There are many ways to criticize LA Chargers general manager Tom Telesco overall, but specifically you could attack a few points about the 2017 draft class.
Telesco chose receiver Mike Williams over a handful of NFL superstars, including Patrick Mahomes. Second rounder Forrest Lamp has yet to have a career due to injuries. In the fourth round he chose a safety, Rayshawn Jenkins, one pick after the Chicago Bears selected All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson, hammering home the accepted reality that Telesco doesn’t deal. No player in the class has made the Pro Bowl yet and only Williams may have an outside shot at making it for offense or defense.
However, in other respects, it seems Telesco has done an outstanding job at finding value and avoiding, in this case, wasted picks; all seven remain on the team.
Let’s quickly review the 2017 draft class three years later.
Mike Williams, WR, 7th overall
Williams was slotted at his position between Corey Davis and John Ross, easily making him the most valuable receiver in that first round. He had no value as a rookie, gaining just 95 yards in 10 games, but caught 10 touchdowns in year two and led the NFL in yards per catch (20.4) in year three. Unfortunately, his touchdowns dipped to two and he caught just 54.4% of his targets. That could be an issue with who was throwing the targets in 2019 and the overall issues with LA’s offense and Williams’ 11.1 yards per target is elite.
Perhaps the greatest downside though is that despite the ability to make exciting grabs, Williams doesn’t provide the value of some of the players who went after him.
Telesco claimed that the Chargers would be looking at QBs in 2017, but they didn’t select Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. He passed on Christian McCaffrey for Melvin Gordon reasons, though he signed Austin Ekeler after the draft. There was also Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White, and T.J. Watt. Yes, Watt went 30th, long after Williams, but all it takes for a player to go 20 picks higher is a team ... doing it. If Watt went seventh, nobody would question it now. And if Telesco was willing to trade down, he could have gotten Watt and more.
Williams was not a great seventh overall pick, though he’s pretty good and much better than some of the other top-9 guys that year (Ross, Davis, Mitchell Trubisky, Solomon Thomas, Leonard Fournette).
Forrest Lamp, G, 38th overall
Missed 2017 with a torn ACL, observed for most of 2018, broke his leg in 2019. Lamp has played in seven games over three years but will have yet another opportunity to earn a starting gig in 2020.
Dan Feeney, G, 71st overall
Telesco doubled down on guards, taking Feeney with the seventh pick in the third round, one pick after the Vikings selected center Pat Elflein and right before the Titans took receiver Taywan Taylor. Nobody in the next 12 picks after Feeney is very good, until you get to Chris Godwin at pick 84.
Actually a really interesting bunching of bad and good picks: 62-71 was JuJu Smith-Schuster, Dion Dawkins, Taylor Moton, Larry Ogunjobi, Ahkello Witherspoon, Alvin Kamara, Dawuane Smoot, Cooper Kupp, Elflein, and Feeney. Only Smoot has failed to be a starter in at least two of his three seasons.
And picks 72-83 feature zero players who have started two seasons and only one (Fabian Moreau) who has started one.
The double down paid off as Feeney has started 41 of a possible 48 games. Now, whether or not those have been “good” starts is the looming question that has Telesco searching for more offensive line help this year, but he didn’t select Feeney over many players who would have been better choices.
If he had traded up for Dawkins or Moton or some of those other players listed, certainly the Chargers would be even happier with their third round pick.
Rayshawn Jenkins, S, 113th overall
It was just one pick. Eddie Jackson was there and then he wasn’t. Jenkins did a fair job of filling in as a starter for Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, but a future as a starter isn’t assured by any means. The most notable player right after Jenkins was Bengals defensive end Carl Lawon four picks later and another Chicago Bear: running back and special teamer Tarik Cohen at pick 119.
The Chargers would find a special teamer next.
Desmond King, S/ST, 151st overall
There’s no question who the best player in the 2017 fifth round was.
The 49ers took Kittle with the second pick of the fifth round, one pick AFTER Jake Butt, Five picks after Kittle, the Chargers selected King, another safety. king made four starts as a rookie and eight in each of the last two years, making four career interceptions. He’s also tallied 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
But as a special teams player King had punt return touchdowns in each of the last two years, making the All-Pro roster in 2018. However, it was another special teams player on the board at pick 151 who could have had a much bigger impact on LA’s future:
The Eagles kicker is 26-of-31, 26-of-31, and 22-of-26 in his three NFL seasons, including 107-of-114 on extra points. The Chargers had four kickers in 2017, going 20-of-30. They had two in 2018, going 24-of-29. They had three players kicking field goals in 2019, going 26-of-34.
LA’s kickers are 4-of-9 on kicks of 50+ since 2017. Elliott is 9-of-15.
If it eases the pain, not even Philadelphia selected Elliott that year. That was the Cincinnati Bengals, who picked him early in the fifth round and then released him before his rookie season.
Sam Tevi, T, 190th overall
Only three players in the sixth round have had two seasons as a starter so far: Cowboys S Xavier Woods, Washington C Chase Roullier, and Tevi. Only one other player in the round even has one season as a starter, which is Ravens DB Chuck Clark.
It’s hard to find any good players in the sixth round, and you could argue that Tevi was the best pick for any team in that round in 2017. I know that Tevi is in the same position as Feeney, aka it is time to find a replacement, but it is the sixth round. There probably weren’t a ton of better picks.
At any point you could argue that they should have drafted Ekeler.
Isaac Rochell, DT, 225th overall
Telesco didn’t just avoid Elliott, he also missed Harrison Butker and Zane Gonzalez, both of whom went in round seven. (Again, like Elliott, neither drafted by the team they ended up becoming solid-to-great kickers for.) The Seahawks also got a reliable running back, Chris Carson, and a decent receiver, David Moore, in round seven.
But the Chargers came out with a really good player for the seventh round, as Rochell has seven career sacks, including five in 2018.
Rochell was also the fourth player in this class (Feeney, Jenkins, and King are the others) who was at the 2017 Senior Bowl.
There’s a positive and a negative way to spin this. The negatives are easy to spot: Williams over superstars, including quarterbacks; two guards and maybe neither are starters in 2020; two safeties and maybe neither are starters in 2020; a tackle who likely isn’t a long-term option; missing kicker after kicker after kicker.
However, it’s also hard to draft seven players who are still on the team as they head into year four. It’s also hard to find contributors in rounds six and seven and Tevi, Rochell are two of the best players found after round five that year. Telesco also signed Ekeler, CB Michael Davis, TE Sean Culkin, and WR Andre Patton. He also signed kicker Younghoe Koo. Not as good.