Bront Bird joined San Diego as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has made it this far because of…
Draft Review: Gone but not Forgotten
Round One: Corey Liuget (2011)
It would be Philip Rivers, only Smith didn't draft Rivers ... he drafted Eli Manning and traded him for Rivers and a package of picks. Instead we go with Liuget, who after only two seasons is showing signs of becoming dominant. He started all 16 games last season, recording seven sacks and knocking down nine passes at the line.
Round Two: Eric Weddle (2007)
This is a close call between Weddle and Vincent Jackson. But because of Jackson's off-field distractions and frequent disappearing acts, the nod goes to San Diego's center-fielder. Weddle has averaged 98 tackles over the last five seasons. He has intercepted 10 passes since 2011 and has three career pick-sixes. He is the leader of San Diego's secondary, a role more important now than ever.
Round Three: Nick Hardwick (2004)
A year from now this spot may belong to Donald Butler, a disruptive force who is improving rapidly. But for now it is impossible to dismiss Hardwick, who has started 119 games at the hub position. He does a great job of diagnosing defenses and calling out blocking assignments. Plus, he shares a rare connection with Rivers.
Round Four: Shaun Phillips (2004)
This is the most difficult of all the picks, as fellow fourth-round pick Darren Sproles is such an exciting player who had some big games for the Chargers, including carrying the Bolts to a playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts following the 2008 season. But pass rushers are more important than change-of-pace backs, which is why Phillips takes his spot. Phillips sometimes comes off as brash and classless (especially if you follow him on twitter), but 69.5 sacks and 20 forced fumbles are too much to ignore.
Round Five: Mike Scifres (2003)
This is the round most devoid of impact players. Cam Thomas will be a first-time starter in 2013 and has a chance to develop into something; Michael Turner had some big games as LaDainian Tomlinson's wing man; and Legedu Naanee was a nice rotational piece for a few years. But Scifres, because of his full body of work, is the clear choice. A skilled directional punter, Scifres excels at pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line. The only thing missing from his resume is a Pro Bowl, a wrong he would like to right in 2013.
Round Six: Jeromey Clary (2006)
Clary is perhaps the most criticized player on San Diego's roster, but when a sixth-round pick starts 78 games for you, that has to be considered a successful selection. The fact that Clary is in line to start again in 2013, this time at right guard, speaks to the fact that he is better than he is given credit for. A honorable mention goes to Hanik "Birdman" Milligan, a dominant special teams player who represented the Chargers in the Pro Bowl.
Round Seven: Scott Mruczkowski (2005)
Smith found some success in the draft's final round, uncovering solid contributors like Andrew Pinnock, Ryon Bingham, Brandon Siler and Andrew Gachkar. There's also Shane Olivea, who started 57 games at right tackle before injuries and addictions submarined his career. But the choice is Mruczkowski because he is everything you want in a late-round pick: hard working, versatile and selfless. He spent seven seasons in lightning bolts and played in more than 80 games. In the 16 games he started, the Chargers went 11-5.
Who were A.J. Smith's best draft picks? Talk about it inside the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
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