NFL Draft: The Art Of Deception

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!

March 18, 2011

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Jason Ciano said... Mar 18, 2011, 9:07:00 AM

I think on that pro day AJ was looking at that RT too

nonleftwinger said... Mar 18, 2011, 5:59:00 PM

I love Carimi. The dude is 6'8" and 340, and is a fantastic run blocker. If you cant get the DE you want at 18, then take Carimi and get a DE in the second.

Joe Ventura said... Mar 19, 2011, 10:00:00 AM

There is a better way. What I would do if I were AJ

1. Ryan Kerrigan (He is going to be a great football player)
2. Cameron Hayward (His stock should fall a little because of his elbow surgery)
2. Leonard Hankerson (This is a baller at WR)
3. Casey Matthews (This guys is going to be a monster in the NFL)
3. Dontay Moch or Robert Sands or DeAndre McDaniel (Best defensive players on the board)
6. Best player on the board

Our offense in very good already you just need to pick up an OL on the market and we are great once again. In this draft we need to focus on defense because defense wins champions.

jjamesnaz said... Mar 19, 2011, 3:12:00 PM

I don't think it's necessary to trade up to get Watt. There is plenty of DL talent in this draft. If Watt and Jordan are gone, we should get Heyward or Wilkerson

Anthony M. Blake said... Mar 19, 2011, 6:35:00 PM

The argument for staying put and taking Wilkerson is interesting. If Watt doesn't fall to 18 it seems likely that Muh will still be there and he could be a nice versatile piece to add along the defensive front.

Realist said... Mar 19, 2011, 10:19:00 PM

I think this article is terrible. When has AJ tipped his hand? Did you have AJ picking Larry English or Buster Davis? Did you have him picking Merriman? Mathews i thought was an obviusly choice but to say he tipes his hand is false journalism.

Jack said... Mar 19, 2011, 10:21:00 PM

IMO the fact that you all think he loves Watt means he isnt the main target. Acee saying Kerigan looks like wil be the pick imo means he isnt even in AJ's cluster. Maybe the fools you the ones writing this article.

temeculachargerfan said... Mar 20, 2011, 8:01:00 AM

This is not journalism....not even's blogging an opinion......but I agree with the "terrible" adjective.....his opinion is crap for the reasons you mention, plus some other assumptions he made. If you were a real fan (or a coach or part of the management staff), you knew that Mike Tolbert was going to carry the the Chargers were not left with "only Sproles in the backfield".

Also his assumption that Travis Johnson or Jacques Cesaire are gone. Travis Johnson expressed a lot of love for the Charger's management last year and when has Cesaire ever indicated he wanted to leave?

And the statement "....San Diego has left themselves no choice once again when draft day arrives on April 28th." is such a BS statement, I don't even need to explain it.

And how about this statement: "..Smith had to make another impulsive decision to trade up for Mathews."? I don't know for sure (no one outside the organization does), but Smith does not strike me as someone who makes an impulsive decision. I'm fairly sure that he was convinced that Mathews would be gone if they did not trade up.....and you know what? I also believe he knows a lot more about "draft deception" than some weekend blogger.

By now you probably think I'm an A.J. lover. I'm not. The man has his flaws, but I respect what he has done.

Rob Zepeda said... Mar 20, 2011, 8:18:00 AM

Not only did we see Larry English as a very real possibility for the Bolts, but we even interviewed and featured him on this site! :)

Steve said... Mar 20, 2011, 8:36:00 PM

Maybe he's doing exactly what you think everybody else is and he's trying to decieve other franchises and in truth he's sold on Cam Jordan, Akeem Ayers, a RT or trade up to Dallas at 9 and pick up Prince Amukamara. There are 3 or 4 5 tech guys (3-4 DE) that could come in and start opposite Castillo, or he can wait to the second round where almost certainly one of those guys will still be.

Anthony M. Blake said... Mar 21, 2011, 6:26:00 AM

Just so we are clear, my feelings on A.J. have been well documented here in the past...

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