This is how championship teams are built; You maximize every possible draft pick available to you, taking players that (depending on who you ask) could have gone much higher than where you took them.
AJ Smith and his front office team are extremely good at maximizing the value of their draft picks. In 2006 and 2007, they selected seven players who at some point in their college career or post-college career carried a first-round grade.
2006 NFL Draft
Round 1, Pick 19: Antonio Cromartie, CB
Round 2, Pick 50: Marcus McNeil, OT
Round 3, Pick 81: Charlie Whitehurst, QB
2007 NFL Draft
Round 1, Pick 30: Craig Davis, WR
Round 2, Pick 37: Eric Weddle, SS
Round 3, Pick 96: Anthony Waters, LB
2007 Supplemental Draft
Round 4: Paul Oliver, CB
Obviously Antonio Cromartie and Craig Davis carried first round draft grades if the Chargers saw fit to take them with their first picks. Had Cromartie stayed in school for another season and played at a high level, he would likely have been a top 10 pick in the 2007 draft.
Marcus McNeill was one of the best offensive linemen in all college football for four years. Teams were worried about a back condition which is why he fell to the second round. McNeil has since gone on to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie in the NFL.
Charlie Whitehurst was one of the top Quarterbacks in ACC history. He had an up and down senior season, but there was some instability on the team and in the coaching ranks at Clemson so he is not fully to blame. Whitehurst at one point in his college career was projected to be a first round pick.
Paul Oliver was the top rated defensive back in the nation after completing his senior year in high school. A top cornerback in college, Oliver was academically ineligible to return to Georgia. Had be played another season at the level he is capable of, he would likely have been a first round pick in 2008.
There wasn't a true consensus as to whether or not Eric Weddle was projected as a bona fide first rounder, and that is solely due to his slightly less-than-elite athleticism. However, scouts league-wide were unanimous that the team who lands Weddle in the second round would be getting a steal. The Chargers did just that, and took him at pick 37. That is only 5 picks away from the first round, and there were a number of draft scouts that felt Weddle had a first round grade. His love for the game and ability to make plays across a variety of positions helped elevate his stock and if the Chargers had two picks in the first round of the 07 draft, they would have just as easily taken Weddle in the first.
Like Antonio Cromartie, Anthony Waters declared for the NFL draft following a college season in which he did not play due to injury. Waters was one of the best linebackers in the college ranks when healthy. Ask anybody who watched him play and they will tell you he is certainly a first-round talent, especially if you are a team that needs a starting inside linebacker. Fortunately for the Chargers, they just needed depth and landing Waters in the third round to play a backup role is the epitome of a steal.
The Chargers and AJ Smith are becoming what Ozzie Newsome built the Baltimore Ravens into; A Super Bowl team filled with extremely talented players acquired almost exclusively through the draft.
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