On the latest episode of Chargers Weekly, Chris Hayre was joined by the voice of the Chargers, Matt “Money” Smith, to talk about this year’s draft, what players are options for the Chargers at #6, day two wide receivers, and more.
At the beginning of the interview, Smith made an interesting comment when he said, “I think Tom Telesco has always showed us that he’s a ‘best player available’ GM. He’s just always done that. Whatever the number one guy is on his board, it seems like that’s the player that they take.”
This statement got me thinking. Has Telesco truly gone with the best player available at the time? Looking at the most recent draft classes, I’m not so sure about that.
For this exercise I’m going to go year by year and discuss my thoughts on whether or not I believe Telesco more often than not erred on the side of need or pulled the trigger on the best player available left at the time.
2013 - OT D.J. Fluker - Need
Fluker was widely considered a reach when he was selected with the 11th-overall pick in the draft. Fans believed that Telesco, desperate for an offensive tackle, might’ve jumped the gun after he saw the top-three tackles in the draft all go within the first four picks. Fluker went on to start his rookie season at right tackle after the team kicked longtime incumbent Jeromy Clary inside to guard after the team lost Louis Vasquez to the Broncos in free agency. They also picked up King Dunlap to play left tackle following the 2012 season that saw undrafted free agent Mike Harris hold down the blindside (this situation sounds all too similar to the current offensive line).
At the time, the Chargers could have went with cornerback instead as the team was losing both 2012 starters in Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. Guys like Desmond Trufant and Xavier Rhodes were both still available at the time and each went on to have solid career with the Falcons and Vikings, respectively.
Fluker would also kick inside to guard while with the Chargers but still couldn’t figure it out in San Diego. He’s on his third team as a professional and may have found a home with the Seattle Seakawks.
201 - CB Jason Verrett - BPA and Need
After the Chargers secondary saw three new starters in 2013, including both cornerbacks and free safety, the team knew they needed help at cornerback. Derek Cox and Shareece Wright, both former third-round picks by the Bolts, were the staters that year and former second-round pick Marcus Gilchrist played opposite Eric Weddle on the back end.
The Chargers pounced at the chance to select cornerback Jason Verrett out of TCU with the 25th pick. Verrett was a highly-touted, uber-athletic defender with the potential to step right in and make an impact on this defense. He started just four games as a rookie and played in six. Verrett never played an entire season with the Chargers and has been absolutely throttled by injuries, even to this day. His 2015 season was still one to remember, however, as the second-year pro started 14 games and was named to his lone Pro Bowl thanks to three interceptions, a pick-6, and 12 pass breakups.
This pick fits both need and best player available which is what you’re looking for as an NFL club. Although his career didn’t pan out the way anyone would have wanted it to, the Verrett pick was a home run at the time.
2015 - RB Melvin Gordon - BPA and Need
Going on his eighth year as general manager for the Chargers, Telesco has only traded up or down once. That lone time was in 2015 when he selected Gordon after trading up to the 15th pick in the draft.
Telesco was obviously all-in on getting a running back in this draft after he went through the 2014 season where Ryan Mathews lasted six games and former undrafted free agent Branden Oliver started seven. Mathews was a former first-round pick that didn’t pan out due to injuries and it was almost a similar case with Gordon. Although Telesco didn’t select Mathews himself, you’d have thought he would have avoided potentially putting himself back in that situation.
Gordon was one of the most prolific running backs in college football history. After Todd Gurley became the first running back off the board, I could just imagine Telesco not wanting to miss out on the former Badger and the explosiveness he could add to the offense. I decided the decision to draft Gordon would be a push. After looking at the rest of the first rounders and diving into the second, I can see why Gordon was probably the best choice at the time. There no other top offensive or defensive linemen and I think that’s the only other way they could have gone. Defensive end Arik Armstead went two picks after the Chargers but besides that, I think they took the best player available who also filled the need.
2016 - DE Joey Bosa - BPA and Need
I don’t think there’s much to say about his one. The Chargers had the third-overall pick and needed help along the defensive line. Their two main pass-rushers were Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu during the 2015 season with Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget as the other main contributors on the line.
wHeN iS JOey BoSa cOminG baCK? pic.twitter.com/IctSEUJJmK— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) November 25, 2018
The Chargers got the best player on the board not named Jalen Ramsey or DeForest Buckner and filled the void at one of the most important positions on the field. This was probably the easiest evaluation on this list.
2017 - WR Mike Williams - Need
Coming off the second year in a row in which Keenan Allen sustained a season-ending injury, the Chargers decided to grab one of the top wide receivers in the draft in case Allen wound-up never getting completely healthy. Allen has gone on to play every game over the last three seasons after not achieving that feat in a single season prior to 2017.
This is one of the easiest picks to go back and say “the Chargers should have picked X player over Williams.” When Williams was selected, players like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Marshon Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, and Ryan Ramsczyk were all still available. This is likely the biggest example of Telesco going for need over BPA as there were at least a half a dozen players at more important positions available for them at #7.
2018 - S Derwin James - BPA and Need
The starting safeties during the 2017 season were former undrafted free agent Jahleel Addae and veteran Dwight Lowery. For obvious reasons, safety was one of the biggest positions need along with defensive tackle and linebacker behind it. During the 2018 draft, the entire country was in awe after James fell all the way to #17 right into the Chargers lap. It was a match made in heaven and Telesco can hang his hat on this pick as the best of his time as the Bolts’ GM.
Derwin James comes up big and makes sure Travis Kelce doesn't get the first down. Still amazes me how many teams passed on him. pic.twitter.com/21tAlXqMQk— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 14, 2018
This gets the nod at being a pick for need while landing the far-and-away best player on the board at the time. While plenty of great players were still on the board, James is likely a future hall-of-famer and is a top-2 player on a talented Chargers defense.
2019 - DT Jerry Tillery - Need
After posting a 12-4 record during the 2018 regular season and winning their first playoff game since 2013, the Chargers owned the 28th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. With a pick so low, it was going to be tough for the Chargers to get one of the top players in the draft. Going in, the Chargers needed a defensive tackle, offensive tackle, and free safety. While we could all assume that Jerry TIllery was on the Bolts’ radar, some of the top offensive tackles in Jawaan Taylor and Cody Ford were falling and falling as the first day wore on.
Even with two of the top-3 tackles available at the moment, Telesco went with Tillery who was coming off labrum surgery. Both Taylor and Ford went at the beginning of the round and were consistent starters for the Jaguars and Bills, respectively. Tilley, on the other hand, didn’t play much at all as a rookie and ended the season as Pro Football Focus’ worst-graded defensive tackle in the entire NFL.
This pick, while still a need, wasn’t the best player available nor was it at a more important position. Due to this, I’m labeling this as selection based on need, alone.
In conclusion, I don’t think it’s correct to say Telesco prefers to draft best player available over need. While over half his first-round picks were players that could have been considered the BPA at the time, a more correct deduction is that Telesco has lucked-out on more than one occasion to land the BPA who is also a need. No one pick was a pure best player available selection. If anything, he’s been more aggressive with players he believes he needs than attempting to land a blue-chip prospect that happened to fall at the time.