Racking your brain trying to figure out what direction AJ Smith and his crew are going during Saturday's NFL Draft? Here’s a start; think BIG!
Many teams seem to follow a pattern when it comes to the draft. For example, the Raiders love speed and tend to draft the fastest available players. The New England Patriots look for versatile players that could fill multiple roles. And the Detroit Lions seem to love Wide Receivers, don’t they?
While looking over the past three drafts that AJ Smith has had full control, one thing has really stood out to me; Size does matter to AJ.
If you look at the 10 players that AJ has drafted on the first day, 9 have at least prototypical size and athleticism, and the one that doesn’t, doesn’t really matter, he’s just a kicker. Let’s review:
* Philip Rivers - QB 6'5 235lbs
Philip Rivers, in addition to his top-notch talent and intangibles, is a full 5 inches taller than the QB he replaced, Mr. Drew Brees.
* Igor Olshansky - DE 6'6 310lbs
Prototype player for the 34 defense at End. Olshansky set a combine record on bench press. Raw as a rookie, he has continued to improve every year and was an immediate starter. Possible Pro-Bowler.
* Nate Kaeding - K 6'0 190lbs
Played in many big games and made some clutch kicks in college. There really isn’t a prototype for the position, but Kaeding was known for his extreme accuracy. Pro Bowler.
* Nick hardwick - C 6'3 295lbs
Ideally suited to play center with his smarts and quick hands and feet. A bit undersized as a rookie, Hardwick has since filled out his frame and is now a Pro-Bowler.
* Shawne Merriman - OLB 6'5 272lbs
A Defensive End, Rush Linebacker in college, Merriman has become the most dominant defensive player in the NFL. The definition of a 34 Outside Linebacker. The modern Lawrence Taylor. Pro-Bowler.
* Luis Castillo - DE 6'4 290lbs
Another prototype 34 Defensive End, Castillo started immediately for the Chargers and provided Pro-Bowl caliber play last season. One of the most versatile linemen in the AFC. Possible Pro-Bowler.
* Vincent Jackson - WR 6'5 241lbs
Extremely raw coming out of college, Jackson has a rare blend of size and speed. He compares to Kellen Winslow Jr. in body-type. Improving each season, Vincent Jackson could become one of the AFC’s most dominant Wide Receivers. Contributes to the run game as a blocker.
* Antonio Cromartie - CB 6'3 212lbs
Another raw prospect with rare size and speed for the position. One of the fastest players at the Combine, Cromartie made and instant impact on special teams as a rookie. Playmaker in college who returned kicks, played Cornerback, and some Wide Receiver.
* Marcus McNeill - OLT 6'8 340lbs
One of the biggest linemen in the draft, McNeil started many games and played at an extremely high level in college. Easily transitioned to the speed and power of the NFL. Great character and is the prototype for the Left Tackle position. Pro-Bowler.
* Charlie Whitehurst - QB 6'5 225lbs
Started many games in a tough SEC conference in college. Whitehurst was looked at being a possible first-round pick until having a bad senior season. Has all the physical tools to play in the NFL and could eventually start for another team. Excellent depth.
So in the span of three drafts, the SMALLEST draft pick of Smith is the 6'3 215lb, Antonio Cromartie, one of the 3 or 4 biggest corners in the NFL.
Now there is more to AJ Smiths draft then just size, he loves explosive players (Castillo, Merriman and Cromartie were all considered to have the best explosion in their respective drafts) and unlike many GMs, he seems to value potential over production.
After scouting this draft class, there are multiple players at the chargers top need positions (Wide Receiver and Safety) that seem to fit AJs philosophy and could be possible picks in the first two rounds
Dwayne Bowe - At 6'2 220lbs with 4.5 speed, he has the size/athleticism that AJ Smith covets. If you have watched him play, you would see that he also has the toughness too. He might be the most physical "skill position" prospect as evidenced by Bowe’s blocking ability, widely considered to being the best among the Wide Receivers in this class. Uses his body well, similar to Antonio Gates.
Dwayne Jarrett - Much like Bowe, Jarrett has great size (6'5 219lbs), and while he doesn’t have Bowe's speed, he has much better hands. He is also a very good run blocker, and has played in a pro-style offense. Wildly productive in college, Jarrett might be the most NFL-ready Wide Receiver outside of Calvin Johnson.
Robert Meachem - While he doesn’t have the strength of Jarrett or Bowe, neither one of those guys can keep up with Meachem in the speed department. As with the other two, Meachem has the great size at 6'3 215, but unlike Bowe or Jarrett, he possess 4.35 speed. While he is raw, he has the game tape to prove his upside. A dynamic player after the catch, he offers abilities that the Chargers currently lack at Wide Receiver.
Josh Gattis - Has perfect Free Safety size for the NFL at 6'1 210lbs, and also has the great athletisism and speed to go with it. He shows his ability to be physical with his great play in the box and shows his ball skills with 10 INTs over the last two seasons.
Aaron Rouse - When looking at AJ's philosophy, Rouse is the player that immediately pops into my head. At 6'4 225lbs and running in the 4.5 range, he has the ideal physical, if not superior, attributes that AJ Smith looks for. He might be the most physical Safety in this draft besides LaRon Landry. In fact, he is so physical that there is talk of him moving him back to Linebacker.
Sabby Piscitelli - Very Similar to Rouse in term of size and speed, and is also plays with a physical attitude, but is much better in coverage.
Physically, the Chargers are an intimidating team. Phill Simms mentioned this fact during one of his NFL broadcasts last season. Big and physical, the team that AJ Smith has built has the size to match up with any team in the NFL. Now, it could be that the last three draft classes were just were all part of a big coincidence and that AJ didn’t plan on taking the biggest player, but I choose to believe that AJ Smith is trying to build his team in his own tough "John Wayne" likeness.