Value is a term thrown around quite liberally at the time of the NFL Draft, but no matter what your definition of the word value is, there’s no denying the fact that the San Diego Chargers made a number of value picks in this year’s selection extravaganza. It’s easy to get caught up in team needs and reach for players of a particular position rather than being patient and waiting out the ebb and flow of the draft. The 2012 draft class is one that could give General Manager A.J. Smith a real opportunity to cement his legacy as the Bolts’ GM and leaves no excuses for Head Coach Norv Turner should he not get the job done again this season in San Diego.
Grading a draft is a difficult task even a few years down the line from the process let alone just days following the event, but determining whether or not a team filled its specific needs while getting the most out of its position in the draft is a much easier assignment. GM Smith has been heavily scrutinized (and rightfully so) in recent years for his lackluster draftees and some extreme reaches (Buster Davis, Larry English). Still, his pedigree as the man who pulled off the Eli Manning deal and landed the team three Pro Bowlers in the process is impossible to forget and he wants to keep it that way.
Brash decisions in free agency with many big names leaving for more money have been a big part of GM Smith’s tenure with the team. This season is a perfect example as wide receiver Vincent Jackson signed a huge deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather than staying in San Diego. Several of these choices have left the Bolts’ roster a bit strapped for talent over the past two years, but the reload began in free agency this year and has officially culminated with the draft.
As for the GM’s incredible haul in this year’s draft, the discussion has to start in round one with the Melvin Ingram selection. The kid many felt was the best pass rusher in this year’s class somehow fell all the way to the 18th overall pick where it didn’t take the Bolts long to make him a Charger. Both the Seattle Seahawks at 15 and New York Jets at 16 selected pass rushers Bruce Irvin and Quinton Coples respectively before Ingram fell to the Chargers. Each of those teams should be receiving thank you cards from the San Diego front office soon. Ingram is an immediate plug-and-play solution to a lackluster pass rush in recent years and will be able to learn from Shaun Phillips while getting integrated into the rotation with Jarret Johnson and Antwan Barnes. He plays low to the ground, can get around the edge in a heartbeat, and has the versatility to fit into whatever scheme defensive coordinator John Pagano wants to run on any given down and distance.
Round two was much the same with another steal in Kendall Reyes falling further than anyone could’ve imagined for a player with so much upside. With the 49th overall pick, it’s hard to imagine much more value than this choice. Defensive end wasn’t at the top of the to-do list for GM Smith, but when the opportunity to solidify a defensive line that has been a collective revolving door for the last five years presents itself, that chance must be seized. Reyes made some of the best offensive linemen in the country look silly at the Senior Bowl and has a great first step with natural power to hold up at the point of attack. With Luis Castillo not getting any younger and Corey Liuget really the only entrenched starter for the foreseeable future, Reyes will be a valuable addition to the defensive line rotation.
Trading up has been a trademark of GM Smith during his time with the team and he executed a classic deal to move up and land safety Brandon Taylor in the third round. There was no secret that the team had toyed with the idea of moving up for Mark Barron in round one, but jumping into the top ten picks was too rich of a price. Taylor is a box safety with some limitations in coverage, but paired with Eric Weddle, the two will complement one another quite well. In certain packages, Taylor will make an impact in year one with the Bolts and he has the ability to develop into a full-time starter in the not so distant future.
As for the money rounds of the draft, GM Smith may have found his hidden gem again in Ladarius Green. Once upon a time, Michael Turner was drafted in the fifth round by the Bolts and his story is well-known by now. Green is going to learn from one of the game’s best in Antonio Gates and will provide the team with that always valuable second tight end that will give opponents match-up nightmares. Two more late picks that could prove to be winners are offensive linemen in guard Johnnie Troutman and center David Molk. In the very least these two will provide the line much needed depth, but Molk won the Rimington Trophy in 2011 and has plenty of potential to develop behind another Big Ten center, Nick Hardwick.
My opinion of GM A.J. Smith has always been a favorable one as even though he rubs many the wrong way, his decisions have always seemed to be in the franchise’s best interest. Smith tries to be ahead of the curve and his negotiation tactics appear frugal to some while looking downright miserly to others. In spite of his shortcomings as a “people person”, GM Smith has shown that he is a tremendous talent evaluator and has maintained the personnel for a very successful on-field franchise for the better part of a decade. I may be an admitted A.J. Smith apologist, but this time, give the man his due. He’s earned it.
Tell us what you think! How many starters do you ultimately see coming out of the 2012 draft class? Did A.J. Smith finally redeem himself in the eyes of Chargers’ fans or is he still on the hot seat pending the team’s relative success in the 2012 season? Fill up the comments below with your take!
Labels: NFL Draft 2012
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