Out with the old and in with the new.
That’s how the old saying goes as many people will say. To quote Barney Stinson, one of the greatest television characters of all-time, “new is always better.”
The Los Angeles Chargers seem to be heading into that direction as the 2018 season is rapidly approaching. With young talent such as wide receiver Mike Williams, offensive linemen Dan Feeny and Forrest Lamp, cornerback Desmond King and safety Derwin James all expected to be a part of the franchise’s current and future success, the youthful bunch have officially taken over the franchise.
Sure, Antonio Gates is back for one more season as the team’s reliable tight end, but that’s mainly due to Hunter Henry’s torn ACL. Following 2017, Henry was chosen to be the team’s starting tight end following a 45 reception, 574 yards, and four touchdown campaign. Henry is only 23 years old and still could be considered part of the youth movement.
The Chargers currently are listed as the 14th youngest franchise in the NFL according to Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice. Their average age sits at a comfortable 25.8 years old. Most of the starters have been from the last three draft classes including potential defensive MVP Joey Bosa, outside linebacker Jatavis Brown, punter Drew Kaser, and fullback Derrick Watt.
Much praise could be given to Chargers GM Tom Telesco for his quality picks since his arrival in 2013. With the progression of both Williams and James, Telesco could have struck gold with five of his first six first round selection. His knowledge of depth should also be considered a slam dunk with finding 16 of the current 25 starters for the Chargers team (excluding Henry and cornerback Jason Verrett due to season-ending injuries).
Telesco might not be considered a top general manager in the drafting community like the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Dave Caldwell, the Atlanta Falcons’ Thomas Dimitroff, or the Tennessee Titans’ Jon Robinson, but Telesco has built a promising franchise out in sunny Los Angeles.
Looking at the Chargers roster, 34 of the current 53 man roster are players drafted in the Telesco era. With over half of the roster coming from the selections of one man and his staff, Telesco should be proud of the organization that looks to have a legitimate chance to end their five-year playoff drought this season.
While Telesco might be on cloud nine heading into the regular season, there’s always room for improvement, mostly in the future. With Philip Rivers entering his 15th season with the organization, father time’s clock should be ticking away on the veteran’s gunslingers career. While Tom Brady has proven that age is just a number, Rivers’ priorities might be different than the Patriots’ signal caller.
Already a coach to his son’s pee-wee football team, the 36-year-old quarterback has seven children to think about along with just two more years remaining on his current contract. Should he decline in play over the course of the season and perhaps be the Achilles heel holding back the Chargers from reaching their full potential this season, the organization might be looking at new options under center.
While 2018 is a big year from the franchise on the field, the 2019 draft could be the most important one for Telesco’s career. While Rivers should be expected to finish out his current contract into 2019, Telesco should be turning on the college tape weekly and hopefully find his first true future quarterback.
Finding a solid rookie quarterback is easier said than done. Sure, a player in college can throw for nearly 5000 yards for over 40 touchdowns and end his season as one of the top players in the country. The Cleveland Browns saw those stats and decided to draft former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield number 1 overall. He’ll start his season on the bench when the Browns host rival Pittsburgh Steelers this upcoming Sunday.
Meanwhile, a quarterback’s arm strength could be their bread and butter to gain them hype heading into the NFL Draft process. Their numbers are below average, their accuracy is flawed and the minute characteristics such as poise, touch and decision making skills are all over the place. But hey, the Buffalo Bills fell in love with Josh Allen so much, they were willing to trade up five spots last April to draft him. He’ll be holding the clipboard this weekend and possibly hoping that Nathan Peterman’s second go-around is worse than his five-interception debut.
Fans across the NFL world don’t understand the need for progression; they need results. Not everyone can be a Deshaun Watson caliber quarterback, come in and begin the climb to break rookie records. It takes time for rookies to transition from the college rankings all the way up to NFL superstar.
Perhaps one of the best ways for a young quarterback to learn and grow is by having a successful mentor. Much like the Pittsburgh Steelers will be doing with Mason Rudolph under Ben Roethlisberger, the Chargers are a prime candidate to follow a similar pattern next season. Rivers won’t be retiring following the 2018 season unless an injury forces him to call it early. Though the 38-year-old gunslinger should be back for the short-term future, using an early draft pick to groom under him is an option for the long -haul.
