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2011 Draft: An inside look with A.J. Smith

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Concudan, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. Concudan

    Concudan Caffeinated Commando

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    Posted Mar 25, 2011

    Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith answers questions about the upcoming draft, what he and the team are doing to prepare for their eight picks and his overall philosophy on draft-day decisions.
    Can you explain how you approach the draft internally from now until April 28? How do you determine the order on your draft board?


    This is the final stage right now of what we call our “numbers cleanup”. The pro days are the last chance for players to improve their measurables. They can improve on what they did at the Combine or a lot of times they’ll stand on what they did.

    We’re still making trips. I’ve got a few more trips to go. We’re putting all that to bed soon.

    Then our scouts come in for our traditional (scouting report) readings. We’re not quite there yet. We’re still gathering information, but we pretty much know what we think about the players. We are allowed to bring 30 players here during the readings and a little bit before; handpicked guys that we’re interested in.

    People try to read into that list. We may have a first rounder on that list; we may have a free agent on that list, and everybody in between. We may bring someone in just to talk to a little bit more. Every team gets (to bring in) 30, but a lot of people try to find out who the 30 are and speculate from there (who the team wants).

    Then the readings take place and that runs all the way through the last three days leading up to the draft. That’s when we put all of our pieces together. Who (do we think) is the top running back in the draft? Who do we have as the 55th? We line that up. And then we move on to the next position.

    Our final analysis before the draft is who we would like at our picks? A classic example is the first round at the 18th spot. Who would we like at any position to be our pick? And then we shrink that down to what you’ve heard, a “cluster” of players at any position, and then we wait and select from that cluster if we stay there. We could (trade) down and get picks. We could package picks and move up. And the cluster could change if you go up. There’s a higher value. If you go down, you’re going to have a lesser value of who you want, but you’ve got a target in place. If we choose to stay right where we are, we’re going to get one of these five or six gentlemen and we’re going to be very happy, and then you wait for the countdown until you pick.

    If the team retains its current draft picks, it will be able to select five of the first 89 players chosen overall. How do you feel about the overall talent available in this year’s draft and what positions might provide the most depth?

    I always say, and I really mean it when I say it, that all drafts are talented. There are always football players there that can help the San Diego Chargers. You just have to identify them and be in a position to select them.

    I don’t really get into calling a draft good or bad. But every now and then I will point out that the strong positions vary from year to year. This particular draft to me is very, very strong at defensive line. Defensive ends and defensive tackles. And I think there’s quality through the draft at offensive tackle. That seems to jump out at me right now. There are some other intriguing positions that are pretty good too, but I’ll give you those two. I think if you’re looking for help at offensive tackle and you’re looking for help on the defensive line, be it defensive tackle or defensive end, I think there’s some outstanding players there that are going to be really good pros.

    Do your player rankings move considerably based on the Combine and pro days, or do they stay consistent with your in-season rankings?

    There’s no question what you’re looking for is their speed, which is a big draw (at the Combine). How fast do they run? Some people don’t (get timed) until they get there. Some people don’t run there. We want to match their speed and quickness along with their athletic ability and the way we feel about their on-field production.

    Sometimes they don’t run well but we think they’re a better player than their speed. That’s a decision we have to make as a staff. But there are other times that it will factor in. Someone you really, really like might not have the measurables to match up in the National Football League. Sometimes you have to factor that in. But for the most part we know who the players are (already). We try to match all of the numbers up with that and make a determination later how we like them.

    Various media outlets sometimes report which pro days you do or do not attend. Can fans draw any conclusions by your presence on campus? What is your primary objective when you go to a pro day?

    People think there is significance to where you go, particularly if a general manager or a head football coach is in attendance at a pro day. I think a lot of focus comes on that. Why is the general manager or the head coach here today? They must be here to look at so-and-so, and there must be a high level of interest. Sometimes that might not be the case, and I’ll leave it at that.

    However there will be football players there that you’re interested in that are eligible for the draft. The speculation is, it must be so-and-so. But that might not be the case. To say that a trip is made when there’s no interest in any of the prospects is wrong. But maybe it is not the first-rounder. There could very well be a late-rounder and a bunch of free agents on that team that the team has made a priority.

