Chargers Fail because AJ Smith Failed

Earlier in the day our E.I.C. Ernie Padaon posted a blog reporting that after Antoine Cason’s horrific game against the Jets in which Plaxico Burress made Cason his prison yard bitch, Cason could be benched in favor of Marcus Gilchrist as early as this week.  I started to comment, but my response got so lengthy I thought it deserved its own post.

Charger fans wondering why the Chargers are no longer an “elite team” and look back at the teams we had from ’06-’08 and think, “What the hell happened?” should look no further than GM AJ Smith.

If Cason got benched he would be considered yet another 1st round bust for Smith.  Notable players Smith passed up for Cason include: Kenny Phillips, Brandon Flowers (13 career INT), Jordy Nelson, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, and Ray Rice.  Smith supporters will argue that hindsight is 20/20 but the so called “tough guy” and the “NFL’s John Wayne” not only has failed to add ammo to the Chargers who at one point were loaded, but over these past five years he’s been shooting blanks.

Let’s look at the notable players drafted from 2004-2006:

2004: Philip Rivers (acquired in trade; 1st Rd), Nick Hardwick (3rd Rd), Shawn Phillips (4th Rd)

2005: Shawne Merriman (1st Rd), Luis Castillo (1st Rd), Vincent Jackson (2nd Rd), Darren Sproles (4th Rd)

2006: Antonio Cromartie (1st Rd), Marcus McNeil (2nd Rd), Jeromey Clary (6th Rd)

In those three years Smith drafted 9 players who became regular starters and 8 players who made at least 1 Pro Bowl.

Now let’s compare that to the players drafted in the past 5 years:

2007: Buster Davis (1st Rd), Eric Weddle, (2nd Rd)

2008: Antoine Cason (1st Rd), Jacob Hester (3rd Rd)

2009: Larry English (1st Rd), Louis Vasquez (3rd Rd)

2010: Ryan Matthews (1st Rd), Donald Butler (3rd Rd)

2011: Corey Liuget (1st Rd), Marcus Gilchrist (2nd Rd)

The difference in the level of talent in the ’04-‘06 draft classes compared to the draft classes the subsequent three seasons is astonishing.  Smith whiffed on three straight first round draft picks in Davis, Cason and English and came out with only one slightly above average starter in Weddle, and two subpar starters in Hester (if you even call him a starter) and Louis Vasquez (let’s not forget he almost lost his starting job to Tyronne Green this summer).  Even if you assume Matthews will eventually be a franchise back and Liuget will be a solid starter, the past five years, the Chargers have drafted only 7 starters (assuming Gilchrist replaces Cason) and zero Pro Bowlers.

Look at the Chargers biggest holes today:

1.  Offensive playmakers that compliment Rivers, Jackson, and Gates

2.  Inability to consistently pressure the passer

3.  Suspect secondary that is devoid of playmakers

Now, look at the players the Chargers passed up in the ’07-’09 drafts to pick Davis, Cason and English:

2007: Sydney Rice, LaMarr Woodley, David Harris

2008: (Again) Kenny Phillips, Brandon Flowers, Jordy Nelson, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice

2009: (This is going to hurt) Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Clay Matthews, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, Louis Delmas, LeSean McCoy

I’m not saying AJ Smith should be perfect, but think how the dominoes could have fallen had the Chargers nailed one of those drafts:

  • If the Chargers would have drafted LaMarr Woodley in ’07 they wouldn’t have had to reach for English and maybe at that point they add to the WR corps with a playmaker like Maclin, Harvin, Nicks or Britt. Or maybe they could have drafted Louis Delmas, a safety who can actually tackle.
  • Had the Chargers drafted Forte or Rice instead of Cason they could have traded up in 2010 to draft Earl Thomas, Jason Piere-Paul or Dez Bryant instead of Ryan Matthews.
  • And had the Chargers nailed the 2007 to 2009 drafts like they nailed 2004 to 2006 – Woodley, DeSean Jackson and Clay Matthews – we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I could go on and on, but the point is AJ Smith lost his mojo for three years and it has crippled this franchise.  In addition to this his failed 1st rounders, Smith kept compounding his mistakes by trading multiple 2nd round picks to move up and draft Weddle and Hester.  This, combined with their (cheap ass) strategy of not signing any high-profile (i.e. expensive) free agents is what brings us to today’s team.

