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Scouting department busy as underclassmen declare

Posted Jan 19, 2012

San Diego has less than four months to scout a large group of college redshirt sophomores and juniors that will enter the 2012 NFL draft.

SAN DIEGO – The largest pool of draft-eligible underclassmen in NFL history is officially a part of 2012 draft preparation.

Now locked in, eligible redshirt sophomores and juniors had until Sunday to declare, though they could withdraw their paperwork by Wednesday and return to school.

The Chargers received a memo from the NFL office containing the official list of 65 declared players Thursday, setting off a maelstrom that will continue until April 26, the first round of the draft.

By the end of last summer, San Diego’s scouts targeted seniors they planned to track during the 2011 college football season, but do not inquire about underclassmen during school visits.

“There are always rumors and maybes that a junior player may declare for the draft, and a lot of times you think a guy might come out in the draft and he doesn’t,” director of player personnel Jimmy Raye said.

“So our approach to it is we want to spend our time on the senior players and make sure we have all our information gathered on them before we even start thinking about the juniors. We’ll wait until they declare.”

The strategy also is in deference to the schools.

“We don’t want to look at players that aren’t eligible because we’re not trying to make the colleges a farm system for us,” Raye said. “If the player decides he wants to come out and he’s ready for the NFL draft, that’s his decision. We’re not trying to help a player make that decision by any means.”

Underclassmen always play an important role in the draft, often representing some of the top picks in the first and second rounds.

In the last two drafts, the Chargers selected Ryan Mathews (2010) and Corey Liuget (2011) as first-round picks, both early entry players. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s current “Big Board” lists nine underclassmen in his top 10 and 17 in his top 25. So does NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks.

San Diego scouts seniors for nine months, from August to April. The team spends less than half that time on underclassmen. The truncated period to scout players like Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon and USC’s Matt Kalil, all of whom are underclassmen projected as high first-round picks by draft analysts, isn’t as challenging as you may expect.

“You get wind of it and you start to begin full swing in January so you still have almost four months to fully evaluate those guys. You have platforms like the Combine where you get to see them physically, see them in person, see their body types, see them work and do drills, and of course you have all the tape work you need on all of them,” director of college scouting John Spanos said. “You can watch as much tape as you want.

“It’s a little different (than evaluating seniors), but at the end of the day it still comes down to the same sorts of things. It’s not as hard as it would seem because from the point they declare you have so much exposure to them.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge is going without “verifieds” for the underclassmen, things like height, weight and speed.

“It’s an overlooked thing, but they factor into how you categorize players against each other and usually when the juniors come out you don’t have any of that information, so you’re basically going off all tape work,” Raye said.

“Some guys are easy. The just jump out at you on the tape and you know they’re a good player. But when you start getting into mid-level juniors, it’s hard to separate those guys until you get more of that information, which usually doesn’t come until the Combine or after.”

HUNTER PROMOTED: Hal Hunter added offensive coordinator to his title, but will remain the team’s offensive line coach in 2012.

Asked during a radio interview with XTRA Sports 1360 AM on Tuesday what he can bring to the Chargers’ offense, one of the NFL’s best in recent seasons, Hunter deferred to Head Coach Norv Turner.

“I’m not sure how much we’re going to change in terms of what we do schematically. We’re still going to follow Norv’s lead because Norv’s still the guy that sets the tempo for the offense,” Hunter said. “Within what he dictates and what we decide to do as a staff, we’ll try to be much more productive on game day and more efficient in our execution of the offense.”

Hunter also told the station free agent center Nick Hardwick’s level of play during the 2011 season reminded him of Hardwick’s Pro Bowl year in 2006.

“He’s playing really good football right now,” Hunter said. “He had a couple years where he had to fight through some injuries and get back to where he’s playing, but he actually played pretty good this year.”

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