Rivers mentorship would come highly praised for any young rookie passer. Averaging a career 64.2 completion percentage along with throwing for 4000+ yards in nine of the last ten seasons, Rivers is a smooth technician in the pocket who keeps drives alive without going to the kill shot. While his safety persona of being a game-managing quarterback might not excite fans and high profile prospects, it gets results.
The Chargers will likely be picking anywhere between the high teens and early playoff rounds should they remain healthy their entire season. That’s plenty of time for Telesco to still grab one of the top quarterback prospects in the class without giving up a lucrative package to slide up a spot or two.
Telesco would be smart to find a quarterback with tremendous skills but still is safe under center. The Chargers offense has found success with Rivers mundane passing style, so if it isn’t broken, why change the formula. While finding an erratic passer with a talented arm is tempting, it may not be the best mold for Lynn’s hopefully thriving offense.
There’s plenty of quarterbacks who could battle it out for the 2019 top quarterback spot come April when the Bolts are on the clock. A player’s mold, however, is just as important as talent. If the piece doesn’t fit, it won’t work moving forward.
It’s anyone’s guess who will be on the Chargers radar come next season. It’s almost nuts to think about Rivers potential replacement next season with this year still underway. That being said, Geno Smith and practice squad golden boy Cardale Jones are not the options should anything happen to Rivers.
Here are a few names that could join Team Telesco.
Drew Lock, Missouri
So let’s say that Telesco does go the flashy route and picks a quarterback with a high ceiling but low floor. Lock would likely be the candidate due to his size and arm strength. While many would like to compare Lock to Allen as being this year’s boom or bust quarterback, they couldn’t be more wrong. Lock’s arm strength mirrors Allen, but his ability to keep drives alive and change his speed on passes perhaps makes him a better prospect moving forward.
One area of improvement the Missouri quarterback will need to work on is his accuracy. In three seasons with the Tigers offense, Lock averaged a 55% completion rating, Consistently under pressure last season, Lock was known for his acrobatic style of play rather than conservative passing style.
Under Rivers, Lock could learn how to better feel pressure coming off the edge and make more accurately timed throws. It’s a reach, to say the least, but Lock’s upside as a well-rounded passer could keep the Chargers in contention long after Rivers calls it.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
From one extreme to the other.
Telesco could take the old saying to new levels by not just finding a conservative passer, but also find Rivers replacement from his alma mater. One of the more safe selections but also intriguing quarterbacks in the class, the Wolf Pack signal caller is a prototypical game managing quarterback at the next level who can keep drives alive while building a connection with his wide receivers.
Finley’s flaws are traits that can’t be coached, but instead built in the weight room. Struggling as a deep ball passer, Finley shows a significant drop off deep downfield with his accuracy and arm strength. Traits like those are hard to ignore in a pass-happy offense that wants to extend drives instead of the clock.
With Rivers, Finley could learn how to better extend drives with finding consistency in timing. While throws deep downfield are out of the questions, solid plays led by poise and touch on the football could be detrimental to keeping the Chargers offense successful in the passing game. While many will criticize Finley’s traits, if he masters his strengths, he could become one of the league’s top game managers.
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
He could be a mid-draft selection or a first round lock. This season should decide that. Either way, Lewerke should be on Telesco’s radar before the season’s end. The Spartan quarterback has a fantastic arm that can reach all three levels of the field while displaying excellent pocket awareness under pressure in the Big 10. While his arm may not be as powerful as Lock’s or as accurate as Finley’s, Lewerke is a nice blend in the middle of both types of passers.
Where Lewerke will need to improve is on his decision making, Last season Lewerke’s touchdown to interception ratio was 20:7. While those numbers are promising, most of the issues rely on looking towards the tight window rather than the easy dump off pass in the flats. While pressure will always play a role in a quarterback’s decision, it still is up to the pocket passer to make the right call.
With Rivers, Lewerke can learn which are the proper throws to make under pressure and which are ones to avoid. Add in his qualities and the Spartan’s gunslinger might be Telesco’s perfect quarterback.
All this is hypothetical. Rivers should be the starting quarterback until Father Time decides to come knocking on his door. His end should be sooner than Telesco’s tenure.
The Chargers are built to win now and for multiple seasons thanks to the drafting style of their GM and his staff. In the end, though, only those with good quarterbacks (or Nick Foles for the playoffs) and the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy went February rolls around.
Rivers is set to get his chance to take home the hardware finally, but his clock is ticking. The older he is, the faster it ticks.
So Telesco, make sure you’re free on Saturday’s this season, your future franchise quarterback is more than likely out there.