The Chargers once held a research project.

It was 1990, and they owned the No. 5 overall draft pick. Their general manager, eyeing an impact defender, held two linebackers in high regard, Keith McCants from Alabama and Junior Seau from Southern California. A comparative medical evaluation might differentiate them.

"Bobby Beathard said to us, 'Which one has the better longevity?' " said Paul Murphy, a former head team physician.

The verdict: Seau. Definitely Seau.

In the months advance to the NFL Draft, teams partake in a complex scouting process that weighs a number of variables, some more visible to the public than others. Behind closed doors, each team's medical staff evaluates college prospects, forming opinions that can influence, sometimes heavily, a player's overall assessment.

Hollywood misrepresents an NFL war room.

It's shown as loud, crowded and disorganized. People talk over each other. General manager Kevin Costner slams his hand on a table, shouting, "Will everyone please shut up? Can I have a moment of (expletive) silence while I do my job here."

At Chargers Park, it's calm and quiet. A small group is handpicked to be present. One is James Collins.

There for emergencies, the head athletic trainer can answer any medical-related questions that may materialize over the course of seven rounds and about 20 undrafted rookie signings. The preparation he and his staff do, however, largely is completed weeks earlier, prior to player rankings being finalized.

Collins, an integral part of the draft process, is arguably as important this year as ever. He is a veteran, arriving as an intern in 1986 and becoming assistant athletic trainer in 1987. After pursuing opportunities elsewhere, he's been in San Diego since 1999.

Christopher Wahl, head team physician, was hired last year. February was his first NFL Scouting Combine. This is his first NFL Draft.