Stumbling Bolts have 5 of 1st 89 picks in draft

General manager A.J. Smith has some work to do in the NFL draft

after his San Diego Chargers shockingly flamed out and missed the

playoffs for the first time in five years.

The pressure is on for Smith to hit a home run, or at the very

least, a booming triple. He’ll have five chances in the first 89

picks alone to find an impact player or two.

Overall, the Chargers have eight picks, starting with No. 18 in

the first round.

The general consensus from outsiders is that the Chargers need

to take a defensive end or outside linebacker. Smith won’t say

which positions are atop his list, only that this draft will be

wide open. Because of the labor unrest, the Chargers don’t know

which free agents will be returning.

”If we can have a fantastic draft because we’ve got those five

picks in the first three rounds, it’s almost like we’re teed up,”

Smith said. ”Hopefully the guys are the right guys, can stay

healthy and contribute rather quickly. That’s what we’re mostly

talking about.”

After winning four straight AFC West titles, the Chargers

finished 9-7 last year and missed the playoffs. They sputtered from

the start due to mind-boggling special teams blunders and

turnovers. Not even Philip Rivers’ fine season was enough to save

the Chargers, who were swept by the Oakland Raiders and eliminated

from playoff contention by an unfathomable loss at Cincinnati on

the second-to-last Sunday.

After reaching the AFC championship game following the 2007

season, Norv Turner’s first as head coach, the Bolts have

regressed. They’ve won only one playoff game in three seasons.

”We need to get to the playoffs all the time,” Smith said.

”We need to win the division as many times as possible. If we

don’t win the division, we better have our numbers high enough so

we can be a wild card, and then you have an opportunity. We have

not been able to do much with our opportunities and it’s very

frustrating. Last year was completely frustrating. Not only to not

go to the tournament, we’re not even first in our division.

”We have a lot of work to do,” the GM said. ”Hopefully we’ll

have an impactful year with a lot of healthy players, and new

players. Going back to the situation with five picks, we’ll tee it

up and get back at this thing and hopefully bounce back and get

into the playoffs.”

Smith’s past three drafts have provided only four starters:

cornerback Antoine Cason, outside linebacker Larry English, guard

Louis Vasquez and running back Ryan Mathews.

Most observers feel the Chargers need a pass rusher because

English hasn’t lived up to his billing as the team’s first-round

pick in 2009.

”We’ve had some guys struggle with some injuries,” Smith said.

”Hopefully they’ll get healthy and contribute. If you’re not

healthy, it’s going to make it hard to help yourself with the team.

Larry has had some injuries and some surgeries and some

struggles.”

Possible picks include Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, or

Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt or Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, if they’re still

available.

”I’d like to hit a home run with every draft,” said Smith, who

did come up huge in 2004 and ’05. ”In reality, you don’t hit a

home run in every draft. But I’m excited about the five

picks.”

The Chargers had the NFL’s No. 1 defense last year, holding

teams to 271.6 yards per game, but that’s a largely empty stat,

especially with all the short fields they gave opponents. The

Pittsburgh Steelers allowed 5 more yards per game, but allowed 90

fewer points than the Chargers and made it to the Super Bowl.

Like Smith, Turner thinks the Chargers can get better through

this draft thanks to the five picks in the first three rounds.

”I think if you’re talking about if you only had the one or a

one and a two, then we’ve got to get this position or this need,”

Turner said. ”But having the extra picks gives you flexibility.

It’s pretty wide open. You can take a guy you like and then fill a

need in the second round.”

Turner said an impact player doesn’t necessarily have to be on

defense.

”There are lot of good football players, then there are the

guys that jump out and make game-changing type plays,” Turner

said. ”Most people associate that with defense. You want to have

as many players like that on your team as you can. If you can add

those type of guys, you’ll get a lot better. That’s really the

approach we’re taking. You could take a guy that rushes the passer

and puts pressure on the quarterback, or maybe a linebacker who’s a

great cover guy, or maybe a receiver, a deep guy.”

With no collective bargaining agreement, the uncertainty extends

all the way to wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The Chargers placed

the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, who missed the first 10

games last season in a nasty contract dispute. But no one knows if

a new CBA will contain franchise tags.

In addition to the first-round pick, the Chargers have two picks

in the second (Nos. 50 and 61) and third (Nos. 82 and 89) rounds.

They acquired the additional second-round pick from the New York

Jets for Antonio Cromartie and the additional third-round choice

from the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for quarterback Charlie

Whitehurst.

The Chargers have two sixth-round picks and one in the seventh,

including two compensatory selections that cannot be traded. The

Chargers do not have picks in the fourth or fifth rounds as a

result of draft day trades in 2010. They traded their 2011

seventh-round pick to Dallas for wide receiver Patrick Crayton in

September.