    I used to call (pro day visits) Secret Missions, meaning (the media) doesn’t know. That used to work many, many years ago. But right now, the players always tell people in their tweets who they met and who is there. And sometimes the media is allowed (to watch) and they want to know who’s there. So (people) know exactly where you are before you even leave the building. (Keeping it quiet) doesn’t work anymore. I used to like to get in and get out. That’s years gone by now.

    On fans attempting to interpret any bit of information they discover

    Because the draft is fun. It is fascinating and intriguing. And it is a passion for so many people who care about the Chargers and the NFL.

    The media supplies that information to the fans and they truly enjoy the process. No question about that. They have their own drafts and their own guesses. They have their own wishes and desires of what they would want if they were the general manager or the decision-maker. ‘I would do this and this is who I would select.’ It’s fun, no doubt.

    Special teams and health were prevalent topics with regard to last year’s team. How will your evaluation of the 2010 season alter your emphasis on those things as you consider draft prospects, if at all?

    The process is pretty much the same. You try to build your team obviously for this year but also with an eye to the future, looking ahead a couple of years.

    You try to be balanced. You want offensive players, defensive players, star players. You’d like to have some solid backups that could grow, you want to have special teams contributors that wait for their turn to be productive. So we build our teams with complete balance.

    The idea that you take the best player available is a cliché that is always used, and you can’t go wrong with that unless you’ve got a great one at that position already. If you have a great quarterback and a solid backup, as an example, I don’t think you’re going to take another quarterback. You move around your team and ask, ‘Where can we get a better?’

    But you’re looking for balance and you’re looking to help what you may have identified as weaknesses. We need to get better at this position. Who can help us? Well you don’t want to force the issue. If there’s someone there that you don’t think is significantly better, I don’t think you should make the move. If there’s somebody there that you need as a starter or somebody there that you think is significantly better than someone else that you’ve had for a few years, that’s where you get better as a football team. You make the move.

    You may not know the status of your free agents prior to the draft. Does your level of preparation help mitigate that challenge?

    That’s a great question. It’s been asked of me and a lot of other executives in the League a lot because of what’s unfolding right now; that we don’t have an agreement. And I don’t know that we’ll have one (new collective bargaining agreement) before the draft. Maybe we have one in the next couple days, maybe we don’t.

    Under normal circumstances, you know who your players are (before the draft). You have tendered a player and you know he will be a Charger. You have made a request that you would like to have an individual back and you negotiated a contract. You find out that he’s with you or not with you or you go on the outside to unrestricted free agency and you add players. We would have a lot of answers prior to the draft.

    This is different. Unique. It’s going to be very, very different.

    I don’t like gray area and I don’t like to scratch my head and say, ‘Well what are we gonna do?’ You make it black and white. What we know is this: we have a draft. It’s going to come and we’re going to be able to select players. So we’re going to go out there and we’re going to get the best football players that we can to help the San Diego Chargers win.

    We’re going to work our way through it, pile up the best players we can and when this thing is resolved and there is an agreement, and there will be an agreement in due time, we will play football again in ’11.

    So those answers we’ll get after the fact. Right now we’re just going to zero in and get some very, very good football players that can help the Chargers win.

    What are your thoughts on the three-day draft instituted last year (as opposed to two days)?

    It is huge for the fans. I know all about the National Football League and promoting our game and promoting the draft. I think it’s wonderful for the fans.

    The draft could be one day. It could be three days as it is. They could add another day and make it four days. It doesn’t make any difference to us whatsoever. If it’s four days next year it’ll be four days for everybody in the League, and therefore it’s equal. We just have a plan and we execute our plan, be it one day, three days, four days. It’s not a factor at all for what we do.

    In the past you’ve made some significant draft-day trades. Do you enter a draft with a defined strategy to trade up or down, or do you sit back and wait until you see a move that offers good value?

    We prepare for the draft as if we are going to stay exactly where we are in all of our selections. That’s the first stage of preparation. There may be five or six players that we like at No. 18 in the first round.

    I’ll know some developments prior to the draft. Certainly during the three draft days, at any time, your phone can ring either with things that have been discussed prior to the draft or something brand new during the draft where you could trade up or you could trade down.

    There are special players that we think we would not have a chance to get unless we went on the attack to get that particular player. We’ve done that in the past. There may be other times where you’re prepared to sit there at your position. Calls could come in to offer you additional draft picks for your spot, which would give you more of an opportunity to get other players. If you’re comfortable that you could give up that spot and there will be a few more players later and you think it’s advantageous, you would execute that and give yourself more (picks). So we prepare for all three scenarios.