The 2011 San Diego Chargers are boring.

The 2011 San Diego Chargers have no identity.

The 2011 San Diego Chargers are failures today because our GM has failed us for the past five years.

Follow me on Twitter: @KenCaminiti21

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  • BigBrian619

    @KenCaminiti21 what would the late John Butler say about AJ?

  • Kiko Wilson


  • Jeffrey Perkins

    A lot of chewing out needs to happen, from dean all the way down the chain to the guy who hold the water bottle.

  • Sparticus

    What about Michael Turner?

    • @kencaminiti21

      I didn’t include Turner because while he had talent, was just a back up with the Chargers and didn’t contribute as much as he could have since the Chargers had LT. You bring up a good point though. Not only has AJ Smith not been able to find playmakers, he also hasn’t been able to add quality depth to the roster either.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @BigBrian619, Butler would have been disapointed. He got rid of the deadbeats like Marcelus Wiley and David Boston and built a base in LT, Brees, and Gates that should have made us Super Bowl contenders for a decade. AJ Smith started off well, but he hasn’t been able to continue to build the franchise. Let’s face it, the Chargers have regressed over the past few years. This isn’t the exciting team we were used to seeing.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @Kiko Wilson Even though they are 4-2 I don’t think you can call their start a success. They’ve looked just as bad in thier wins as they have in their losses. You’re right the season isn’t over but they have a lot of work to do and to me, the talent just doesn’t seem to be there.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @BigBrian619 Butler would have been disapointed. Butler got rid of deadbeats like Marcelus Wiley and David Boston and built a base in LT, Brees, and Gates that should have made us Super Bowl contenders for a decade. AJ Smith started off well, but he hasn’t been able to continue to build the franchise. Let’s face it, the Chargers have regressed over the past few years. This isn’t the exciting team we were used to seeing.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @Jeffrey Perkins The Chargers need to re-assess what type of team they want to be. Are they a power running team? Do they want to spread it out and throw the rock? Do they want to be a run stopping D or do they want to get after the QB? Right now, it doesn’t seem like they have an identity. They are OK in every aspect of the game, but they excel in nothing.

  • iamjoeking

    @epadaon @KenCaminiti21lol AJ isn’t to blame

  • nfl_hof

    @epadaon shoulda could woulda so easy to write that crap after the fact please give me a break

  • 1961 Fan

    A. J. Smith is number two on the list.

    Number one is Dean Spanos. He has signed off on this mess that Smith created.

    Firing a coach that takes your team to 14-2 is complete stupidity, and shows a lack of

    NFL knowledge worthy of the Club Presidency. The Chargers will continue to just

    be an average team. If they make the Playoffs it will be because there are three other

    very weak teams in the Western Division. Turner and Smith have contracts that run through

    2013 & 2014. It will be interesting at the end of the season (if the Bolts do not win the

    Division title) if Spanos will get some balls and cut loose these two losers.

  • Ragnarokx2

    Wow this is one of the most biased post I have ever seen I dont even know where to start….STOP LISTENING TO HACKSAW!! It is easy to look at the past and say we should have picked this person. Heck, why not just crucify AJ for picking sammy davis instead of troy palomalu. The draft is always a crap shoot and you not always going to get the cream of the crop and nail every draft. AJ does a good job with finding talent not just in the draft but through the people that teams dont draft.

    The fact is its one loss to a Jets team that is not horrible. Norv took his foot off the gas and Phillip was out of rythm and could never get it back. Do you think Woodley gets all those sacks because he has a James Harrison on the other side and maybe one of the best modern day D coordinators scheming for him, a hall of fame saftey that the teams have to account for as well. We were just singing the praises early this season of being stacked at wide receiver, why would we go after a receiver in the draft when there were bigger needs. Matthews is having a good season.

    Cason is no doubt having a few off games but if you analyze it, do you think maybe it might be manusky and his crappy let me tell everyone to play 10 yards of the receiver scheme. Not many people can cover a 6’5″ receiver by them self one on one. That was a clear mismatch that manusky should have adjusted to. Just like takeo spikes on dustin keller…T Spikes is a good run stopper but he dosent exactly run a 4.4 40. I blame manusky more for Casons troubles than Cason. They also didnt exactly have an entire offseason to learn his scheme..

