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Smith, Chargers good at drafting top offensive talent

Posted Mar 9, 2012

San Diego has used just 39.3 percent of its picks in the first three rounds on offensive players under General Manager A.J. Smith (since 2003). The Chargers have been efficient drafting those players as a league-best 45 percent of them have become Pro Bowlers.

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 Philip Rivers, finding Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates as a college free agent in 2003 and Head Coach Norv Turner’s long, successful track record for scoring points.

Smith’s incredible 2004 draft (Eli Manning, Nate Kaeding, Nick Hardwick, Shaun Phillips, Michael Turner) often gets credited for San Diego’s five AFC West championships in the next six seasons.

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.

Considering Vincent Brown was a rookie receiver, who spent the first part of the season working through an injury, an improbable set of criteria for making the Pro Bowl, Smith’s effective rate picking Pro Bowl offensive players in the first three rounds is near 50 percent. The 11 picks (just three in the first round) have produced a combined 10 Pro Bowl selections.

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

Other notables

Dallas, 7
New York Giants, 6
Philadelphia, 6
Pittsburgh, 6
Houston, 5
New England, 5
Baltimore, 4
Green Bay, 4
New Orleans, 4
Detroit, 3
Indianapolis, 3

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

Other notables

New Orleans, 33.3 percent
Pittsburgh, 30.8
New York Giants, 27.3
Philadelphia, 25
Baltimore, 18.8
Indianapolis, 18.2
Green Bay, 14.3
Detroit, 14.3
New England, 14.3
Houston, 8.3
Dallas, 7.7

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.

Vincent Jackson (second round, 2005) – Collected three 1,000-yard seasons as a receiver in the last four years and made two Pro Bowls as an alternate. Averages 17.5 yards per catch for his career.

Marcus McNeill (third round, 2006) – Has started 82 games at left tackle and made two Pro Bowls.

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 (Ryan Mathews).

Buster Davis (first round, 2007) – Physically talented, Davis couldn’t stay on the field. He caught 51 passes for 558 yards in four seasons.

Jacob Hester (third round, 2008) – Has played in 62 of 64 regular-season games at fullback, starting 23. Also one of San Diego’s best special teams players.

Louis Vasquez (third round, 2009) – Has started 38 games at right guard in three 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 Tyronne Green. Another fourth-round pick, tight end Scott Chandler, started nine games last season for Buffalo after a slow start to his career.

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