Perhaps the most overlooked element of being successful in the NFL Draft is not the ability to evaluate collegiate players and accurately project them to the next level, but rather the skill of misdirection.
Obviously several teams come into the NFL’s annual selection process with similar needs in mind and a number of possible players to fill those holes, but the teams that have the most success are the one’s that are able to convince the other 31 organizations that they covet something totally opposite. This art of deception has been best exemplified by some of the league’s most successful clubs over the better part of the last two decades with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, and even Baltimore Ravens coming specifically to mind.
This practice of misleading your opponents is perhaps the one area where the Chargers have been lagging behind their competition in the draft process. Although General Manager A.J. Smith has a keen eye for talent and a high-quality staff of evaluators around him in the team’s scouting department, the Bolts inevitably seem to tip their hand way too early in this high stakes game of poker.
Although this must be prefaced with a full disclosure that J.J. Watt has been my preferred target for the Bolts in this year’s draft since the collegiate season came to a conclusion, but that doesn’t make things any less stressful when the whole world seems to know that Watt is Smith’s guy. Telegraphing draft selections is never a smart move as it can allow teams to jump over, around, or outsmart you into paying a mighty ransom just to move into position to make your draft choice (see: Ryan Mathews).
Watt’s stock is hot at the moment and it doesn’t appear that it will be cooling off in the weeks and days leading up to the draft. What this inexorably means is that the Bolts will again be looking to climb up the draft order by sacrificing multiple picks in later rounds in pursuit of this one particular player. Regardless of the favorable opinion that Watt has with me or anyone in the organization, trading up more than necessary to land a player is never a positive.
Draft choices are precious and Smith has been excellent at accumulating them during the course of the past two seasons. Still those same valuable commodities can be deemed worthless if they are frivolously discarded in the quest of catching the presumed biggest fish on your draft board. If that trophy ultimately pans out then granted the GM will look like a genius for trading up, but that speculative venture is a dangerous game to play.
The teams mentioned earlier all realize the irreplaceable value of draft picks and just what they can do for building the future of a franchise. New England in particular has been a club prone to trading down if they aren’t completely satisfied with any of the options available to them at any point in the draft.
Strategy is a huge part of the draft as well from prioritizing team needs to placing players on the draft board in an unbiased fashion. Becoming completely infatuated with one player only does a disservice to the team and the entire draft process by rendering the draft a failure in essence if the club is unable to land that one guy.
With Luis Castillo and Vaughn Martin the only two defensive ends under contract at the moment for the Bolts, San Diego has backed themselves into a bit of a corner with this year’s draft. Maintaining flexibility has been an issue for the Chargers when it comes to making draft decisions as last season the team hastily cut ties with LaDainian Tomlinson leaving only the diminutive Darren Sproles on their depth chart in the backfield. The reality set in that Sproles could not carry the load as a feature back in the league and Smith had to make another impulsive decision to trade up for Mathews.
It appears the Bolts have again pigeon-holed themselves into selecting the best defensive end available for the five-technique no matter the price. Free agents Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson are likely to find new homes in the coming season leaving the Chargers to write a new chapter at defensive end.
Regardless of whether or not J.J. Watt turns out to be the top notch player that many (including myself) believe he will one day be, San Diego has left themselves no choice once again when draft day arrives on April 28th. The Bolts have to find a way to have him wearing a Chargers hat and holding up a jersey with lightning bolts on it when all is said and done late next month.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think is the most valuable information that a team can have coming into the draft; info on players or info on other teams? Do you feel that A.J. Smith’s inability to hide his intentions have hurt the Bolts in the draft in recent years or is he putting on a good enough charade as it is? Are the similarities between last year’s ordeal with LT and this year’s lack of depth at defensive end comparable or mere coincidence? Is J.J. Watt the player that the Chargers have to draft no matter the cost or would you rather see them take the best available player by staying put? Please leave your thoughts and any other draft suggestions in the comments section below!
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