Chargers’ General Manager A.J. Smith is generally a bit standoffish and less than hospitable when it comes to declaring his thoughts on the NFL Draft as a whole. Although Smith hasn’t exactly been telling everyone who he is thinking about selecting with the team’s first round selection at number 18 overall in April, he has been much more cordial when it comes to discussing the options.
In a recent interview, Smith acknowledged the depth of this year’s draft class and the numerous possibilities that his club’s position in the draft order provides. According to the GM: “You look at 18 and there are so many players. You say, ‘Wow! We can go in many different directions.’ We’ll have more than one (to choose from) at the time. 18 is a wonderful position to be sitting in.”
Perhaps the biggest reason that the draft is so open-ended this offseason is the looming lockout and the fact that many teams aren’t certain what their depth charts may look like when the time finally arrives to play football again. Normally by this point in time the free agent landscape has been manicured and all that is left is to put the finishing touches on the roster with the infusion of some young talent. This time around, that young talent may end up being the equivalent to the free agent pool when it comes to filling team needs.
Smith mentioned this abnormal situation saying: “You don’t know who your players are. At this time, ordinarily, you know who your players are.” And his concern is well warranted as the Chargers have a number of 2010 starters now without a contract just hanging in limbo awaiting a resolution to the collective bargaining unrest in the league.
The team’s first round positioning at 18th overall is a nice slot to be in possession of in this year’s draft class especially if the team is looking to add on the defensive side of the ball as expected. Teams often reach for quarterbacks and skill position offensive players in the top half of the opening round allowing some real gems on the other side of the ball to slide down into the middle of the selection order.
The key areas of concern for San Diego have been beaten to death here on BOLTHYPE, but again they are the defensive line, a pass rushing linebacker, and right tackle.
With the 18th pick, several prospects will likely be available for the Bolts to choose from at those particular positions of need. Beginning on the defensive line where names such as Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, California’s Cameron Jordan, and even Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn are realistic possibilities. Each of these players have the essential tools necessary to play at defensive end in the five-technique with a balanced ability to play both the run and the pass while holding their own at the point of attack.
As for a potential outside linebacker to try and fill the shoes of Shawne Merriman in the pass rushing department, the likes of Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, Missouri’s Aldon Smith, or even Georgia’s Justin Houston could be a much needed upgrade. Each of these guys showed flexibility during their collegiate careers to line up in a number of different places and be effective. Getting to the edge and applying pressure to opposing offensive tackles is the top responsibility of the outside linebackers in a 3-4 alignment such as the Bolts’ and new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky would love to have one of these weapons at his disposal during the 2011 season.
The tackle position has been recently discussed, but seems like a remote option at this point considering the wealth of defensive talent still expected to be on the board when the Bolts choose. Smith’s unpredictable nature could again get the better of him and it would not be a complete shock to hear a name such as Southern California’s Tyron Smith, Colorado’s Nate Solder, or even Boston College product Anthony Castonzo when the Bolts pick on April 28th. An upgrade such as this would show that maybe this team will again become more committed to running the ball in Ryan Mathews’ second year and equally more concerned with keeping quarterback Philip Rivers upright in the pocket.
No matter how you look at it, GM Smith was not kidding when he pleasantly said that there are a number of options for this Chargers team to look at with the 18th pick in April’s draft. Perhaps the best part of that comment is the fact that he made no mention of trading up nor did he express a desire for any particular player. Maybe Smith has come to realize the value of draft choices and will use all five of the team’s picks in the top 89 selections as allotted rather than paying otherworldly ransoms in pursuit of any one prospect.
Now it’s your turn. What do you make of A.J. Smith’s comments about the 18th pick, is he posturing or does he truly believe that the Bolts can find a player to fill as need by staying put? Does this uncharted territory of putting together a draft board before free agency make it essential to choose players at positions of need or easier to simply take the best player available? Of the three areas of concern (defensive end, pass rush linebacker, and offensive tackle), which do you feel is the most pressing need for the team? Do you expect the Bolts to trade some draft choices and maneuver around as usual or will Smith take a more reserved approach to this year’s selection and stay put? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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