picks via trades or compensatory selections (picks you are given by the league to make up for free agent loses).    The Chargers have averaged 7.7 picks per draft from 2003-2009, which is above the average which would be roughly 7 which is below the average of slightly less than 8 (7 rounds of 32 picks + 32 compensatory picks - picks lost due to penalties)

AJ has also done a really good job of picking up quality Undrafted Free Agents (college guys who weren't drafted in the 7 round draft).  2003 was just ridiculous picking up Dielman, Gates, and Osgood (pro bowlers) and Cooper and Cesaire.  Through AJ's 7 drafts, he has picked up 13 UDFAs who have gotten significant playing time and 3 of which were pro bowlers.

Most of us can agree that AJ's drafts have been excellent and have been one of the primary ingredients in turning the Chargers into the powerhouse they are today.  For those of us who witnessed some of those late career Beathard stinkers, AJ seems almost infallible in comparison.  That being said, his last three drafts (2007, 2008, 2009) have been less productive and the tendency to trade future picks to move up in rounds to pick guys like Hester and Weddle worries me.  I think part of it is a subtle shift in AJ's strategy from stocking an empty cupboard (2003-2006) to fine tuning a championship caliber roster.  But I still don't like it.  I am comfortable with most of my criticism of him being in the last three years of drafting.  Those guys have yet to really mature and there might still be some diamonds in the rough (Buster, English) who will come through big with a little more seasoning and opportunity.

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