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Several good reasons why the Chargers should trade down

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Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way right now: If the Los Angeles Chargers are going to trade down in the 2020 NFL Draft, general manager Tom Telesco will need to become a different person. I don’t know if that involves self-help books, daily meditation, deep introspection, or psychedelic drugs (whoops, I’m just referencing my own life at this point) but the Tom Telesco you know is not a general manager who makes trades.

You don’t have to be from San Diego to know that, you just need a computer device, the internet, and Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Since 2013, the Chargers have made six trades. Six. It’s an average of one per year, but Telesco made two in 2015 and two in 2017. In that same time span, the Seattle Seahawks have made ... 46 trades. FORTY. SIX. Argue all you want with how successful those trades have been for Seattle, the New England Patriots themselves made 17 trades ...

Last year.

They’ve made 60 deals since 2013. Do we simply want to believe that 100% of New England’s success comes from playing in the AFC East, or can some of it be attributed to organizational philosophies that led Belichick to make 10 times the number of trades as Telesco?

Telesco hasn’t made a trade since moving Dontrelle Inman to the Chicago Bears for a 2018 conditional draft pick that didn’t even convey.

The last time Telesco actually made a deal that netted the Chargers a return was September 5, 2015, when he traded Jeremiah Sirles to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth rounder that became Derek Watt. That was in the middle of the previous decade. Despite the fact that LA has posted records of 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, and 9-7 around their one 12-4 campaign, this has not compelled Telesco to change his philosophy around trades.

I’m sure few expect Telesco to change course now, but I must at least lay down how monumentally misguided and short-sighted it would be for him to not start calling other teams and open with saying, “Okay, I’m ready to join the club. Let’s talk.”

A few years ago the Chargers were in a position to take Joey Bosa, who was considered by most to be the most talented player in that draft, and they stayed. That seems smart. In 2020, they’re picking sixth and at the moment we can’t know if another elite prospect falls into their lap or if the board sets up nicely to trade down. But I believe that it might be the perfect opportunity to start doing what teams like the Patriots and Seahawks almost always do, which is to trade down.

Here are several reasons why I believe that.

First round picks are overrated anyway

Okay, I’m adding this section in at the last minute, even though it’s the first section. I just want to say this really quick and then I’ll come back to it and explain in another article, but annoyingly I’m only going to leave you with this: first round picks are actually overrated.

Moving on.

The draft is a crapshoot, so take more shots

This is a belief that I think every team should have. If there was a single organization in history that was “good” at predicting which draft picks would pan out and which ones wouldn’t, we would know it immediately. Seriously, name me a single team, GM, or front office that clearly knows which prospects will become good pros.

In spite of the fact that I expect people to give examples, there isn’t one. It is impossible. Because no matter who you name, I can give you X amount of counter-examples that would make that same GM look like he bobs for players out of an ice bucket.

Bill Belichick? Maybe one of the worst track records of first and second round picks in the league.

The 2017 New Orleans Saints class with Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, and Marcus Williams? Same exact people in the building who drafted Stephone Anthony in the first round and Hau’oli Kikaha in the second round and Garrett Grayson in the third round in 2015. Same team that used two first round picks on Marcus Davenport, and not on the player they passed up, Derwin James. And Davenport may be fine or even good, but would you say that they have received the player they expected with two first round picks?

(Other examples go here ... I mean, there are many y’all)

(Feel free to claim in the comments anyone who you believe knows exactly which prospects will turn out good and which ones won’t.)

At the end of the day, you won’t find much consistency that trading up nets you a “win” in overall value, especially if the Chargers opted to trade down from six to 10 or in that range. Even if it was six to 14, or whatever. The truth (I believe) is that prospects in the 10-19 range are rarely much worse than prospects in the 3-9 range. Maybe every year you get someone like Joe Burrow and Chase Young — this year’s examples — who seem to be in their own class, but what’s the real net difference between Isaiah Simmons and, say, Mekhi Becton?

Forget your own personal bias for any of these prospects for a moment: in any given year how big is the difference between a guy who goes fifth and a guy who goes 14th?

“Ken, it seems like a pretty big difference to me! In 2018, that was the difference between Bradley Chubb and Marcus Davenport!”

