Now we're leaving the SEC and moving out west! Many thanks go to BluegrassSteeler for the entertaining, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable write up here on life in AJ Smith's shoes. Next up: Chicago Bears and they'll be represented by Readarmon0.
By the way, take note of the cool little minute-long draft profiles from SBN NFL that are embedded with these picks. It's been Michael Bean's personal project to make these videos happen, and let us know what you think of them! -barnerburner-
AJ Smith can't sleep.
Sitting up in bed he looks around at the darkened room, familiar objects outlines by moonlight. He gets up and dresses with a practiced silence. He's done this so many times in the last few weeks he doesn't need to flip on a light - he has perfect knowledge of everything that surrounds him. He tip-toes down the stairs and heads to his office. After he passes through security, the guard - the same guard that's checked him in almost every night in recent weeks - shakes his head.
"What's eating this guy?" he wonders before he goes back to checking his Tweets.
Smith makes a fresh pot of coffee. No cream. No sugar. He makes his way down to the film room. He logs onto the computer stationed at its back - it's only called a film room as a nod to tradition, it's all digital now - and pulls up games he's watched a dozen times at least. He wants to check out David DeCastro. And Nick Perry. And Cordy Glenn. And Whitney Mercilus. And Michael Floyd too. What about Mo' Claiborne? No, no point. He'll be long, long gone by then and too expensive to trade up for. But what if... what if something happens? Anybody can drop. Maybe the Wonderlic really did scare some GMs? They're not picking in the Top-10 because they're great at evaluating talent, after all. Just a quick peek then. Just at the National Championship game. Might as well watch Upshaw and Hightower in it too. Kill three birds with one stone. Why not?
He sits back and observes. He doesn't take notes - he knows what's coming. He's gone over and over his notes. His scouts' notes. His position coaches' notes. He just wants to make sure. He needs to be able to see what no one else can. Like he did with Shawne Merriman. And Antonio Gates. And Marcus McNeill.
Smith is trapped by his own legend, by a drafting run that any reasonable person could see just wasn't sustainable. Everyone has misses and busts and to expect otherwise is just silly, even in the 1st round. But now everyone expects him to work some kind of magic, to see something in the film that's invisible to everyone else. Everyone expects magic, but he's no magician. No, he's just a worker; a grinder.
So he watches some film. And the more. He sips his coffee because he has nothing else to do with his hands. Occasionally he glances down at his fingers. There's nothing special about them. They look like they could belong to any other man his age. No... all he notices is what's not on them.
And all he can think of is what the sportswriters and bloggers call him: The Lord of No Rings.
He does his best to put it out of his head though. He sips his coffee. And he grinds through more all-22 film. When he finally stops for a break, he realizes it's already lunchtime.
It's no secret that this is a make or break year for both Chargers HC Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith. It's been two playoff-less seasons in a row. The Chargers used to be called underachievers. Sportswriters would regularly admit that the Chargers had the most talented roster in the NFL - with a franchise QB in Philip Rivers - and wonder when they would finally get over the hump and win a Super Bowl.
But the sportswriters don't say that anymore.
No, now they lament the loss of so much from a once-loaded Chargers roster. Merriman is gone, a shell of his former self. Marcus McNeill too. Vincent Jackson has landed in greener pastures in Tampa (and if you've seen his contract numbers, you'll know how green they really are). Even those still on the roster, like Antonio Gates, have faded due to both age and injury. The apple of AJ's drafting eye, Philip Rivers, has struggled to be much more than slightly above average.
Worse yet, Smith hasn't been able to replenish the talent he's lost. Larry English has turned out to be a huge bust. Antoine Cason is an adequate corner, but not one that scares anyone. Ryan Mathews is talented, but - just as in college - he hasn't been able to stay on the field in the NFL. Rivers is asked to do more and more with less and less, and it's beginning to show in his play - he's forcing too many throws, taking too many chances.
Norv Turner may be an uninspiring coach to most NFL fans, but he inherited a roster that was on the decline. We didn't know it at the time, but for reasons discussed above - and others that we surely don't know about - the Chargers roster that went 14-2 under Marty Schottenheimer has undergone a precipitous decline. This is a draft that AJ Smith needs to hit on in order to give Turner the best chance to at least make a Wild Card spot. If Turner can win a playoff game, it might just save both their jobs.
AJ Smith needs impact players.
At this juncture in the draft, there are some available. Two in particular are interesting to me (with my AJ hat on): Stanford guard David DeCastro and USC defensive end/outside linebacker Nick Perry. Cordy Glenn would certainly have been under consideration, but the Bengals nabbed him from right under Smith's nose.
