SAN DIEGO – Many observers fixate on three major factors that make San Diego’s offense one of the best in the NFL.
A.J. Smith’s 2004 draft-day trade that secured Pro Bowl quarterback
But Smith’s proficiency with high-round offensive players is both a driving force behind the Chargers’ division-leading 84 wins since ’04 as well as the offense that’s scored between 412 and 492 points every season since.
San Diego has selected an average of 1.4 offensive players in the first three rounds of the draft since Smith became general manager in 2003. The Chargers take one or two offensive players early every year, and with a high success rate.
The Bolts have managed to maintain an elite offense despite San Diego using just 39.3 percent of its picks on offensive players in the first three rounds because the team has been efficient with its selections.
Smith has taken 11 offensive players in the first three rounds of the draft since 2003. Five have made at least one Pro Bowl, the best percentage (45) in the NFL during that span.
Seven of the 11 picks have started at least 10 games in one season.
The Chargers have been more successful than the other three AFC West teams at picking offensive players in the first three rounds, according to those measurements.
Denver drafted 17 offensive players in the first three rounds from 2003-11, including six first-round picks. Just two attained Pro Bowl status (three selections), or 11.8 percent. Twelve of the 17 picks have started at least 10 games in one season.
Kansas City drafted 12 such players. Three became Pro Bowl selections (four appearances), or 33.3 percent. Seven of the 12 picks have started at least 10 games in one season.
Oakland drafted 15 players on offense in that time. One became a Pro Bowler (one appearance), or 6.7 percent. Ten of the 15 picks have started at least 10 games in one season.
Pro Bowl appearances, AFC West offensive draft picks, first three rounds (2003-11)
1. San Diego, 10
2. Kansas City, 4
3. Denver, 3
4. Oakland, 1
New York Giants, 6
New England, 5
Green Bay, 4
New Orleans, 4
Pro Bowl selections by percentage, AFC West offensive draft picks, first three rounds (2003-11)
1. San Diego, 45 percent
2. Kansas City, 33.3
3. Denver, 11.8
4. Oakland, 6.7
New Orleans, 33.3 percent
New York Giants, 27.3
Green Bay, 14.3
New England, 14.3
Here’s a look at all 11 of the offensive players Smith has drafted in the first three rounds.
Courtney Van Buren (third round, 2003) – Started seven games as a rookie and entered 2004 as the starting right tackle. Knee injuries ended his career early, and he played just one more NFL game.
Eli Manning (No. 1 overall, 2004) – Traded to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and multiple draft picks. Rivers has made four Pro Bowls and is 66-37 as a starting quarterback.
Nick Hardwick (third round, 2004) – The center made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and has started 111 games for the Chargers in eight seasons.
Charlie Whitehurst (third round, 2006) – San Diego’s third quarterback for four years, the Chargers flipped him to Seattle to move up 20 slots in the second round of the 2010 draft and acquire a 2011 third-round pick. San Diego later traded the second-round pick as part of a package to acquire the 2011 No. 12 overall pick (
Buster Davis (first round, 2007) – Physically talented, Davis couldn’t stay on the field. He caught 51 passes for 558 yards in four seasons.
Ryan Mathews (first round, 2010) – Topped 1,500 all-purpose yards in his second season, making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Also made 72 catches and scored 13 touchdowns in two seasons.
Vincent Brown (third round, 2011) – A hamstring injury triggered a slow beginning, but Brown started four games and caught 19 passes for 329 yards (17.3 yards per catch) as a rookie.
Smith also has used four of nine fourth-round picks on offensive players since 2003, getting significant contributions from Darren Sproles and