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Expectations for a First Round Draft Pick in 2011

Before you read this article, put yourselves in AJ's shoes...*ahem*...AJ's flip-flops, and first answer this question:

What do you expect of a first round draft pick?

I believe we would all have different opinions. You see, some would look at this question from the financial side and say that if you picked the player in the the first round, you are paying that player at a level that some of the elite players in the NFL are not getting paid, so to be a good value pick that player must be playing better than the NFL's elite at that position.

Others would answer that if that player improves your team (in any way), they were a good first-round draft pick. 

Others would say that you should always take the highest valued player on the board, regardless of position and your own roster's depth, and if you stay true to your board, it was a good draft pick because it will all work out better in the end.

I'll take the cop-out answer and say that it depends, and will explain after the jump.

When you are a team that has had a losing record for several straight seasons, you will have different expectations for a draft pick than you would if you are a team that has made the playoffs for several seasons.  If you are a team without a solid option at QB (a necessity in this league), you may be willing to take more risk in the draft to find that QB.

Before coming up with your expectations for a first round draft pick, you must first evaluate your own team's situation and roster.  If you are a team without any significant weak areas on your roster (which is very rare), you can afford to take some higher risk on a high-potential player.  However, when you have many significant weak areas on your roster, and failed to make the playoffs, you have to set aside the risky picks and strive for the surefire contributors.

In my opinion, the Chargers are in the latter situation this offseason.  They are coming off a season in which they didn't make the playoffs, and there are significant holes in their roster that are a result of several drafts in which high-potential picks were taken instead of surefire contributors (which the Chargers could afford to do when they had a loaded roster).  If you need examplese, read this and this.  Additionally, the other teams in the AFC West have infused their rosters with young talent that contributed immediately (would you believe Kansas City got a combined 85 games out of their first 6 rookies drafted last season?), and for the most part the Chargers youngsters haven't been contributing as expected.  The Chargers need a player who can contribute immediately and be an upgrade at their position on the team.

At this point, the bottom line for a Chargers first round draft pick is that they need to contribute immediately to making the team better.  I am not going to take a player that I think may take some coaching and become a pro-bowler in a few years if I don't think he can be a contributor immediately: especially this offseason where there is a significant chance that my coaches won't be able to get their hands on him until July-August timeframe. 

As of the last few years, the word "potential" has become a very dangerous one with regards to drafting talent.  I was entirely on board with this when we first drafted Buster Davis, he had the potential to be a game breaking WR in this offense.  I was also on board when we drafted Larry English who had the potential to be the next great pass rusher in San Diego after Merriman.  Seeing a pattern here?  Me too, burn me once, shame on you.  Burn me twice, shame on me.  I'm not an advocate of another high-potential first round draft pick this season. You show me a guy who has the potential to be one of the elite players at their position, and I'll show you a player who isn't yet an elite player at his position.  Potential is just another word for something that hasn't happened yet, and there is no guarantee it ever will.

This is why the word potential is starting to scare me when referring to a first round draft pick.  I want the Chargers to go back to the basics.  AJ Smith claims to build his team through the draft, he needs to show that he can draft players that make this team better.  I am proposing that in 2011 the Chargers draft their first rounder for what he is when they draft him, not for what he could possibly become.  They should draft the best player at pick number 18 who will make the biggest impact on the team.  That may seem a bit vague, so I'll clarify exactly what I mean.

My Expectations for the Chargers 2011 First Round Draft Pick

  1. Contributor in his rookie season: Play in every game, play at least 50% of the total season snaps 
  2. Upgrade at his position: Starter by the end of the season, and better stats than starter at his position in 2010
  3. Consistent improvement: Improvement game to game, season to season. Measured by playing time and stats.
  4. Core player for the future: New contract (or contract extension) by his third season. 

 I can think of a couple players in the draft that should be around pick #18 that should fit the bill.  These expectations may not lead to a glamorous draft pick, or one that you will run out and buy his jersey, but this team needs to rebuild its core play-makers and this is the way to do it.

So what do you think?  Are these expectations realistic?  Too much to expect picking at 18?