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GM Tom Telesco Evaluation - January 2022

I posted on this subject twice previously:

I'm thnking of making this an annual exercise, so this post is my latest take. This will be pretty similar to last year's format with updates for the past year.

To calibrate the discussion, Telesco has just entered his 10th offseason as Chargers GM, and 2022 will be his 10th regular season.

Responsibility vs. Accountability

I assume everyone reading this post on this site is well aware that the Chargers organization is riddled with members of the Spanos family that owns the Chargers. See that 2019 post linked above for details.

Due to the heavy involvement of the Spanos family, particularly John Spanos, the President of Football Operations, it is difficult to know how many of the franchise decisions normally made by the GM are truly made by Telesco and how many are shared with or wholly made by the family.

Regardless, we can reasonably assume that none of the Spanos family members will ever get fired for poor performance, so it seems that Telesco is fully accountable for their collective front office performance. With that out of the way, I will take a look at what Telesco is accountable for so far in his tenure.

Bottom Line - Team Performance

First, let's start with the bottom line – the team's performance since his arrival. In the 9 seasons prior to Telesco's arrival (2004-2012):

  • 91-53 (0.632) regular season record - an average of 10.1 wins and 5.9 losses per season
  • 3-5 (0.375) postseason record; made the playoffs 5 times (56%)
  • 38-16 (0.704) division record; 5 division titles (56%)
  • 1 losing season (11%) was the last one of that 9 year period – at 7-9 – which resulted in both the head coach and GM being fired after the 2012 season

In the 9 seasons since Telesco arrived (2013-2021):

  • 69-76 (0.476) regular season record - an average of 7.7 wins and 8.4 losses per season
  • 2-2 (0.500) postseason record; made the playoffs 2 times (22%)
  • 20-34 (0.370) division record; 0 division titles (0%)
  • 4 losing seasons (50%), which included a 4 win season and two 5 win seasons

That is a drastic difference in performance.

But it is arguably worse than that. Particularly when looking at how bad the 2013 and 2014 drafts were (we'll get to that later), it is reasonable to point out that the first two seasons under Telesco were largely based upon a roster he did not build. Per PFR:

  • The 2013 starters on offense and defense included 5 players acquired by Telesco: WR Allen, LT Dunlap, RT Fluker, LB Te'o, and CB Cox
  • The 2014 starters on offense and defense included 9 players acquired by Telesco: WR Allen, LT Dunlap, LG Rinehart, C Ohrnberger, RT Fluker, RB Oliver (though he started just 7 games), NT Lissemore, LB Te'o, CB Flowers
  • The 2015 starters on offense and defense included 8 players on offense (RB Gordon, WR Allen, WR Johnson, LT Hairston, LG Franklin, C Robinson, RG Fluker, RT Barksdale) and 6 players on defense (NT Lissemore, LB Te'o, LB Attaochu, CB Verrett, CB Flowers, S Addae) acquired by Telesco

I realize that one could argue some of the starters identified by PFR due to injuries and other situations, but it seems like a reasonable proxy that helps to avoid having to delve deeply into those situations. Given that it was not until 2015 that more than half of the starters on offense and defense were acquired by Telesco, IMO it is reasonable to look at the performances from 2015 to 2021 as the seasons based upon rosters Telesco mostly or wholly created, especially since the best players in 2013-2014 (e.g., Rivers, Gates, Weddle) were there when Telesco arrived.

In those 7 seasons (2015-2021):

  • 51-62 (0.451) regular season record - an average of 7.3 wins and 8.9 losses per season
  • 1-1 (0.500) postseason record; made the playoffs 1 time (14%)
  • 14-28 (0.333) division record; 0 division titles (0%)
  • 4 losing seasons (57%), which included a 4 win season and two 5 win seasons

Now consider that Telesco had HOF QB Rivers and 2020 ROY and 2021 Pro Bowl QB Herbert for all but one of the team's games in his tenure.

It is obviously to his credit that he drafted Herbert, but this means he has had an advantage over many of his peers as Chargers GM at the most important position in football. Unfortunately, the on-field results show that he seems to have squandered that advantage, at least so far.

This is a results-oriented business. Those are bad results. IMO Telesco is very fortunate to remain in his position at this point, and most NFL franchises probably would have fired him by now.

