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The draft is usually the time when Chargers GM A.J. Smith shows off his expertise, restocking his already-loaded roster with quality depth all around.
This year, however, could be a bit different. Given the current state of the franchise, we hear Smith is feeling added pressure to come through with a crop of players who will be able to contribute right away.
One of the reasons for that is the lack of production the Bolts have received from their top draft picks since hitting on both OLB Shawne Merriman and DE Luis Castillo in 2005. Their first-round pick in '09, OLB Larry English, was a relative non-factor as a rookie, registering infrequent playing time and finishing with just two sacks. And while their '08 first-rounder, CB Antoine Cason, will be elevated to a starting role this season, he hasn't been a major player to this point, even losing his nickel corner job during the past campaign.
Smith's worst Round One selection came in '07, when he took WR Buster Davis, who has a whopping 30 catches and one touchdown in three seasons. And there's no doubting that '06 first-rounder CB Antonio Cromartie was a key part of San Diego's "D" during his stay there, but his attitude eventually made him more harm than good; the Bolts traded him for a third-round choice this offseason.
In addition to his spotty track record of late, Smith realizes that his club has more holes than it has had in many years. The release of RB LaDainian Tomlinson has created a massive void in the backfield, and cutting NT Jamal Williams leaves the defense without a space eater in the middle. The Chargers also lost free-agent role players like Kassim Osgood and Brandon Manumaleuna.
Knowing his team is getting older and the window for them to compete for a championship might be closing rapidly, Smith feels heat to come through with multiple starters during draft weekend, especially since he owns two of the first 40 selections. He laid very low in free agency, so the draft represents his best opportunity to solidify the Chargers' spot atop the AFC West.
For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.