The National Football League draft is still more than six weeks off, but the Chargers already have a pretty good line on how much it will be worth to them.
"This draft should put us in the playoffs," team owner Alex Spanos said.
"It will upgrade us as much or more than last year's draft," said Ron Nay, who oversees scouting operations and has a major say in who is selected. "This draft is definitely going to help us win more games."
Why so much optimism when no names will be picked until the early morning hours of April 29?
- The Chargers will pick twice in the first round and own 3 of the first 44 picks, which gives them one of their stronger drafting positions. They had 4 of the top 33 in 1975, the best draft in the team's history.
- The '86 draft is strong in areas where the Chargers need help, including offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers. There are also some outstanding running backs and quarterbacks, positions where the team has no pressing needs.
"We're not changing our basic philosophy one bit--our first priority is to take the best available football player," Nay said.
"We never would pass up a player we had rated a 9, which we project as a Pro Bowl player early in his career, to take an 8, who is a player we rate as an immediate starter."
With the 13th and 14th picks in the first round, the Chargers clearly will not come away with glamour names, such as Bo Jackson or Chuck Long. But they expect to get a couple of guys who could immediately break into the lineup, as did last year's No. 1 pick Jim Lachey, an instant hit at offensive tackle.
Another blocker like Lachey and a blue-chip linebacker would address obvious needs, but that doesn't mean the Chargers would overlook their long-term need for a replacement for quarterback Dan Fouts. They would even take another running back or wide receiver--areas in which they're well-stocked--if an available player was clearly the best man on their draft board.
Nay has met with Charger coaches to gather views on the team's needs at each position. He spent extra time with new defensive coordinator Ron Lynn, reviewing the blitz-oriented system that will be employed.
"It helps our scouting department to look for players who will fit in the new system," Nay said. "For instance, we would be more interested in a linebacker who blitzes well but might not be as strong in pass defense. And we would want a defensive back with experience in man-to-man coverages."
Nay and his team of four scouts are compiling and cross-checking reports on top college seniors who played in postseason all-star games.
That information augments files on 600 seniors, about 270 of whom will wind up on the Chargers' board of desirable names.
As a footnote, literally, to the draft, the Chargers own the last pick this year, believed to be a first in team history. They wound up with the Chicago Bears' 12th-round selection--the draft's last--as a result of last year's trade that sent punter Maury Buford to Chicago.
Even the draft is impacted by the specter of drugs.
About 300 college seniors, who recently were in New Orleans to be evaluated by pro scouts, were tested for drugs. The results were unsettling--about 16%, or 50 players, were found to have involvement with one or more drugs.
Charger scouts had some knowledge or suspicion of drug use by many of those players, and only a couple of new names surfaced.
"It makes you wonder how stupid some of these guys are, since they knew they would be tested," said a member of the San Diego front office. "Either that, or they're just so hooked, they can't get off the stuff."
Pro football clearly is inheriting some of its drug problems from the colleges.
Compulsory random testing is needed in the NFL, according to Spanos, a stance he adopted more than a year ago.
He applauded the recent penalties imposed by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth on a group of drug offenders. He also praised pro basketball's hard-line approach to dealing with repeat offenders.
Charger Notes Marc Howard, 28, has been named the Chargers' new head trainer. He replaces Ric McDonald, who will assume administrative duties. Howard, a San Diego State graduate, has been with the Chargers since 1976, when he joined the team as a training staff assistant. He has been running day-to-day operations for several months, and said he plans no significant changes. . . . Marv Braden has become the second of a group of Charger coaches who were fired at the end of the 1985 season to be hired elsewhere. Braden, who was special teams coach, has landed a similar position with the St. Louis Cardinals. Dave Adolph recently was named defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns after being dismissed by the Chargers. Still looking for employment are former defensive backfield coach Jim Wagstaff and linebacker coach Chuck Weber.