Head Coaches

Telesco has at least been partly responsible for hiring 3 new head coaches, McCoy, Lynn, and Staley. Dean Spanos said last offseason that Telesco and John Spanos were more responsible for the 2017 coaching search that led to hiring Lynn than they had been in 2013, due to him dealing with the team's stadium/relocation turmoil. So it isn't clear how much responsibility Telesco had for hiring these head coaches, but he at least had substantial input, particularly for Lynn.

McCoy seemed okay in his first 2 seasons, posting 9 wins in each season, though there were some troubling signs. Then his teams fell off to 4 and 5 win seasons, and he was fired.

Lynn seemed good in his first 2 seasons, posting 9 wins but finishing 9-3 in his first season, followed by 12 wins and winning a playoff game on the road in his second season. But again, there were some troubling signs. Then his team fell off to 5 and 7 win seasons, and he was fired.

Certainly, in hindsight, both McCoy and Lynn were bad hires. Perhaps in part because both were first time head coaches. Staley is also a first time head coach, so we can only hope that he bucks the trend, though his first season was arguably less successful than either of the other two.

I'm sure the Spanos family was mostly responsible for these head coaching hires, but this track record to date does not reflect well on Telesco.

Assistant Coaches

Beyond the head coaching, the quality of assistant coaching has also been bad in some cases, at least under McCoy and Lynn, since the jury is out on Staley's staff at this point. Consider the offensive line coaching under McCoy and Lynn. Consider the special teams coaching under them. Ugh.

Telesco generally seems like a hands off GM who will let his head coach make his own hiring and firing decisions for the coaching staff. That seems fine philosophically but enables bad coaching decisions, like Lynn hiring George Stewart because of a personal relationship rather than because he is a good special teams coach, and keeping him on despite terrible on field results.

The jury is out on the fairly unproven group of assistant coaches Staley hired, but it certainly appears that Telesco allowed Staley to make his own choices.

  • OC Joe Lombardi had 15 years of NFL coaching experience when hired by Staley, but only 1+ years as an OC, having been fired just 7 games into his second season as Lions OC in 2014
  • DC Renaldo Hill only had 3 years of NFL coaching experience when hired by Staley, none at the coordinator level... so Staley himself is effectively the DC
  • Special Teams Coordinator Derius Swinton II has 11 years of NFL coaching experience, but just 1 year at the coordinator level; he was fired along with the rest of the coaching staff after the 49ers went 2-14 in 2016

Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect Telesco to have much influence in this area, and thus perhaps unreasonable to criticize him for this... but it certainly seems possible that some GMs could have influence in this area, particularly for first-time head coaches. But I'm really not sure if that is true for other teams.

Team Weaknesses

When Telesco took over, the team had two primary weaknesses: OL and interior DL.

Team Weakness – Offensive Line

Here is what I wrote in this section last year:

First, the OL. Consider these PFF pass and run blocking rankings for the past 8 years:

  • 2013 – pass blocking #25, run blocking #12
  • 2014 – pass blocking #20, run blocking #27
  • 2015 – pass blocking #32, run blocking #31
  • 2016 – pass blocking #26, run blocking #28
  • 2017 – pass blocking #29, run blocking #26
  • 2018 – pass blocking #31, run blocking #17
  • 2019 – pass blocking #30, run blocking #26
  • 2020 – pass blocking #30, run blocking #32

Those grades are for the entire offense (i.e., including TEs, WRs, RBs in addition to OL), but obviously the OL is the most significant contributor. Out of 16 grades, only 1 was above average, and that was run blocking in Telesco's first season. Meanwhile, half of these grades were in the bottom 5 in the league. Pass blocking was particularly egregious, with an average grade of 27.9 over 8 seasons, which is horrific.

Apologists will tell you that Telesco has tried to fix the OL. The short answer to that is that he has failed. The longer answer requires examining the decisions made (or not made) on OL in both the draft and free agency. Suffice it to say, the longer answer does not change the short answer.

Daniel Popper posted a great article recently: Chargers OL under Telesco: Chargers have ignored offensive line in the NFL Draft. Now they’re scrambling to protect Justin Herbert. The article contains a lot of interesting info, but IMO this one sentence really sums up the problem (bold emphasis mine):

"A broader look at the roster construction, though, shows the Chargers stand alone when it comes to how they prioritize — or neglect, really — their offensive line in the draft."