Yeah, and that example provides many interesting notes:

  • Players, like Chubb, often suffer devastating injuries. If a team traded down and ended up with Davenport instead of Chubb, there’s no guarantee that the higher-drafted player would even remain healthy, let alone be better. But you netted extra draft picks. Some very good ones.
  • Davenport remains a player who could be really good and as far as we know, better than Chubb. And you netted extra draft picks.
  • The players selected 10-19 in 2018 include Josh Rosen, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Vita Vea, Da’Ron Payne, Davenport, Kolton Miller, Tremaine Edmunds, Derwin James, Jaire Alexander, and Leighton Vander Esch. How many of you would expect someone like Fitzpatrick, James, Edmunds, or Vander Esch to go as high as the top-5 in a draft today if we’d known they become All-Pro or Pro Bowl caliber players immediately? The top nine in 2018 included Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Sam Darnold, Denzel Ward, Quenton Nelson, Josh Allen, Roquan Smith, Mike McGlinchey. How would you re-slot those 19 players? A team could have moved down, gotten a good player, and...netted extra draft picks. And some did.

The Colts moved down from three to six, drafted Quenton Nelson, then Braden Smith in round two with a pick they acquired from the Jets. They got two more second round picks, using one on Rock Ya-Sin in 2019, and the other to move down three slots, selecting Kemoko Turay and adding a fifth round pick, which they used on Jordan Wilkins. Indianapolis had one draft pick and ended up getting five players, one of which is the best guard in the NFL. And they could move down and still draft him. And net extra draft picks.

Same draft, the Bills moved up for Allen, the Bucs moved down, still got Vea, and added two second rounders.

The Cardinals moved up for Rosen, the Raiders got their franchise left tackle in Kolton Miller, and added a third and a fifth.

The Saints got Davenport, the Packers got an additional fifth and a 2019 first, which they subsequently dealt to move up for Darnell Savage. Green Bay used the other first, the 2018 one, to move up for Alexander. So the Packers basically had pick 14, and rather than just draft Alexander, got the player they wanted plus another secondary prospect a year later. They’re happy with Jaire. The Saints may also be happy with Davenport. But Green Bay filled out their roster a little bit more.

“No, sir. You are wrong. Why did I even call you sir? More like idiotass. No, idiotass, you are wrong. The higher a player goes, the better!”

This is true on the gradient of the entire draft. Most first round picks have relatively long career. Most seventh round picks fail to make the league for any notable amount of time. But the best player in the draft is rarely ever the first overall pick. That almost never happens.

2005-2015 first overall picks: Alex Smith, Mario Williams, JaMarcus Russell, Jake Long, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Eric Fisher, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jameis Winston.

2005-2015 second overall picks: Ronnie Brown, Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson, Chris Long, Jason Smith, Ndamukong Suh, Von Miller, Robert Griffin III, Luke Joeckel, Greg Robinson, and Marcus Mariota.

“Ha! Gotcha! Many of those second overall picks were busts.”

Well, A, that doesn’t make a good argument for the second overall pick in the draft compared to the guys who went behind them, now does it? And B, that means that Megatron went after Russell, Suh went after Bradford, Miller went after Newton (my preference, for sure, is Miller), and some drafts have Fisher and Joeckel or Winston and Mariota at the top.

In that same time, third overall picks included Joe Thomas, Matt Ryan, Gerald McCoy, and Marcell Dareus. Fourth overall picks included Trent Williams, A.J. Green, Lane Johnson, Amari Cooper, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

And 13th overall picks included Brian Orakpo, Brandon Graham, Sheldon Richardson, Andrus Peat, Jammal Brown, Jonathan Stewart, and Aaron Donald.

At a certain point you have to accept that the odds of a bust at six (Vernon Gholston, Andre Smith, Morris Claiborne, Barkevious Mingo, and to a degree, Leonard Williams, LaRon Landry, and Adam Jones) and the odds of a bust at 12 (Knowshon Moreno, Ryan Mathews, Christian Ponder, D.J. Hayden, and Danny Shelton) aren’t that much different. And the hits at 12 include Odell Beckham, Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Shawne Merriman, Ryan Clady, and Marshawn Lynch.

Maybe the only reason you stay at six is that you’ve become locked in on a certain prospect who is available. And if you’re locked in on any prospect that you absolutely must have at six, your problems may be bigger than finding just one player. You have to be adaptable. You have to improvise. You have to be open the idea that you are not psychic and not good at drafting.

And you have to net more draft picks.

Example of Telesco laughing off the idea of a trade:

The Chargers, of course, have seven picks in seven rounds. That’s it.