    Dont eat to much of the media pie. After all, this is the NFL and ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Yesterday before the ravens played, ESPN was declaring them the 2nd best team in the AFC. Well flacco has been playing like crap and couldnt get a first down until the 3rd quarter against a 1-5 jacksonville team with a rookie QB!! With your logic, I would be more worried if I was a raven fan losing to such a crappy team.

    • @kencaminiti21

      @Ragnarokx2 I work from 8am – 7pm, so I rarely if ever listen to sports talk radio and even if I did, I wouldn’t listen to Hacksaw… In any matter, the point of the post wasn’t the Chargers should have picked Player A over Player B. The point was that the Chargers are struggling this season, they don’t have the playmakers they had back in the day and you can trace both back to the fact that AJ Smith had three terrible drafts.

      I don’t think the Chargers are a terrible team. And I agree with you that the AFC is a crapshoot this year. I am just saying that the Chargers aren’t as good because AJ Smith hasn’t drafted quality players over the past few years.

      • Ragnarokx2

        @@kencaminiti21 I don’t think AJ had a great draft those years but he certainly was able to get not just quality starters but also quality depth. In your analysis above you did not include undrafted free agents and quality (not big name) free agent signings. Tolbert, Green, Hughes, Vaughn Martin, Sperry etc. Depth is very important to success in the NFL. Look at the raiders…Mcfadden goes down and they get destroyed.

        The chargers playmakers from “2006″ were largely due to LT’s monster season. I think on the offensive side of the ball we are still just as good if not stronger than in 06. We still have most of the same oline minus goff and our wide receivers are better than they were in 06. We are missing the HOF running back but still have a pretty good one in Matthews and rivers is light years ahead of where he was in 2006 as a first time starter.

        On the defensive side of the ball we are definitely not as good on the D line and edge rushers but every where else we are the same or better. Corners are good in jammer and Cason. Cason is a good corner despite his game against the jets. He is a solid tackler and plays disciplined. Again I think it is more manusky’s scheme than the games closely and you will see what I mean. At safety. You can’t honestly tell me that Marlon Mcree is better than Eric Weddle and Gregory is pretty much the same as Hart.

        I agree that AJ hasn’t hit Gold on the pass rushers but those are hard to find because a successful pass rusher is also contingent on a good interior. If you don’t have a good interior than they can just double the outside. As you can see from this current draft AJ focused on upgrading on the interior in hopes of getting better results on the edge

        In short while they weren’t great drafts / undrafted years, the draft / undrafted class were not as horrible as you describe

  • 1961 Fan

    You have some valid points. Any good team can have an off day on the field. The Chargers have had four and now in their fifth OFF year. You can no longer keep saying that this GM is a genius. We had one of those in Bobby Beathard. He built a great enough team to get us into our only Super Bowl – ever! Then there was a power struggle with Bobby Ross that Super Bowl coach. Then Beathard drafts Ryan Leaf. Remember the Spanos family fired Don Coryell. This mess of a team starts at the top and stinks all the way down to Norv Turner. How is it that some Family’s know how to run a football franchise – like the Rooney’s.

    This is the message the Chargers sent to the N FL, fans, coaches, and up and coming

    players: We just fired our coach after posting a 14-2 record, now come work for us!

    Are we a better team now than in 2006? The only quality performance this year was against the Patriots. The Patriots, a well owned, managed, and coached team. I will always be a fan and financial supporter of the Bolts, but this is a team in need of another Marty Schottenheimer. We don’t need a fool and arrogant GM who chose a “yes man” loser for a coach. Don’t count on a playoff game here in San Diego. You can count on more excuses

    from A. J. Smith.

