NFL mock drafts are fun and all for the fans to read about but rarely do they incorporate a specific team General Manager’s drafting history. Experts simply look at a team’s need and plug in a player that is available at that draft slot. That could be why these “experts” do a poor job on picking who goes where in the NFL Draft.
Tom Telesco has been the Chargers GM for 4 years now. That means he has 4 NFL Drafts under his belt. That is an adequate sample size to understand his tendencies to make a determination where he will go in this year’s draft. So let’s take a look at where the Chargers GM has gone in the past to help us guess who Los Angeles will select in late April.
2013 Draft: Round 1, Pick 11- DJ Fluker, OT
The recently released Fluker was Tom Telesco’s first ever pick. While this pick technically made sense, it was a huge reach no matter how you look at it. Telesco came into the 2013 NFL Draft with the notion they must protect Philip Rivers. Rivers was sacked 49 times in 2012. So the Chargers GM wanted to improve the pass protection and San Diego’s 6th worse rushing attack (91.3 rushing yards per game). The Chargers offensive line cupboard was extremely bare (Gaither, Troutman, and Green). The Fluker selection was supposed to be able to kill 2 birds with one stone.
The former Alabama tackle was not the best player available on the board when the Chargers were on the clock. There were better players available when the Chargers were making their pick ( Star Lotulelei, Xavier Rhodes, and Desmond Trufant) but all were on the defensive side. Telesco was encouraged with the young defense he was inheriting and felt like players like Reyes, Liuget, Cason, and Butler would continue their ascension. This is a clear cut scenario where Telesco felt like it was important to draft for need, rather than best player available. And by now, we all know the results. To his defense, the 2013 NFL Draft was a pretty horrid draft.
2014 Draft: Round 1, Pick 25- Jason Verrett, CB
The Chargers offense improved dramatically in 2013, in particular, their running game. However, their pass defense took a major step back. The Chargers let up 258.7 passing yards-per-contest which was fourth worst in the NFL. Not only were the Chargers letting up chunks of passing yards per game, they were unable to create turnovers; as they finished with only 11 interceptions for the year (tied for 24th worse in the NFL).
Their pass rush wasn’t doing the secondary any favors either. The Chargers only mustered up 30 sacks which ranked them 28th in the league. So there was one of two ways Telesco could have gone with this selection, draft a pass rusher to help take the pressure off the secondary, or get some more playmakers in the secondary to help create turnovers. With no pass rushers deemed worthy of the Chargers’ 25th overall pick, Telesco chose the latter and selected Jason Verrett. This is a scenario where the best player available was also a huge need, but do not get mistaken, Telesco drafted for need the second year in a row.
2015 NFL Draft: Round 1, Pick 15- Melvin Gordon, RB
The pass defense improved in 2014. The Chargers were ranked 4th in the league by allowing only 214 passing yards per game. But just when the Chargers plug up one hole, two more formulate. Those two areas of need were the rushing defense and the ground game of the Chargers.
One of the reasons why the Chargers defense gave up so few passing yards is because teams knew they could just run it down the throat of the defense and there was nothing they could do to stop them. The Chargers defense gave up an astonishing 124 yards-per-game which was the 7th worst in the NFL.
On the other side, the Chargers rushing attack was anemic at best as they average 85.4 yards per game (30th in the NFL). The Chargers already made up their mind that they would not bring back Ryan Matthews. So Telesco was already tasked with finding a replacement in a loaded RB draft.
Telesco had some options with this pick. He could have continued to build up the offensive line (gave up 36 sacks in 2014) and select an interior lineman like Cameron Erving to improve the pass protection and the rushing attack (for the future RB selected later on in this draft). Or he could have continued on the defense side of the ball with the selection of Arik Armstead which would have beefed up the middle of the Chargers defense or Marcus Peters who could have added his ball-hawking skills to a talented secondary.
Instead, Telesco took the low hanging fruit and selected Melvin Gordon in hopes of adding another playmaker for Rivers. His thought process was similar to Jerry Jones with the selection of Zeke; keep the opposing offense off the field with long drives. Telesco forgot one thing, though, the Chargers don’t have the Cowboys offensive line.
***DISCLAIMER: I WAS ONE OF THE FEW WHO LIKED THE GORDON PICK***
2016 NFL Draft: Round 1, Pick 3- Joey Bosa, DE
This pick really caught people by surprise. Everyone was sure that the Chargers were going to take Jalen Ramsey to replace Eric Weddle. Or Ronnie Stanley to fortify the offensive line for Rivers and company. Either pick would have been logical and fit right in with Telesco’s track record.
However, Telesco broke the mold here and decided to go with the most pro ready/ best player available. The Chargers were ranked 12th in sacks the year before Bosa, with 40. So it was not like a need the Chargers HAD to address that need with the number 3 pick. But it seems like he had an “A-Ha” moment as he looked at the other teams in his division. He realized he needed 2 disruptive pass rushers on the field together in order to cause chaos. This was the first time Telesco went BPA and has been the outlier of his first round drafting history.
2017 NFL DRAFT: ROUND 1, PICK 7-????
When you look at mock drafts you see experts assigning a safety, like Malik Hooker, or Jamal Adams to Los Angeles at the 7 slot. They all state the same thing, the Chargers need a safety to play that “Earl Thomas” role in Gus Bradley’s defense. While that may be true, they fail to realize one thing, Tom Telesco does not value the safety position. Add in the fact that the safety draft class is real deep and they could still get a good safety in rounds 2 or 3 that would be starter quality.
No, sorry, the Chargers aren’t going safety with the 7th pick. In fact, they aren't going defense at all. Telesco has never selected back to back defensive players with his first round pick during his tenure as GM. And even though it would behoove them to continue building on the defense, in particular, the defensive line; Telesco will justify they have a deep rotation of defensive lineman (Bosa, Ingram, Mebane, Liuget, Reid, Square, Palepoi) and the need isn't there. Telesco will also bring up the point that their defense improved last year even with all of their injuries. So he will rely on improved health/continuity to keep the defense afloat.
So that being said where do the Chargers go at 7? This was tough for me. At first, I thought it would be Mike Williams, wide receiver out of Clemson. You know a big flashy wide receiver to attract the “fans” of Los Angeles. Telesco would think to himself Rivers was the best when he had a big bodied WR that could win jump balls so let‘s get him one. And Williams could be the answer to their red zone problems!
But then I pumped the breaks and looked at the roster and the rumors flying around. The Chargers are interested in Russell Okung, but so are 5 other teams. They will not be able to win that bidding war for Okung with their salary cap restraints. Rumors also have it the Chargers want King Dunlap to restructure his contact again. So obviously, Telesco wants to improve the left tackle position and use Dunlap more as a swing tackle. Lastly, the Chargers GM stated in an interview that this year‘s offensive line group is not particularly strong; my translation: “If you like an offensive lineman you are going to have to reach for one because there are no backup plans in this year’s draft.”
That is why I feel like history repeats itself and the Chargers reach for an offensive tackle and select Garrett Bolles with the seventh overall pick. Telesco would preach the Chargers need to get younger and more athletic on the offensive line and they need to do a better job protecting Rivers. Bolles is an athletic, aggressive, physical, tough sob that had a stellar combine. He also appears to have a similar disposition as the Chargers new head coach, Anthony Lynn. Lynn, of course, would want to improve the line to help bring in his running schemes and philosophies. So with the seventh overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft (sorry they won’t be able to trade down), the Los Angeles Chargers select, Garrett Bolles, OT from Utah.
Please note this is not what I would do, this is what I think the team does. How would you Chargers fans feel with this pick? Stay tuned for round 2.