    The thing that I will not do is consider last-minute trade calls (when we’re on the clock). Ed McGuire handles all of our phone calls and sits right next to me on incoming calls. With minutes left, if you get a phone call and someone offers you a draft pick to come down and they tell you what they want, I’m not really interested. At that point we are locked in and will make our selection.

    I will admit this; there have been some very intriguing last-second scenarios. But too late is too late.

    Most of the guys in the League, we all know each other and know how we operate. I don’t get many calls now as the years have gone by, but every now and then somebody will try it and make the last-minute phone call. I’m going into my ninth year. There were many more in the beginning and I’ve kind of let people know, ‘Call someone else with something like that.’ But on occasion we will get a call and it’s dismissed. It’s too late.

    The reason it’s too late? I don’t like the thought process. I don’t like the fact that it could change (our thought process) at the last second. The League, who does a great job, very quickly has to jump in the middle of that and approve it or not. We like to get a player on the phone. We like to make contact. You can lose focus and rush your decisions when the clock is ticking down.

    Can you describe what it feels like from a personal standpoint to know that the decisions you make in this draft have the potential to significantly alter the course of the franchise during the next several years?

    It’s a great feeling to know that you, together with some very good people, are trying to make your football team a championship-level team and you’re moving in that direction.

    You have an opportunity to bring in players during the draft. Yes, you’re making important decisions. In all of those decisions that we make, we’re assuming that we are 100 percent correct in what we want to do to move forward, but I always take a pause. We know right now and each and every year that we are not going to be 100 percent. No one ever achieves 100 percent. But you certainly can try.

    However, if you are right with a high-percentage of your draft-day decisions, and all of the personnel decisions across the board, it will equate to success. It will equate to a winning football team. It will equate to a playoff football team. And that’s what you want to achieve. We’re always striving to get better, hoping that one of those years while we’re a winning football team, hopefully a playoff team, that it’s all going to come together by being good, by being lucky and by being injury-free to win a world championship that particular year.

    So our approach is: let’s get excited, let’s be positive, let’s move forward and do the very best we can this particular year. Let’s build our football team one year at a time hoping to hit it special one year.

    You’ve stated that it’s important not to judge a draft selection prematurely. I’m sure if you were given a choice you’d pick someone that contributes right away. Do you target players you believe will make an immediate impact?

    It’s all based on what you think is going to happen. You’re predicting the future based on your experience and the staff’s expertise. And you don’t know that until that young man crosses over to the NFL.

    We do know this: High-profile is usually first or second round. Certainly first round. When you select a second-round player, what you’re saying is that particular individual is going to make an impact at some point in time or really help you win and possibly could be a starter, either plugged in right away if you have no one there or in time would take a starting position.

    My approach is I hope during the course of their contract, they help the San Diego Chargers win, whenever it comes. That’s our goal.

    You don’t want to make a mistake on talent. That’s the one thing we try to avoid completely. If somebody is drafted, you want to know they have the talent to play in the National Football League. I don’t ever want us to look at a player and go, ‘We have all made a mistake. I have made a mistake. This particular player does not have the skill or abilities to play in the NFL.’ You want to avoid that at all costs.

    However, a lot of players (don’t work out) due to circumstance. (Perhaps) they are injured constantly. That is something you can’t control. It’s unfortunate for us, it’s unfortunate for them, but it is what it is and you deal with it. A guy that is not on the field because he’s constantly in the training room can’t help us. Those are disheartening, but you deal with it and you move on. That’s why you have backups that can jump up and continue on.

    If someone comes in here and he was very, very good, his character was clean and his work ethic was clean in high school and college, that’s why we selected him to be a Charger. If for some reason that player decides to go down wrong roads, loses his focus on football or has a nice big paycheck that he’s enjoyed as a drafted player and is not concentrating on being the best he can be as a Charger, he’s not going to be here very long. That will be extremely disappointing because we had no indication that would happen. We’ve had a few of those over the years.

    But we’ll bite the bullet. Hopefully the player does the right things. If not we’re going to find you another home. That’s a strong belief that I have. I don’t believe in keeping them just so you can say that you’ve kept your draft picks here. I don’t believe in it. You give opportunities and we make some hard decisions and move on.
     
  2. Blue Bolt

    Blue Bolt Persona Non Grata

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    AJ has mastered the art of saying a lot without saying anything at all.
     

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