That said, the moves Telesco has made this season look like the foundation for a short term turnaround in this unit we have been hoping for:

  • Cleaning house by letting C Pouncey, G Turner, T Tevi, C Feeney, G Lamp, G Groy, and G Toner all walk in free agency (technically, Pouncey retired)
  • Signing All Pro C Linsley, G Feiler, and G Aboushi; at this point, it seems likely all will start

The team still needs a starting LT, and the OL depth could be better, but after the last several years of bottom of league caliber OL play, I'm not going to worry about the depth if the starting LT is solved, presumably via the draft.

If that happens, Telesco may have finally solved this problem. I just wish it could have happened years sooner to enable the team to take better advantage of Rivers' twilight with the team. But, better late than never... I'll take it if it shows up as improved on the field.

However, note that I characterized this as a short term fix above. That is because the average age of the 4 expected starters (LG Feiler, C Linsley, RG Aboushi, RT Bulaga) at this point is above 30. It would not be surprising if one or more of these players have trouble staying healthy and/or maintaining quality play going forward. So it still needs to be a priority to inject quality youth into this position group.

I pointed out that staying healthy might be a challenge given the age of the 4 veteran starters, and that was true, with those 4 starters combining to miss 2,222 offensive snaps, which is just under 2 full-time players (which would be 2 x 1,190 snaps = 2,380 snaps).

I also pointed out that depth could be a problem, and it was.

Still, the team now has 3 strong starters (LT Slater, LG Feiler, C Linsley), notably including an All-Pro caliber LT with 4 more seasons under team control. Telesco still has work to do this offseason to solve the other starters and improve the depth, but his decisions over the past year in this area have resulted in elevating this unit, which was the best OL on any of the Chargers teams in Telesco's tenure.

Hopefully, he will build upon that to further solidify and elevate this unit this offseason.

Team Weakness – Interior Defensive Line

It is harder to gauge the interior DL as a group, so I decided to look at the individual grades for the Chargers IDL players. PFF graded 167 IDL players who played at least 100 snaps this season. Here is where the Chargers players ranked:

  • Joseph #54T
  • Gaziano #64T
  • Jones #81
  • Covington #94
  • Fehoko #109
  • Tillery #143

That is unimpressive to say the least, especially considering that Tillery (858 snaps) played more snaps than Joseph (550) and Gaziano (214) combined.

These 6 players didn't contribute much to the pass rush, combining for 7 sacks and 64 pressures.

But we all know they were worse in run defense, given the Chargers finished #30 in rushing yards allowed, #28 in yards per carry allowed, and #29 in rushing TDs allowed. The IDL was a huge part of that dismal performance.

Last year, I was hoping this unit was trending up and Staley would help it to perform even better, given his defensive reputation. At this point, the trend is not positive, and there is no evidence that Staley's scheme or coaching made a positive impact on this unit. This remains a major problem area.

Team Weaknesses – Conclusion

Telesco still has work to do on both units to get them to average level, much less to turn them into team strengths, which should be the objective.

High Value Contracts

It is a bit difficult to separate free agency and contracts, so I will address them together, starting with large contracts.

One of Telesco's biggest problems has been his track record on significant contracts. In my previous post, I used $20M+ contracts, but contract values and techniques (e.g., void years) have made it harder to find a useful cutoff. Instead, I will attempt to categorize the large, multi-year contracts relative to the norm in the respective years.

These contracts were good:

  1. QB Rivers (2015)
  2. WR Allen (2016)
  3. Edge/OLB Ingram (2017)

These contracts were good early, not so good late:

  1. Okung (2017) – maybe should call this good given the state of the rest of the Chargers OL
  2. Hayward (2018) – note this is the extension that covered 2019-2021

These contracts were bad:

  1. CB Cox (2013)
  2. LB Butler (2014)
  3. LT Dunlap (2015) – note this is the extension
  4. LG Franklin (2015)
  5. CB Flowers (2015) – note this is the extension
  6. DT Liuget (2015)
  7. RT Barksdale (2016) – note this is the extension
  8. WR Benjamin (2016)
  9. SS Addae (2017) – note this is the extension
  10. RT Bulaga (2020)
  11. CB Harris (2020)

Too soon to tell on these contracts, but trending well:

  1. DE Bosa (2020)
  2. WR Allen (2020)
  3. RB Ekeler (2020)
  4. C Linsley (2021)
  5. CB Davis (2021)
  6. OL Feiler (2021)

In my view, this shows a track record with more bad contracts than good contracts. If the last group of 2020-2021 contracts end up working out favorably, it could swing Telesco's record to 50/50 or slightly better, and that seems reasonable... no GM hits on all of his contract decisions.

