History has an odd way of repeating itself and when it comes to the NFL Draft, the Chargers have been prone to taking cornerbacks. The team has been especially fond of selecting corners in the first round having taken four in round one during the past nine drafts. Only the last seven of those drafts were overseen by current General Manager A.J. Smith, but he is a disciple of the late John Butler who preceded him in San Diego and has many similar philosophical views on the draft as a whole.
Defense has been the focus of the conversation leading up to the 2011 draft for the Bolts which has most expecting that Smith will look to bolster that side of the ball in some form or fashion. Smith is in full agreement with the fan base and the general consensus that the team’s main needs are on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. In a comment to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Smith said: “Until we have a consistent, dictating, dominant defense to help support our offense, we’re not going to go where we want to go.”
Most reports have linked the Chargers to one of this year’s elite defensive ends that fit into their 3-4 scheme, but in a class so deep with talent at the end position, could the team put that need on hold until round two with their wealth of draft choices? It might not be that far fetched of an idea that the Bolts are looking at cornerback rather than defensive end in the first round with Colorado corner Jimmy Smith in for a visit with the team recently.
Many were hesitant on Smith early during the pre-draft process fearing his off-field issues, but further investigation has shown that Smith has matured as a player and a person since the troubles during his freshman season in Boulder. When addressing this scrutiny at the NFL Scouting Combine, Smith said: "I know they're going to ask me about everything I've done. I’m ready and prepared to answer all the questions. I've told them I'm a great person. I was a young player who made young mistakes. But I grew as a person. Just going in that room and being honest, that's all I can control. Like I said I went to college and I made some mistakes. All of the issues I'm talking to the teams about are not issues that really need to be out there."
At 6’2” 211lbs. Smith is an athletic freak of nature in the mold of Antonio Cromartie with much less off-field baggage and even more of an on-field résumé. His stock has been steadily rising since the Combine and according to well known NFL Draft expert (and hair gel aficionado) Mel Kiper Jr., he could be a steal in this year’s class. Kiper said: "If Jimmy Smith's there, you're getting a top 10 to 15 talent. He's a kid with great physical ability.”
The term ‘shutdown corner’ is thrown around quite liberally throughout the league, but Smith has the potential to be just that at the next level. He allowed only eight completions all season two years ago in man coverage which goes to show his dominant nature. When asked about his career at Colorado, Smith said: "Sometimes they avoided me in the pass game; sometimes it got a little boring. I had one opportunity for an interception, a one-handed interception, I dropped it. After that I had like three passes thrown my way for the rest of the season. I definitely take that as a compliment. I mean, they didn't throw my way ever. They respected me.''
There’s no doubt that Smith’s size and speed combination with a 4.46 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine make him a rare breed in today’s NFL with most corners standing six feet and under. Perhaps the biggest reason not to draft him for the Chargers is the fact that Quentin Jammer is still playing at a high level and Antoine Cason represented himself quite well in his first season as a starter in 2010.
On the other side of the argument, with two solid starters already in place on the corner, maybe San Diego is the perfect place for Smith to land and play for a year or two in the nickel learning the NFL trade before transitioning to a full-time starter. Jammer isn’t getting any younger and Smith could follow the same on-field trail of both Cromartie and Cason who were groomed slowly before gradually working their way into the starting lineup.
The detractors of a selection like this would undoubtedly say that this is a luxury pick and Smith won’t provide an immediate impact on a team desperately needing influential players on defense. In today’s wide open NFL there is an elevated need for multiple defensive back sets in order to match up with three and four wideouts on the field at the same time. When it comes to defending the pass against the Peyton Manning’s and Tom Brady’s of the world, teams can never have too many capable defensive backs.
There’s no doubt that a pick such as this would bring even more rabid critics out of the woodwork calling for A.J. Smith’s job as the Bolts GM. His recent interview showed that he is getting used to answering the inquiries on his job security in his usual satirical manner. In response to his being on the hot seat, Smith said: “I hear it’s hot, but in my own way, I take care of the hot seat I’m in. I have a small fan under my desk that cools down my seat and makes it tolerable so I can work. I have a refrigerator right here, and if it gets really hot, I leave the door open for about 20 minutes. Between the two of ’em, I get by.”
Now it’s your turn. Does a team’s draft history have any impact on their current strategy or is it just coincidental if they make similar picks in the future? Would adding Jimmy Smith to the Chargers defense make a big impact on that side of the ball or would it be a luxury pick of very minimal effect? Do you think it is as clear cut as most believe that the Bolts will choose a defensive end in round one or is cornerback a likely possibility? Is the way A.J. Smith handles the criticism of his job an endearing characteristic to you or infuriating? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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