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Tom Telesco Gets a Couple of Surprises During the Draft

The Chargers general manager had to deal with a couple curveballs during the draft

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, I wrote about how Tom Telesco’s patience paid off. This year, it was a tad different. There were surprises, arguments, challenges, and when it was all said and done, the Chargers still walked away from draft weekend with the potential to have every draft pick contribute. Like last year, I wasn’t there, but it sure felt like it. Let’s recap.

Thursday pre-draft

For the second year in a row I wrote about the rumors I was hearing. For the second year in a row I mentioned the player they coveted. Last year there was a change of heart with Garrett Bolles. This year? The team had no idea that Derwin James would fall to them at 17. In that article I mentioned the Chargers had narrowed it down to five players. Three defensive tackles, a linebacker, and James. The linebacker was Rashaan Evans, who they ended up passing on. The defensive tackles were, in order, Taven Bryan, Vita Vea, and Da’Ron Payne.

At about 1 pm the team went through several mock simulations, trying to figure out who could possibly fall to them. There wasn’t one that ended up with James at 17. They were dead set on taking Bryan, even if each of the tackles and Evans were available. I made a damn video breaking down Bryan. That’s how much of a sure thing Bryan was supposed to be at 17.

On the clock at 17

Roquan Smith was number one on their board. Odds of Smith falling to 17 were about as good as you or I winning the lottery. Slimmer than slim. If Minkah Fitzpatrick slid, the team supposedly was interested in going up and getting him. Fitzpatrick did just that. Four quarterbacks going in the top 10 pushed him down. Fitzpatrick ended up going to the Dolphins at pick 11. If he would’ve fell to 15, things would’ve gotten very interesting. The next two picks saw two more of the Chargers targets go off the board. Yet, James remained. A talent like James surely wouldn’t fall out of the top 15, no matter how many quarterbacks went early, right? Wrong. The Raiders, like only they could do, reached on an offensive tackle that was supposed to go more towards the end of the second round.

Now, all of the sudden, a new name surfaces. Sitting at pick 16, the Chargers were staring the uber-athletic Tremaine Edmunds in the face. Another player they had no clue would fall to them. I was told Edmunds was going to be the pick at 17 had he been there. As the team thought Edmunds would fall into their laps, Buffalo traded up for the second time in the 1st round. Like that, Edmunds was a figment of their imagination. In a matter of 7 minutes the shift focused back to James and Bryan. The room was split. Even with James higher on the board, there were a handful of members in the room that still coveted the high-upside Bryan.

James was the pick.

Bryan kept sliding. The Chargers really, really wanted him. In NFL circles it was known that the Jaguars were going to go defensive tackle. Just because they have some contracts coming up they won’t be able to afford. If Bryan got past the Jaguars, the Chargers had a deal in place with the Patriots to move up and go get Bryan. I’m not sure what the compensation would’ve been, but that tells you how much they liked him. Even getting a superb talent in Derwin, they didn’t want to walk away without Bryan. The Jaguars ended up with Bryan and no deal was made.

Feisty Friday

Real life got in the way Friday so I apologize I couldn’t get a rumors article out.

What I found out Friday is that all it takes is one. Telesco wants everyone to be on board with the pick. If not, they won’t take him. The team felt like the depth at defensive tackle was enough to where they could get another second level defender on defense and still be able to snag a quality defensive tackle in the third round. The first name that was mentioned to me after the first round was Malik Jefferson out of Texas. The team was zoned in on him. Jefferson is an explosive athlete at the linebacker position. His issue is he doesn’t play as fast as he tested. As the Chargers were on the clock they all but had him selected. Then, things got testy. The Chargers linebackers coach didn’t want him. He refused to give Jefferson his stamp of approval. Things got heated. The Chargers ended up passing on Jefferson. I agree with the coach, and it would appear that the rest of the NFL did as well. Jefferson ended up falling to the 14th pick of the third round.

The Chargers ended up going with a versatile linebacker in Uchenna Nwosu. Nwosu isn’t the explosive athlete Jefferson is, but he can play multiple positions and he allows you to get mismatches inside with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Nwosu does a good job of getting his hands in passing lanes and swatting away passes, as evidenced by his 13 passes defensed last year. It came down to Nwosu and Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter, who is also a player that can play multiple spots. Nwosu is the better football player now. Carter being the higher upside. Between Nwosu, Carter, and Jefferson, the Chargers made the correct pick. Like Jefferson, Carter fell to the 3rd round.

Leading up to the third round

The team needed help at defensive tackle with Corey Liuget being suspended for four games. The team was eyeing a few defensive tackles at their pick. B.J. Hill out of North Carolina State, Derrick Nnandi out of Florida state, and Harrison Phillips out of Stanford. There was a surprise pick, however. If Oregon’s running back Royce Freeman was on the board, he would’ve been the pick. The team doesn’t want to be handcuffed to Melvin Gordon next year and would be able to let him walk with a back like Freeman on the roster.

With the fifth pick in the 3rd round, the Giants selected Hill. Two picks later Freeman was selected by the Broncos. There goes the Chargers two top targets. Four picks later the Chiefs traded up for Nnandi. Two targets gone to two division foes.

On the clock in the 3rd round

I thought Phillips would be the pick. I was wrong. Like James and Nwosu before him, the versatility theme continued. The team selected Justin Jones as they feel like he can play both defensive tackle spots, unlike Phillips. Jones has the flashes, strength and energy they really look for at the position. So he was the pick.

On the clock in the 4th round

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was shut out the first two days of the draft. That was going to change on Saturday or he might’ve given Telesco the stink eye for the rest of the offseason. The Chargers still didn’t have that “weak-side run and chase linebacker”, though. They liked Oregon’s offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby. It came down to him or Kyzier White, a hybrid safety linebacker out of West Virginia. Crosby had concussion issues and you’re no help if you can’t stay on the field. The team ended up going with White, a big-time hitter from the Mountaineers. White can play, and likely help them immediately.

Whisenhunt wasn’t left out to dry as the Chargers selected offensive players with their final three picks. An offensive lineman from UCLA that is insurance in the event Mike Pouncey or one of the guards aren’t healthy. A sneaky fast wide receiver that might see some snaps at H-back. As well as running back that a lot of draft folks are very, very high on. One thing that jumps out right away with Justin Jackson, he can make you miss.

If last years draft was about the decision makers, this draft had more influence by the coaches. Not everyone agreed on each pick, even the first pick. They might not have gotten who they wanted in the second round, but that was a blessing in disguise. Getting depth and players who can contribute in some way for early the rest of the draft has to make the team very happy. The goal was to get faster on defense while getting more athletic and versatile. They did just that. They also got insurance at some positions where they’ve suffered injuries. For the second year in a row, everything went to plan for Telesco and the Chargers.