One possible way to look at this positively is that most of the bad contracts were in Telesco's first 4 seasons on the job, so one might choose to believe he has gotten better at evaluating these decisions.

Lower Value Contracts

Telesco has been better on lower value contracts, signing players such as:

  1. RB Woodhead
  2. OL Slauson
  3. OL Schofield (first contract, and arguably the second one this year as well)
  4. DT Mebane (first contract)
  5. RT Barksdale (first contract)
  6. CB Hayward (first contract)
  7. LB Vigil
  8. LB Toomer
  9. DT Square
  10. FS Boston
  11. OL Feiler

But IMO he also made some bad signings on lower value contracts:

  1. QB Taylor - no doubt influenced by Lynn
  2. RB Donald Brown
  3. DT Mebane (second contract)
  4. LB Perryman (second contract)
  5. LB Pullard
  6. OL Ohrnberger
  7. OL Rinehart
  8. S Lowery

There are some others who haven't been particularly good or bad, like LB Davis, TE Green, and arguably TE Cook. I'm sure I missed some other names, but hopefully no one glaring.

Overall, this area feels like a positive for Telesco, hence his nickname, "Coupon God".

Telesco also has a solid track record with UDFAs, but I view that as being more closely associated with the draft and associated scouting than with signing veteran free agents. More on that below.

Other Contract Issues

Other contract issues include:

  • The Joey Bosa rookie contract situation was a fiasco that made the Chargers and Telesco look foolish and petty, and also arguably contributed to Bosa missing 4 games in his rookie season due to a hamstring injury. Fortunately, it does not seem that Bosa held a grudge, given that he signed his contract extension. (Of course, becoming the highest paid player at his position helps to overcome a grudge...)
  • The Chargers exercised the 5th year options on Fluker, Verrett, Gordon, Bosa, Williams, and James.
    • The Chargers got out of Fluker's, escaping without harm. So it is hard to label this a bad decision per se, but it arguably wasn't smart for a player drafted to play OT who had been moved inside by that point.
    • The team could not get out of paying Verrett $8.5M to not play in 2018. Given his injury history prior to the decision on his option, it was GM malpractice to pick up the option, and the team got burned.
    • Exercising Gordon's option set the stage for his holdout that had a profound negative impact on the 2019 season. Another bad decision in hindsight, though I can understand it.
    • Exercising Bosa's option was a good decision with the expectation of reaching a long term contract extension, which happened.
    • Even though Williams had a good season in 2021, IMO exercising the option for Williams was a bad decision given the cap hit of $15.7M. In fairness, Telesco did not know at the time that the 2021 cap would go down rather than going up, as is typical. This decision could have been salvaged if the team had been able to sign Williams to a long term extension at reasonable terms, but that didn't happen. This is one of the side effects of overdrafting a player in the first round - his 5th year option salary stands to end up higher than his worth.
    • I'm glad the team exercised the option for James. We can only hope he stays healthy next season and presents the team with a positive dilemma - whether or not to sign him to a second contract at terms he will no doubt demand.

Fortunately, every year that passes puts the Bosa contract situation and Verrett 5th year option further in the rear view mirror.

Draft

In theory, this is Telesco's strongest area, so let's review. Here are Telesco's drafts so far.

2013 Draft

  • 1.11 (11) OL D.J. Fluker
  • 2.6 (38) LB Manti Te'o
  • 2.13 (45) Traded to Arizona to move up to 2.6 to draft Te'o
  • 3.14 (76) WR Keenan Allen
  • 4.13 (110) Traded to Arizona to move up to 2.6 to draft Te'o
  • 5.12 (145) CB Steve Williams
  • 6.11 (179) Edge/DE Tourek Williams
  • 7.15 (221) QB Brad Sorenson

Notable UDFA: SS Jahleel Addae

Still with Chargers (1): Allen

Analysis: In hindsight, this was a terrible draft with one great pick – Allen. The trade to move up for Te'o was a bad decision. This was Telesco's first time managing a draft, and it showed.