    • Ragnarokx2

      I don’t believe AJ smith is a genius and I definitely don’t agree with all his decisions regarding the chargers. But he is not the worst GM in the league (like you are painting him to be) and is actually one of the better GM’s in the NFL. I guarantee if AJ were fired today, he would be some ones GM with in hours. Marty was fired because he only had 1 year left on his contract and didn’t want to sign an extension hence forcing dean spanos to make a decision…him or AJ. The chargers have not had 5 off years. Just cause a team does not win the Superbowl doesn’t mean its an off year. If that were the case pretty much every team in the NFL is having an off year all the time . If you have been a fan since 61 you should definitely be appreciative that we are relivant in the nfl….Don’t you remember pre 2004 when we were basically the laughing stock of the NFL!! So by your definition of off years, we have been having them since 1996! I am not a huge fan of Norv either but did you know he is the winning’st chargers head coach in chargers history! You can argue it was with butlers team or martys team but the fact is he took “Martys team” further than marty did! Also if Marty was such a great 14-2 coach then why couldn’t he find a job in the NFL ever since then. There were many head coaching positions that opened up since 2006 and he wasnt even interviewed for ANY OF THEM!! That should tell you what other teams in the NFL thought of marty so I guess AJ isnt so crazy after all. Do you know what Marty is doing today…….He is coaching in the UFL and won his first championship in a league no one really watches but its a championship right! @1961 Fan

  • 1961 Fan

    Who is hacksaw; If they are ragging on the Chargers system then that person is one of

    the few that tell it like it is. When it comes to the Chargers the truth hurts. It brings to mind

    coach Mike Riley ( 1-15)

    • Ragnarokx2

      The truth about the chargers don’t hurt. It not the end of the world as you claim it is. Look at it this way….we are not the broncos, vikings, jaguars, rams, etc.. Yes the chargers are sputtering right now but show flashes greatness. The played a great first half and tanked in the second…Learn from it and move on. The jets secondary is not crap, they are very good yet we were able to score 21 on them in a half. Norv’s stupid ass and his irritating play it overly safe defensive coordinator didn’t make the proper adjustments. Plaxico burress killing cason three times in the endzone is a coaching issue. In football if someone is exploiting a mismatch, you get them safety help which cason had none…Defensive coordinator needs to be slapped back in to reality. san francisco was crap last year so why bring there defensive coordinator here when he was crap with his old team @1961 Fan

  • @kencaminiti21

    @nfl_hof I think you missed the point of the post. The point was the Chargers aren’t good this year because their overall talent level is not what it was between ’06-’08 and this is because AJ Smith shit the bed between in the ’07-’09 drafts.

  • MikeTuck

    Cason got burt on plays like we use to Floyd and Jackson. Cason has played well, but again remember that post of ” Is LaBoy worth it”, he added 0 to the coverage or pressure. The minute Barnes was let in he and Phillips put the great pressure on Sanchez. And English isn’t a bust, he’s shown well this year, 2 sacks, but again a coaches decision to play LaBoy in a skeem that adds no more pressure than rushing 3-4 bodys. When that has happen with the 2 previously mentioned it’s been a sack, fumble or interception. These are bad, bad coaching game plans. Phillips has been neudered by the plans. I’ll bet if Barnes and English played opposite Phillips and pessure was a common skeem, the turnover ratio and field position would increase drastically. LaBoy when rushing got no where near the QB, he lacks anticipation and speed. Watch the Tapes.

    • Ragnarokx2

      exactly! It is coaching! If your corner is having trouble (every corner needs help at some time) you give him help…I believe the biggest issue with the defense is not lack of play makers but horrible scheme…..very ted cotrell’ish

      • epadaon

        @Ragnarokx2 dont bring back the name ted cottrell!!! i was worried that manusky wouldnt bring the heat on this team when we signed him on… every 49er fan that i talked to told me that he wasnt the aggressive guy that we seemed to be preaching. now look what we have!

    • epadaon

      @MikeTuck always comes back to LaGirl! If only Manusky or Norv would sit him on the bench and get antwan barnes in the mix more and more!!! we need that pressure on the QB!

