Thursday night is the first round of the NFL draft, one of the biggest non-game events of the sports calendar each year.

There are always surprise picks and trades that shake up the proceedings so I’ve decided against doing a mock draft. But I will share some of the players I like – and ones I don’t like.

Also, beware Chargers’ fans of the general manager with too much ammunition. A.J. Smith has made some terrific picks during his tenure but he’s also prone to overspending for players he covets – see safety Eric Weddle in 2007 and running back Jacob Hester in 2008.

Smith has five picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft to play around with so it won’t be a surprise to see some movement on the Chargers’ front, particularly with San Diego’s dire needs at running back and nose tackle and the Chargers currently possessing the 28th and 40th overall picks.

Of course, overspending for a decent player like Weddle is better than standing pat and wasting your first-round pick on receiver Craig Davis, the 2007 pick who likes to be called “Buster” and has been a complete bust.

Now it’s time for a quick position-by-position look at the top prospects.


TOP OF THE LITTER: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (ready-made starter should go first overall to the St. Louis Rams)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame (I like him less than Brady Quinn, the last over-hyped Fighting Irish quarterback who hasn’t done much in the NFL)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Tim Tebow, Florida (somebody will take him per the possibility of installing the Wildcat formation but he’s not going to be a bona fide starter in the NFL)

OTHERS: Colt McCoy, Texas (arm strength questionable but can point to the fact that Tom Brady was only a sixth-round pick and turned out to be one of the top quarterbacks ever)


TOP OF THE LITTER: C.J. Spiller, Clemson (the real deal and should make immediate contributions); Ryan Mathews, Fresno State (the Chargers are hoping – er, praying – that he’s still on the board at No. 28)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (more a product of the run-based system in college with a high possibility of being a flop)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Jahvid Best, Cal (lacks the size to be a franchise back and is frequently injured); Joe McKnight, USC (more hype than production)

OTHERS: Toby Gerhart, Stanford (tough, durable and versatile); Dexter McCluster, Mississippi (think along lines of Darren Sporles and Leon Washington); Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State (has the look of a future starter); Montario Hardesty, Tennessee (late bloomer); LeGarrette Blount, Oregon (packs a powerful punch – not just with his fists)


TOP OF THE LITTER: Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma (highly athletic tight end could be the next Shannon Sharpe)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Arrelious Benn, Illinois (seemingly hyped forever but not looking to be legitimate No. 1 receiver type to me)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State (not worth the hassles despite great ability); Mike Williams, Syracuse (character issues a major concern)

OTHERS: Golden Tate, Notre Dame (should be capable slot receiver with knack for the end zone); Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech (consistency issues but that 25.1 average per catch stands out); Brandon LaFell, LSU (looks the type but hasn’t stood out); Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati (just have the feeling he’ll be a good pro); Jordan Shipley, Texas (not highly rated after 116-catch season — could he be Wes Welker II?)


TOP OF THE LITTER: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa (has the look of a franchise left tackle); Trent Williams, Oklahoma (another tackle who should make early impact); Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (ready to step right in and start); Mike Iupati, Idaho (the rare guard worthy of a first-round pick)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Tony Washington, Abilene Christian (tackle faced lack of quality competition plus off-the-field issues)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Anthony Davis, Rutgers (talented tackle but something about not liking to lift weights scares me)

OTHERS: Vladimir Ducasse (tackle with ideal size and great strength); Maurkice Pouncey, Florida (center with nice all-around skills); Bruce Campbell, Maryland (tackle bench presses 500 pounds)


TOP OF THE LITTER: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (dominating tackle looks like perennial Pro Bowler); Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma (tackle should be a star for the next decade)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Cam Thomas, North Carolina (tackle appears overrated by lackluster stats)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida (vagabond end has the look of future bust)

OTHERS: Jared Odrick, Penn State (hard-working tackle a sure first-round pick); Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech (end plays both run and pass well); Terrence Cody, Alabama (tackle would look good in a Chargers uniform); Dan Williams, Tennessee (tackle excels against the run); Brandon Graham, Michigan (end could become double-digit sack artist); Carlos Dunlap, Florida (end’s inconsistency a problem)


TOP OF THE LITTER: Rolando McClain, Alabama (immediately ready to start on the inside); Brandon Spikes, Florida (inside player highly capable against the run); Sergio Kindle, Texas (should be big-time pass rusher on the outside)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Donald Butler, Washington (his high ranking shows weakness of this year’s outside linebacker class)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Phillip Dillard, Nebraska (Cornhuskers’ defensive line made this inside ‘backer look better than he is)

OTHERS: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri (speedy outside ‘backer is a big-time athlete); Sean Lee, Penn State (solid all-around player can play inside or outside); Daryl Washington, Texas Christian (boom or bust with only one year of college starting experience)


TOP OF THE LITTER: Eric Berry, Tennessee (should be Pro Bowl-caliber free safety for next decade); Joe Haden, Florida (terrific cover corner who is battle-tested)

HE DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH: Patrick Robinson, Florida State (one interception over last two seasons makes him a questionable high cornerback pick)

NO, NO, NO – DON’T DO IT: Taylor Mays, USC (he’s definitely not the next Troy Polamalu despite being a four-year starting safety)

OTHERS: Earl Thomas, Texas (could start right away at free safety); Kyle Wilson, Boise State (three-year starting corner plays taller than his 5-foot-10 size), Devin McCourty, Rutgers (shouldn’t take long for corner to contribute); Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State (athletic corner has top-notch return skills) 


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