Tom Telesco's first NFL draft as the San Diego Chargers' general manager in 2013 was a rousing success. His first three picks all became starters for a team that exceeded expectations by finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs.
The Chargers' woeful defense can use a few players capable of contributing right away in 2014. By adhering to the big-picture philosophy that served him so well last season, Telesco can address the Chargers' immediate needs on defense and set up the team for prolonged success.
In the free-agent market, Telesco has shown a propensity for bringing former Indianapolis Colts players—the Colts were his employer from 1998 through 2012—into the fold in California.
Chargers add Kavell Conner, ex-Colt No. 5 under Chargers GM Tom Telesco. He explains the appeal: http://t.co/q7ZVAQd2gO— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) March 13, 2014
How does a general manager, one that apparently finds comfort in familiarity, navigate the murky waters of the NFL draft?
Telesco laid out his strategy in the summer of 2013, per Ricky Henne of Chargers.com:
Number one, we don’t rank our needs. To me, if you start ranking your needs, it may start influencing your draft board so we have positions we think we’d like to add players to and then after that we let the board tell us where to go. We don’t rank our players 1-255. It’s more of a horizontal look by position and then we’ll rank each player against each other at different positions. But we let the board tell us where to go.
To some fans, that last sentence may sound like Telesco treats his draft board like a Ouija board. However, it shows a very systematic approach. If Telesco sees a quality player at a position that maybe isn't the team's most pressing need, he will take that player and maximize the Chargers' ability in at least one area of the team. There is always room for improvement through competition.
It might explain why Telesco took D.J. Fluker at the 11th pick when three offensive tackles had already gone off the board or Keenan Allen was the eventual choice at the 76th spot despite the fact the Chargers could have used a cornerback or guard at that spot.
The Bolts had the worst defense in the NFL in 2013, according to their 17.5 percent DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) efficiency rating, via footballoutsiders.com. The traditional metrics are just as sobering, as the Chargers gave up 258 passing yards per game, bad enough for 29th in the NFL.
The Chargers have at least two positions on defense that can use instant contributors: cornerback and defensive tackle. Depending on which Bolts observer you ask, guard, wide receiver and outside linebacker are also positions the team should address sooner rather than later. Proven college contributors on defense should be Telesco's focus in the buildup to the draft.
At cornerback, Telesco could look at some taller prospects to play opposite the 5'11" Shareece Wright. Experienced players like Pierre Desir, Keith McGill and Kyle Fuller have the size and athleticism to contribute right away and compete against the lengthier receivers in the NFL.
|Potential Chargers' Cornerback Options|
|Player||College||Class||Height||Weight||40-yard dash||Vertical jump|
|Pierre Desir||Lindenwood||Redshirt Senior||6'1"||198||4.59||35"|
|Keith McGill||Utah||Redshirt Senior||6'3"||211||4.51||39"|
The Bolts need a linchpin at the middle of the defensive line, and Louis Nix III is a defensive tackle that analysts like Sports Illustrated's Don Banks have the Chargers taking in the first round. The redshirt junior from Notre Dame would be a strong option as a 3-4 defensive tackle and red rover extraordinaire.
His ability to take on multiple blockers, as seen in the video compilation below, would benefit the Chargers' young inside linebacker duo of Manti Te'o and Donald Butler.
According to ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams, ESPN analyst Todd McShay has the Chargers taking BYU's Kyle Van Noy in the second round of his latest mock draft.
Van Noy is a versatile outside linebacker who finished with 26 sacks in his collegiate career. A four-time All-American, he is the type of player who can come into the league and contribute right away.
The Chargers' inability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks—35 sacks, tied for 23rd in the league—made it all the more tougher on their shaky secondary to compete in the pass-driven NFL. The aging Dwight Freeney and the developing Melvin Ingram can't necessarily be counted on in 2014.
As for later rounds, the Chargers could polish up the offense by adding a downfield or breakaway receiving threat. Telesco has stated that he wants to "infuse some speed" into his offense, via ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. Philip Rivers finished 11 games last season without completing a pass over 40 yards. Granted, Rivers had a fine year without this dimension, but having a downfield threat like Bruce Ellington out of South Carolina could do wonders for the Chargers offense, especially if the possession-oriented Allen went down with injury.
Telesco would also be wise to resist trading away multiple draft picks in later rounds to move up. Unless his judgement tells him there is a special talent that the Bolts can't miss, the Chargers need bodies in the future.
They have 25 players set to become unrestricted free agents in 2015, via Spotrac.com. This includes key players like Nick Hardwick, Ryan Mathews, Corey Liuget and Danny Woodhead. Not every current contributor may be back next season, and the draft is a great route for making headway into a contingency plan for the almost inevitable veteran exits.
There are quite a few directions Telesco can take his talent-spotting team in the 2014 NFL draft. As long as he lines up a few rookies who are ready to lace their cleats at Qualcomm Stadium right away, the big-board philosophy has the potential to become a big-ticket reality.