      • Ragnarokx2

        Mark Sanchez could seriously make a sandwhich and call his mom and talk about how things are going with the amount of time he had back there. I also dont know why manusky thinks that Spikes can cover tight ends…I wonder if he prefers LaGirl because he was with him in san fran or is dating his mom @epadaon @MikeTuck

  • MikeTuck

    Are coaching is fickle. We’ve 2 Defensive coaches for pressure, yet when they got here they were neutered, which leads me to think Turner is behind the skeem. Turner is very conservitive at all the wrong times. I really think Rivers is off because he thought with the return of key players it would open up more, instead it’s being led with a iron fist. Does Spanos and Smith want the team moved to LA? Makes sense to me, because someone is holding this team back. The special teams improved somewhat, but Crayton should be benched as a return specialist has to be skilled ( which he is ) and smart. That is one thing Walters is. I’ll take a group of pretty good smart players over skill only everyday. Why, it’s a team game and smart players cover for each other. And Guilchrist should be playing safety w/ Gregory and Hughs sharing the nichel packages.

  • MikeTuck

    Ragarokx2: Excellent points on AJSmith not being the worst GM. He has brought us excellent talent, added depth and kept the Chargers strong. Only he also has a ego that gets in his way. Merriman, Edwards, Florence, and Tomlinson. A great GM shows loyalty and the faith to talk to great players about the goals and how he can help achieve them. A team shouldn’t have a huge revolving door. With Brees he could have had a wait and see approach knowing Rivers was in the wings. Great teams hang on to great players, especially when their as close as the Chargers were. Marty was right there, he wanted his son’s help. He lost the big game with that ALLSTAR back on the bench. So because of egos we got Turner. AJ doesn’t know how to train, coach, or play football, He’s a great GM at draft and free agent time. He’s tarrnished Butlers image by letting his ego get in the way. Now his coaching carosel is revolving around Turner which is why the Chargers are broke. Go back and look at when this all started. Cowher has stated he’d like to have a chance at taking the Chargers to the superbowl, but not with AJ. AJ Smith is Corperate, his biggest concern is the bottom line. Cowher is a explayer, knows talent, knows good coaching, and a proven record.

  • MikeTuck

    Let me add that Cason is a really good CB, and bad teams start the rotisary. The problem is sacks and hurrys, I’ve said it before, if you give any QB time he’ll pick you apart. Manuskys skeem is killing us. These are the skeems that are made not to loose. Turners setting on leads same thing. As soon as the Chargers start using English and Barnes to put pressure from the opposite side of Phillips you’ll not only see sacks but turnovers in the likes of fumbles and errant passes. It happened against the Jets. LaBoy is a good backup just like with the 49ers. English and Barnes were leading in sacks for good reason and were only getting scant playing time due to the defensive skeem. If are linebacker core is that bad why didn’t they go to a 4-3 with Butler and Phillips on the edge at LB. Because our LB’s aren’t the problem, it’s the coaching staff controlled by nonother than AJ Smith. I really think they’re throwing these games to go to LA. They know what’s at stake, and this is the first time in 40+ years that I can’t stand watching them play.

  • MikeTuck

    Football is now a Corporation which is a code word for corupt. Bobby Ross took a bunch of so-so players to the Superbowl by making them believe in themselves, a feat unmatched in NFL history. That’s why I’m asking Mr. Spanos please contact Mr. Cowher now. You stated that you wanted to bring a Superbowl to San Diego, here’s your chance. AJ and Turner exit stage left. Cowher and Manusky a perfect fit. Cowher knows D and loves mixing it up with the Offensive play calling. And he’d turn Manusky loose incouraging pressure. And formost he’d have this team fired up and supporting each other. As long as Spanos would stand by Cowher and become part of the team with a love of football we’d be at the SB. AJ Smith’s ego gets in his way and Turner is living in the 60′s and 70′s.

  • MikeTuck

    This editor has my heart, not only Barnes, but English is finally proving himself. Pressure is part of a 3-4, otherwise what’s the use. Sure you have more pass defenders, but you also have a QB with enough time to pick you clean. The whole idea is 3 big men to tie up 5 so you can use your outside LB’s to put extreem pressure. A Blitz in this package would be bringing a Safety or MLB. I really don’t think it’s Manusky. AJ and Turner have a tight grip on the skeems and gameplan. It’s simple mathmatics. The only thing I’ve got against Manusky is playing LaBoy. Rerun the tape, in pass coverage he looked lost, and in pressure he’s to slow and shows no strenghth. It’s just mind boggling.