2014 Draft

  • 1.25 (25) CB Jason Verrett
  • 2.18 (50) Edge/OLB Jeremiah Attaochu
  • 2.25 (57) Traded to Miami to move up to 2.18 to draft Attaochu
  • 3.25 (89) OL Chris Watt
  • 4.25 (125) Traded to Miami to move up to 2.18 to draft Attaochu
  • 5.25 (165) IDL Ryan Carrethers
  • 6.25 (201) RB Marion Grice
  • 7.25 (240) WR Tevin Reese

Notable UDFAs: S Adrian Phillips, RB Branden Oliver, IDL Tenny Palepoi, and OT Jeremiah Sirles

Still with Chargers (0): N/A

Analysis:

  • In hindsight, this was worse than the 2013 draft. Not a single impactful player was drafted. Verrett might have been that had he been able to stay healthy, but Telesco drafted him with full knowledge of his extensive injury history in college, so he gambled on that and lost.
  • This draft included another bad draft day trade to move up in the second round for a LB.
  • The UDFA class helped this class to a D grade rather than a F.
  • These first two drafts set the stage for the abysmal 2015 and 2016 seasons. It is rare that a team can survive getting just one player above replacement level out of two consecutive drafts. The salary cap, free agency, and the high rate of injury make it absolutely necessary to get multiple quality players out of every draft in order to be successful.

2015 Draft

  • 1.15 (15) RB Melvin Gordon
  • 1.17 (17) Traded to San Francisco to move up to 1.15 to draft Gordon
  • 2.16 (48) LB Denzel Perryman
  • 3.19 (83) CB Craig Mager
  • 4.18 (117) Traded to San Francisco to move up to 1.15 to draft Gordon
  • 5.17 (153) Edge/OLB Kyle Emanuel
  • 6.16 (192) IDL Darius Philon
  • 7.19 (236) Traded to Dallas in 2013 for Edge/DE Sean Lissemore

Notable UDFAs: WR Tyrell Williams, PK Josh Lambo, and LB/ST Nick Dzubnar.

Still with Chargers (0): N/A

Analysis:

  • Another year, another bad draft day trade to move up in the draft. IMO Gordon was not worth a first round pick, much less the price Telesco paid. But at least he wasn't a complete bust.
  • For the third straight draft, Telesco used a second round pick on a LB. Perryman was better than the other two, but that is a fairly low bar. And Perryman continued Telesco's trend of drafting players who would have trouble staying healthy and available.
  • Mager was a complete reach and a bust.
  • At least Emanuel and Philon delivered good value based on where they were picked. This draft provided the first glimmer of Telesco having some ability to find late value.
  • Telesco continued his positive trend with UDFAs.
  • This was really Telesco's first draft class that could be considered solid. It seems reasonable to think he was improving with experience. Unfortunately, there was no long lasting effect, since none of these players remain with the team.

2016 Draft

  • 1.3 (3) Edge/DE Joey Bosa
  • 2.4 (35) TE Hunter Henry
  • 3.3 (66) C Max Tuerk
  • 4.4 (102) LB Joshua Perry
  • 5.3 (142) Traded to San Francisco to move to 1.15 in 2015 draft to draft Gordon
  • 5.36 (175) LB Jatavis Brown - compensatory pick
  • 6.4 (179) P Drew Kaser
  • 6.23 (198) FB Derek Watt - pick obtained from Minnesota in exchange for Sirles
  • 7.3 (224) G Donavon Clark

Notable UDFAs: CBs Trevor Williams and Trovon Reed and OL Spencer Pulley

Still with Chargers (1): Bosa

Analysis:

  • This was easily Telesco's best draft to date, though it is reasonable to point out that drafting from the #3 position makes a draft easier. (And also reasonable to point out that "best draft to date" for Telesco at this point was a low bar.)
  • Bosa was a nobrainer, and, frankly, there were other great choices there, notably Jalen Ramsey and DeForest Buckner. Given the Chargers did not need a QB, it would have been hard to miss on that first round pick.
  • Telesco made a good decision to draft Henry, and he also got late value in Brown.
  • However, Telesco whiffed on his 3rd and 4th round picks and strangely decided to actually use draft picks on P and FB, when he could have likely signed them (or equivalents) as UDFAs. These things kept this draft from being a home run. As does the fact that Bosa is the only player still with the team.

