Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Spotlight's On A.J. Again....Ello, Apr. 24th

So A.J. Smith has turned into the Kathy Ireland of swimsuit modeling. Once beautiful, but now not quite as easy on the eyes.

For several years, the centerfold spread in the NFL Draft's Monthly. But now no longer a candidate for the cover story.

Washed up and worn out. You can try a little botox here, a nip-and-tuck there...but there's simply no way to cover up the bumps and bruises. Not enough cosmetics to make choices like Buster Davis, Eric Weddle, Antonio Cromartie, Paul Oliver, Anthony Waters and Jacob Hester disappear.

This weekend, the lights will shine brightly on Smith again as the NFL convenes for its annual rite of passage in New York's Radio City Music Hall. It's a place where the Chargers General Manager used to bring down the house year after year. The curtain calls were endless and the stage was showered with bouquets at the great man's feet -- and feats.

This time around, however, he'll be lucky to still have a spot dancing in the chorus line.

Chargers fans disappointed by the lack of impact players selected by Smith over the past couple of seasons have every right to be concerned about what the Chargers will come up with this weekend.

However, to be honest, your spotlight is directed in the wrong place. Rather than focusing on Smith, it's the players themselves that should be more carefully scrutinized.

There's an old saying in the NFL that the quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses. Not only is this a popular saying, but it happens to be the truth.

Here's another truth: General Managers get far too much credit for good draft, and far too much blame for bad ones.

Sure Bill Belichek and Scott Pioli in New England have starred in recent years, but there's no way either of them can honestly take credit for the discovery of Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft -- after 199 players had been taken ahead of him. If either Belichek or Pioli really knew how great Brady was going to be then why did they themselves pass on him at least five times?

On the other hand, you can blame the 49ers all you want for wasting the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 on quarterback Alex Smith...but the problem with that logic is that everybody has Smith pegged as the No. 1 QB on the board that year. In essence, the 49ers practically had to take Smith.

The bottom line is -- at least in my way of thinking -- is that the failures of A.J. Smith's recent picks lies more with the picks themselves than it does with the man who picked them.

Players like Davis, Weddle, Cromartie -- and the others -- are all remarkably gifted athletes who simply have not performed to the level of their capabilities. It's not like the Chargers were the only teams in the NFL who thought these would all be great players.

Brady, of course, is the most magical example of the following axoim -- but there are dozens of others. And the axoim is that no matter where a player is picked on draft day, it is what he does after he's drafted that matters most.

You could say that it's up to Smith -- and all of the other General Managers -- to know what these youngsters are going to do once they're brought into the fold. But if that were the case, there wouldn't be a single Hall of Famer in Canton, Ohio, who was drafted after the first or second round.

And we know that this simply is not the case.

Smith, of course, could work himself back into the local fans' good graces if things work out this weekend -- but obviously none of us will really know whether or not he has been successful until a couple of seasons go by.

One thing I do know, however. Smith will work as hard as anybody to make sure everything turns out right.

The question is whether or not the players he selects will work as hard as he does.

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