The Chargers defense was once known for its ability to terrorize QBs, but no more. The Chargers finished 23rd overall in sacks with 32 (though it should be noted, the Steelers only had 35). They now play in a division with Peyton Manning. In other words, they can't depend on Shaun Phillips to do all the pass rushing work himself. Last season they brought in Antwan Barnes and he accounted for 11 sacks, but he's a situational rusher who gets exposed against the run (and Manning is happy to run the ball straight at him if it wins games). So the Chargers signed Jarrett Johnson away from the Ravens this offseason, probably with the plan to take him off the field in obvious passing situations and rotate Barnes in. The Chargers still have Larry English - former 1st round pick from Eastern Illinois in 2009 - on the roster, but at this point, any production they get from him ought to be considered a luxury. You simply can't depend on him to give you many quality snaps. After all, he had seven tackles and two sacks last year. He's had 43 tackles and seven sacks over the course of his whole NFL career.
Johnson is a good complimentary player, but having watched a lot of Ravens/Steelers football over the last few years, I think I speak for us all when I say that there are many Ravens defenders I worry about, but Jarrett Johnson was never one.
(I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but Jarrett ain't one!)
Shaun Phillips will be going into his 9th season and there is absolutely no one on the roster you can be comfortable with as a replacement. And USC's monster pass rusher Nick Perry is staring you in the face.
One of the knocks against Perry is that teams aren't sure he's quite athletic enough to handle the coverage responsibilities of a 3-4 OLB. However, the Chargers employ the Wade Phillips version of the 3-4, which unlike Dick LeBeau's 2-gap version, doesn't require its OLBs to spend much time dropping into coverage. Demarcus Ware, for example, probably drops into coverage a mere handful of snaps per season. So Perry could be free to do what he does best: make offensive tackles look foolish and QBs look scared.
Perry is a better athlete and plays with more quick-twitch explosiveness than Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. And over the course of his college carrer, he accumulated a similar stat line to Upshaw against big time college football programs as well. Perry's got serious production against major competition to go along with his obvious and considerable physical tools - this isn't Larry English from the Northern Illinois Huskies.
However, Smith would also have to seriously consider David DeCastro. One thing many members of Steeler Nation might not realize is what a mess the Chargers OL has been over the past few years. They recently cut former Pro Bowl LT Marcus McNeill due to injury concerns (and this happened after a prolonged holdout by McNeill two years ago for a long-term contract). Their Pro Bowl and former All-Pro RG Kris Dielman recently retired due to severe concussion concerns. If you saw the video of him staggering around between plays, then you've seen one of the scarier things in football - and that led to a seizure that he suffered on the team plane after the game. They recently re-signed center Nick Hardwick, and while he's a good player, he's certainly not a top-10 NFL center and comes with his own batch of injury concerns. Finally, ask any Chargers fan and see what they say about their RT situation. Hint: they all think it's been a huge weakness for years and years.
The Chargers did sign former Ravens and Chiefs LT Jared Gaither to a long-term deal. He's a good player - probably better than most fans give him credit for - but he's bounced around the league for a reason: teams aren't sure about his commitment to the game or on-field temperament.
Adding David DeCastro at this point seems really natural. He could slide into Dielman's LG spot and help solidify one side of the OL. DeCastro is a good pass blocker, but an outstanding (and mobile) run blocker who could help open up things for Ryan Mathews. Norv Turner has always preferred a run-oriented offense that allows his QB to throw deep from play-action, so getting Mathews going would also help Rivers. With the signing of speedster Robert Meachem at receiver, Turner obviously wants to keep chucking it deep.
DeCastro is tempting. Like Perry.
At the end of the day though, pass rushers are harder to find and have a bigger impact on games than interior offensive linemen, even really good ones. And as Smith's own evaluation will tell him, this is a deep draft for interior linemen. He can grab a left guard in the second or third rounds that can almost certainly start right away.
What he can't do is take a pass rusher in the second or third round and be confident that he'll have all the tools to develop into a terror off the edge. Despite the struggles of Rivers this past season, the Chargers offense was still very productive, ranking 6th in yards per game and 6th in points per game. The defense, as I mentioned above, is in the bottom third of the league.
You want to help Rivers, but sometimes - and as Ben Roethlisberger surely knows - sometimes the best way to help out a QB is by building a defense that takes some of the pressure off of him. If you keep the game closer, then Rivers probably won't take as many chances - both with the ball and with himself.
So after all the work is done, on April 28th AJ will call his representative inside Radio City Music Hall. Smith will announce the pick to him and make sure he's got it written down before he finally hangs up. And the Chargers representative will jot the name on a card and run it up to Commissioner Goodell.
It reads: With the 18th Selection of the 2012 NFL Draft the San Diego Chargers select:
Nick Perry - Defensive End - University of Southern California
BTSC 2012 Community Mock Draft Picks:
- Indianapolis Colts -- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
- Washington Redsinks -- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
- Minnesota Vikings -- Matt Kalil, OT, USC
- Cleveland Browns -- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
- St. Louis Rams -- Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
- Jacksonville Jaguars -- Quinton Coples, DE, UNC
- Miami Dolphins -- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
- Carolina Panthers -- Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
- Buffalo Bills -- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
- Kansas City Chiefs -- Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State
- Seattle Seahawks -- Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
- Arizona Cardinals -- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
- Dallas Cowboys -- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
- Philadelphia Eagles -- Mark Barron, S, Alabama
- New York Jets -- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
- Cincinnati Bengals -- Cordy Glenn, G/T, Georgia