2017 Draft

  • 1.7 (7) WR Mike Williams
  • 2.6 (38) G Forrest Lamp
  • 3.7 (71) G Dan Feeney
  • 4.6 (113) S Rayshawn Jenkins
  • 5.7 (151) DB Desmond King
  • 6.6 (190) T Sam Tevi
  • 7.7 (225) Edge/DE Isaac Rochell

Notable UDFAs: RB Austin Ekeler, CB Michael Davis, PK Younghoe Koo

Still with Chargers (3): Williams, Ekeler, Davis

Analysis:

  • This draft was a mixed bag. Williams has not played up to his draft choice. Optimism was high on Lamp and Feeney, but, frankly, they were both busts. Jenkins, King, and Rochell were excellent values at their draft positions, but they are with other teams now. And IMO the Chargers should let Williams walk this offseason, which would mean only 2 UDFAs would remain from this draft.
  • Tevi was below average as a starter, but would have been a good value as a depth player in the 6th round, and he did play a lot of snaps, so he also was a good pick, though I was glad to see him walk last offseason.
  • UDFAs Ekeler and Davis really elevate this draft class. Unfortunately, Telesco also signed Koo, setting the stage for the great 2017 placekicking debacle.
  • Overall, this draft looked a lot better in the immediate aftermath; not so much today, though it still looks good. Don't get me wrong, it was much better than the 2013-2014 drafts and a bit better than 2015.

2018 Draft

  • 1.17 (17) S Derwin James
  • 2.16 (48) Edge/OLB Uchenna Nwosu
  • 3.20 (84) Interior DL Justin Jones
  • 4.19 (119) LB Kyzir White
  • 5.18 (155) C Scott Quessenberry
  • 6.17 (191) WR Dylan Cantrell
  • 7.33 (251) RB Justin Jackson

Notable UDFA: OL Trenton Scott

Still with Chargers (6): James, Nwosu, Jones, White, Quessenberry, Jackson... for now

Analysis:

  • James was a top 5-ish talent who fell to #17. Good for Telesco. Even though he was a perfect match of talent and need for the Chargers, arguably making it an easy pick, Telesco still deserves credit for making the pick where other teams passed. However, his inability to stay on the field is a real problem that will tank the value of this pick and this draft if it continues in 2022.
  • I could see the team re-siging any of Nwosu, Jones, White, Quessenberry, and/or Jackson, all of whom are UFAs, if the price is right. I could also see any or all of them gone. Nwosu might have earned a second contract late this season. White has had some flashes, but his problem may be the team's investment in Murray. For the most part, this group has been underwhelming and not very impactful.
  • Cantrell could not live up to the hype, some of which was laughable.
  • Signing UDFA Scott actually downgraded this class...
  • This was an underwhelming draft. James is the only player who has provided above average play, and he has missed roughly half of the games since he was drafted.

2019 Draft

  • 1.28 (28) IDL Jerry Tillery
  • 2.28 (60) S Nasir Adderley
  • 3.27 (91) T Trey Pipkins
  • 4.28 (130) LB Drue Tranquill
  • 5.28 (166) QB Easton Stick
  • 6.27 (200) Edge/LB Emeke Egbule
  • 7.28 (242) Interior DL Cortez Broughton

Notable UDFAs: S Roderic Teamer, P Ty Long

Still with Chargers (7): all except Teamer and Broughton, though Egbule was mostly a practice squad player in 2021

Analysis:

  • Tillery is really looking like a bust right now. The team has to decide this offseason whether or not to exercise his 5th year option, which would be for the 2023 season. That would raise his cap hit from $3.6M in 2022 to $10.3M in 2023. So far, Telesco has exercised the 5th year option for every player he has drafted in the first round, as discussed above. If I had to make the call, I would not exercise it based on his lousy play to date in his career.
  • Adderley and Tranquill were both solid this season in their first season in Staley's defense, but neither has really broken out and fulfilled the potential they have flashed at times. We need another season to judge them.
  • This draft continued a trend for Telesco of reaching with his 3rd round picks. It appears he thinks that he should draft conservatively in the 1st and 2nd rounds, then reach in the 3rd for the (theoretical) big payoff. This strategy generally has not paid off. Pipkins had a couple good starts late this season and may have finally reached the point that he can be a solid depth player, but I need to see more next season. I certainly don't think the team should have any illusions about making him a starter to replace Bulaga.
  • Stick was a wasted pick at the time of the draft and has been a wasted roster spot ever since.
  • In hindsight, this was a bad draft. IMO it was Telesco's worst since at least 2015.

2020 Draft

  • 1.6 (6) QB Justin Herbert
  • 1.23 (23) LB Kenneth Murray
  • 2.5 (37) Traded to New England to move to 1.23 to draft Murray
  • 3.7 (71) Traded to New England to move to 1.23 to draft Murray
  • 4.6 (112) RB Joshua Kelley
  • 5.5 (151) WR Joe Reed
  • 6.7 (186) S Alohi Gilman
  • 7.6 (220) WR K.J. Hill

Notable UDFAs: DL Gaziano, IDL Fehoko, FB Nabers

Still with Chargers (9): all, although Reed and Hill were practice squad players in 2021

Analysis:

  • Jury is out on all but Herbert, who won OROY. Assuming he continues the level of play he showed as a rookie, he will make this draft a success no matter what happens with the others.
  • That said, it was pretty costly to move up for Murray, and he looks like a major bust at this time. Reed and Hill couldn't even stick on the final roster beyond their rookie season. Kelley is a weak depth player at best. If not for Herbert, this probably would have been the worst draft in Telesco's tenure.

2021 Draft

  • 1.13 (13) LT Rashawn Slater
  • 2.15 (47) CB Asante Samuel, Jr.
  • 3.13 (77) WR Josh Palmer
  • 3.33 (97) TE Tre' McKitty
  • 4.13 (105) Edge Chris Rumph
  • 5.15 (159) OL Brenden Jaimes
  • 6.1 (185) LB Nick Niemann
  • 6.14 (198) RB Larry Rountree
  • 7.13 (241) S Mark Webb

Notable UDFAs: none, really... some fans were excited about IDL Merrill, but he was terrible... LB Ogbongbemiga played 111 snaps but was also terrible

Still with Chargers (9): all

Analysis:

  • Slater was a home run pick, and Samuel looks like another very good pick, as long as he can shake the concussions.
  • I didn't like the third round picks, but Palmer looks like a good player. The pick will definitely have been worth it if it enables Telesco to let Williams walk this offseason.
  • The jury is out on the rest, though I wouldn't be surprised to see Rountree miss the final 2022 roster.
  • It is early, but right now this looks like one of Telesco's few best drafts. If a couple of the players from the last 6 picks emerge as positive impact players, this could even be his best.

Overall Draft Record

It seems to me that Telesco's draft prowess is overrated. In terms of stud players, he has drafted 3 – Bosa, James, Herbert, and Slater. Bosa and Herbert were top 6 picks and James was a gift BPA who perfectly fit a team need, so those were easy picks, relatively speaking.

I posted this data last year, and I haven't found any updates yet, although we now know that he has drafted 7 Pro Bowlers, since Herbert and Slater made it for the first time this year:

This article from the Athletic last December discusses the 32 GMs in place last season. It shows that Telesco has drafted 2 1st Team All Pro players and 5 Pro Bowl players in his 8 drafts to date.

This article from Football Outsiders shows a comparison of the draft capital and draft return for all teams from 2010-2019. Unsurprisingly, looking at the data from 2013-2019 is not positive for Telesco and the Chargers:

  1. The Chargers rank #20 in total draft capital, with ~2.9% of the draft capital over that span. (See the article for details.)
  2. The Chargers rank #28 in total draft return.
  3. The Chargers rank #26 in ratio of total return vs. total capital, at ~90.3%, where 100% would indicate that the team got the expected value out of its draft picks.

