NFL draft season is upon us! But before we look forward, I invite you to take a look back and help me answer one question: Is AJ Smith overrated as a GM?
Smith is widely regarded as a top GM in the league but if you look at his first round picks for the Chargers there’s not a blue chip, impact player in sight:
2003: Sammy Davis
2004: Eli Manning
2005: Shawne Merriman
2005: Luis Castillo
2006: Antonio Cromartie
2007: Buster Davis
2008: Antoine Cason
2009: Larry English
2010: Ryan Matthews
Granted, Smith parlayed the Eli Manning pick into Phil Rivers (I’d personally be escorting the team to LA right now if they had Eli Manning instead of Rivers) and Merriman and Cromartie were spectacular for a short time but none of these guys contributed to the team in 2010 which by the way is probably the real reason they didn’t make the playoffs this year. Right now, the Chargers don’t have enough good players on their team and AJ Smith is to blame.
What’s even more frustrating is looking at the players the Chargers passed up to draft the stiffs I just listed. Smith drafted Sammy Davis over Troy Polamalu and Nnamdi Asomugha in 2003. He picked Buster Davis and Eric Weddle (in the 2nd round) over Sidney Rice and LaMarr Woodley in 2007 and in 2009 he passed up Clay Matthews for Larry English. Hindsight is obviously 20/20 but imagine how different the Chargers would be had Smith hit on just ONE of those picks.
AJ Smith supporters always point to the guys that he was able to find the later rounds like Shaun Phillips, Nick Hardwick, Darren Sproles and Louis Vasquez. No one can argue that Smith is good at drafting in the later rounds and his ability to identify and pickup rookie free agents is top notch, however while those guys are solid contributors none of them are true playmakers that you typically find in the 1st round and in the NFL you need play makers to win the big games.
So is AJ Smith overrated as a GM? Smith is a very good GM and great at finding core players, but if you look at his 1st round misses it’s hard to consider him an elite GM. To use a baseball analogy, singles and doubles are nice you need to hit a homerun now and again to be considered elite. And in this analogy, AJ Smith is the Tony Gywnn of GMs.
Maybe this year, the Chargers should tell Smith that they moved the draft back to Saturday so when he shows up he can just make the 2nd to 7th round picks.