No deals mean that the Chargers are picking near the top of every round. But that also means that after round three, they’re getting pushed back even further in each round because of the compensatory selections at the end of every round. The rewards for being bad are even in rounds 1, 2, and 3, but good teams who lose players in free agency can now virtually jump ahead of bad teams for those prospects they wanted at the top of rounds 4, 5, 6, and 7.

LA has seven picks, but too many needs.

In each of the last three years, Telesco has done exactly this. He’s had seven picks, one in each round. There’s no movement, no comp picks, nothing. He’s drafted 21 players, and that includes one Pro Bowl player in James. Of course, when a player gets injured (see: Chubb, James), that means that the Chargers had one less good player and needed to turn elsewhere.

It’s easier to turn elsewhere when you add more players to the training camp and preseason pile.

Sam Tevi was a sixth round pick in 2017 and he’s started 30 games at tackle. Imagine if LA had three sixth round picks that year. Maybe two of them don’t make the roster, but the harm in finding out is almost nil. I mean, it was the last trade pick that conveyed that landed Telesco Derek Watt, a guy who has remained on the roster for all four years and played in all 64 games.

Watt is the only player from the 2016 draft class to play in all 64 games.

We’ll know much more about LA’s needs after free agency, but it goes way beyond the status of Philip Rivers and quarterback. Some want the Chargers to take a tackle to replace Russell Okung. Some want them to take Derrick Brown to fortify the middle of the defensive line. Some may want another pass rusher to add next to Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, both of whom are free agents in a year. Some may be curious about a cornerback like Jeff Okudah or a linebacker/safety like Isaiah Simmons.

But ... you don’t have to choose just one!

Already we know that the Dolphins have three first round picks, the Jaguars have two, and the Raiders have two. We also know that the Colts have two second rounders, the Bears have two, the Falcons have two, the Dolphins have two, and the Seahawks have two.

The Miami Dolphins have five picks in the first two rounds.

Hypothetically, Miami could send picks 18, 39, and 56, and a 2021 second rounder for pick six. The Chargers give up 12 draft slots and maybe give up dreams of Simmons, Brown, or Justin Herbert. They instead get dreams of picking five times between 18 and 69.

Maybe by the middle of round three, they’ve now selected a QB, a tackle, a guard, a defensive tackle, and a cornerback. Without that one deal, maybe they only get a QB, a DT, and a CB. This one deal gave them two more opportunities to improve the offensive line.

You are going to be bad at predicting which players are good.

Take more players.

This may be a great opportunity to trade down

In regards to 2020, I wonder if it might just be the right year. With the next CBA and a potential lockout around the corner in 2021 (they want to try and get the deal finalized in the summer, which is definitely not before the draft), could teams feel extra motivated to move up to secure certain prospects?

What if they remove the fifth-year option after this year? Would that compel teams to spend more draft capital to move back into the first round?

What if they eliminate or change the rookie wage scale? I am very curious to see how the league responds to another rookie contract QB winning a Super Bowl. The problem used to be seeing JaMarcus Russell getting a record deal. Now it’s the opposite: the good picks are maybe too beneficial to their teams.

This could be an argument to not trade down, but if a team is going to overreact and overpay, you have to listen.

There’s also just the draft class itself. It seems like it has been loaded at certain positions like wide receiver, offensive tackle, and perhaps defensive tackle and cornerback. Maybe even quarterbacks depending on how draft season goes, but at least three are often put into the top-10, with several others getting first round consideration.

In either case, it’s hard to imagine Telesco not getting a really good offensive tackle prospect or defensive tackle prospect, or even a quarterback prospect, outside of the top 10. In which case he’d also be ............ dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot

NETTING EXTRA DRAFT PICKS.

That’s it, that’s all the several reasons I can do. There are many more.

We’ve seen teams trade up in recent years for Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and several others who’ve had varying levels of success. Does that mean that the answer is to trade up for a quarterback? Well, if the Chargers go 12-4, trade up from pick 27 to pick 10 because Mahomes is on the board, sit him for a year, and surround him with one of the best teams in the league, then yes. Wonderful idea.

But the Chargers just went 5-11. They might actually be able to contend as soon as next season, but it is hard to imagine that they’re sitting in the same position as Kansas City or that the world’s greatest quarterback is suddenly available again in this draft. If he is, then most think it’s Burrow and few expect the Bengals to be taking phone calls for him.

However, we know two things:

YOU ARE BAD AT DRAFTING

TOM TELESCO DOESN’T MAKE PHONE CALLS

It could be time to accept the first thing and change the second.