Most of Telesco's draft class players from the 2019-2021 drafts are still with the team, since all are still on rookie/ERFA/RFA contracts (read: relatively cheap). But only 5 players are on the roster from the first 5 draft classes in 2013-2017, and 2 of those were UDFAs. We don't yet know how many besides James will be on next year's roster from the 2018 class.

Intuitively, I would expect strong NFL teams to have more players from earlier drafts on their rosters, so, to me, this doesn't reflect well on those drafts. However, I did not check other rosters to see if my intuition is valid.

Though 9-8 in 2021 was an improvement over the previous two seasons, the team's performance on the field in Telesco's tenure has been below average overall. If we aggregated the team goals for those 9 seasons (e.g., winning record, win the division, make the playoffs, win playoff games, win a championship, perform well in all phases), the teams under Telesco have not achieved many.

One of the biggest recurring themes throughout Telesco's tenure has been lack of quality depth, and we saw that again this season, despite the improved record. All teams have trouble with this, but IMO it seems more pervasive through the Chargers position groups than for most other teams, particularly playoff-caliber teams.

That reveals a lot about his draft performance. Some people seem to think Telesco is great at managing the draft, but the evidence just isn't there to back that up.

Comparison to Peers

Again, I posted this last year, and have not seen any updates yet:

The Athletic article referenced in the previous section shows that the complete list of current NFL GMs who have been GMs of their NFL franchises since 2013 or earlier:

  1. Jones - DAL (1989 - owner)
  2. Brown - CIN (1991 - owner)
  3. Belichick - NE (2000)
  4. Colbert - PIT (2000)
  5. Loomis - NO (2002)
  6. Schneider - SEA (2010)
  7. Elway - DEN (2011)
  8. Spielman - MIN (2012)
  9. Snead - LAR (2012)
  10. Keim - ARI (2013)
  11. Telesco - Chargers (2013)

That is 11 guys, and two are team owners, so they will never get fired for poor performance... so probably fairer to exclude them and focus on the other 9.

That article shows wins, losses, ties, win percentage, playoff W/L, Pro Bowlers drafted, and 1st Team All Pros drafted for all of those GMs at that time. Using that information, Telesco has been comparable to Elway and Keim, though Elway obviously has won a Super Bowl, which elevates his resume. So IMO Telesco ranks at the bottom of this group with Keim; one of them is 8th best, one is 9th best (excluding Jones and Brown).

This means 21 other NFL teams have hired one or more GMs since Telesco was hired. Some have obviously been worse, but others have been better (e.g., KC, BUF, GB, BAL, IND, TEN). Telesco has survived 4 out of 6 losing seasons and two entire coaching regimes. Being patient with a GM, especially a first-time GM, can be a good thing, but I don't think many franchises would have kept Telesco this long given his performance to date. So in that respect, I think he is fortunate to work for the Spanos family.

Heck, he is probably fortunate that the team doctor punctured Tyrod's lung before game 2 last season. Herbert's season likely saved Telesco's job.

Some changes since then:

All three of them had performed better than Telesco, but this does reduce the non-owner GM group in place since at least 2013 to just 6 GMs - Belichick, Loomis, Schneider, Snead, Keim, and Telesco. Last year, I said it was a toss-up between Keim and Telesco for last place, but Keim has now pulled ahead, helping the Cardinals to rebuild its 2018 3-13 team into a 2021 playoff team that won 11 games.

Summary

Overall, I don't think this paints a flattering picture of Telesco's performance with the Chargers. In fact, IMO it suggests he is a below average GM at best.

This is what I wrote last year:

I want to be optimistic that he is improving and can still grow into an above average GM. A lot of that will depend on the Staley hire, 2020-2021 free agents, and 2020-2021 drafts, and the jury is out on all of that. If Staley delivers on what seems like promising potential, Telesco will presumably be around for a long time to come. If the team performs poorly under Staley in 2021 and 2022, I expect Telesco will be gone.

I don't think 2021 really moved the needle on my take very much. I now think if the Chargers miss the playoffs in 2022, he should be fired, and it might actually happen. Of course, I hope it doesn't happen because I want the Chargers to make the playoffs and make a run.

If you disagree with my overall assessment, I'd like to hear counter arguments. Thoughts?

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.