  • RobertSpain

    Perhaps Deano has recently been trying to pull the same tacky stunt “say hey Al” did, when the Hammer-Head hired Bobby Beathard. You may recall that Beathard was a draft genius at both Miami & Washington. Yet after arriving in SD, he suddenly became a moron. Either Petey took a bad blow to the head, or Alex was paying him to draft poorly.Why? Because Alex wanted to move the team. And, SD fans would protest less, if the Chargers had hopelessly been ground into the dirt.–ie. few wins + little talent = little, reasonable, short term hope

    LA currently beckons–and has for quite some time. Could Deano be taking a lesson from his old man?

    Are the Chargers getting better, or worse–against halfway decent teams?You tell me. Then tell again, after they get their hides tanned in KC.

    • epadaon

      @RobertSpain did a non-bolt fan just sneak in to tell us that they are going to move to LA?!

      That would be stupid to suck it up on purpose, then what would the people of LA expect when they moved? Wouldn’t you want to play well so that the new audience is excited for their shiny new toy?

      We will beat KC!

      • RobertSpain

        @epadaon No, I’ve been a big Bolt fan since 1979. I’m just a little more cynical than most. I remember driving to work in 1987. That was Al Saunders’ 1st full season. (Remember how Spanos shamelessly stabbed Coryell in the back, halfway thru the ’86 season?) At any rate, in ’87 the Chargers vacced. And, having been spoiled by Fouts & Coryell , the Charger fans were very disappointed, as well as very vocal. At any rate, I heard say-hey-Alex (much like a 4 year old) threaten to ‘take his ball and go home’. Ie., in 1987, after a bit of well deserved fan criticism, the HammerHead publicly threatened, on live radio, to move his team. I don’t think they are stupid. I think they are just insatiably greedy, and incredibly devious.Yeah, good ole AJ, Norv & Deano–those window closing ‘Poop Boys’.

  • MikeTuck

    English and Barnes led in sacks, and with them Phillips wouldn’t be wasting his talent. LaBoy needs to be cut period. The excuse will be Barnes and English can’t play the run or pass defense. They can’t do any worse than LaBoy and they are instant pressure. Sports are mathmatics. Rushing 3 can give you more coverage in the zone. But like you said Sanchez and every other QB has all day. There were 2 turnovers and Rivers capitalised. Then the defense went into prevent.

    2000+ the best defense is a atacking defense if your playing a 3-4. Keep em guessing if your blitzing 1 or 2 and where from but don’t stop. No not even on 3rd down and 20. Especially then. Pressure equals bad throws and int’s. That’s why the Chargers played New England and Indy well in the past. Any QB doesn’t play well on his ass.

  • MikeTuck

    I keep seeing on Bleacher Report the replace Cason card. Cason is not the problem. No one can cover recievers with that much time, never the less Burgess. Manusky has got to get odff his ass and play Barnes and now Gamble opposite Phillips. Apply constant pressure, and when you get up 21 points apply constant pressure. You’ll be telling your team don’t ever let up, and your offense will get more and more opportunitys to use some of their less used plays. Wait that’s right we don’t have any less used plays, but you know what I mean. Lousey skeems and pour choice of personnel.

    One more question for Turner, Is there anything more exciting than 3 trys off tackle from the !-2 yard line. I remember watching that with my Dad in the ground Chuck days.

    • epadaon

      @MikeTuck pressure pressure pressure… i hope that gamble is able to generate that same amount of pressure he did in the preseason. we just need a change at that outside lb position

  • MikeTuck

    The secret to pressure is the coach using it at key times and from different angles.Barnes Phillips and Gamble are so fast off the ball the OTackles are out of the picture. This leaves less to block Luigit and Garay. Anyway you look at it it’s a plus. Yes the safetys have to be aware of the screen, but I’ve seen phillips recognise it so fast it didn’t work. In the 3-4 pressure is a must. All these guys can get it done. Coaching is really lacking, and I’m not blaming Manusky, the same thing happen to Rivera. Who is telling them what game plan to run. Turner

    Spanos better wake up and fire Smith and Turner and get Cowher to come guide this team to it’s first Superbowl. I also don’t want to hear anyone badmouth Ross. He took a ragtag team and got them where they should not have been.