The NFL Draft is less than a week away. There is expected to be a lot of action at the top of the first round. The Chargers sit at lucky number 13. They can go numerous routes with this selection but, in a sense, may need to let the draft come to them.
This is general manager Tom Telesco's ninth NFL draft. He usually does well in this round. Out of his nine first-round selections, four of them have made a pro bowl but also adding an offensive rookie of the year in Justin Herbert and linebacker Kenneth Murray who had over 100 tackles last season.
He held his pre-draft press conference on Friday, in which he spoke on several topics leading into the draft.
Left tackle needs?
The Chargers have made it their mission during free agency to improve the offensive line. That is why they made Corey Linsley the highest-paid center in the NFL. They also added guards Oday Aboushi and Matt Feiler. Now they have one hole to fill, which is the toughest in the league; left tackle.
They will protect the blindside of quarterback Justin Herbert and will also need to be a bully in the run game to open holes.
On most mock drafts, Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater are the top tackles in the draft. When asked about them, Telesco said that everyone has every player rated differently and didn't really want to touch it, but did say the following.
"High caliber players, high caliber programs," said Telesco about both players.
There have been some questions about some of the tackles in this draft due to their arm length. Most top tackle prospects don't have the 34-inch threshold that is usually looked for from them.
"There's some with very long arms or some width less than 33-inch arms, and really, you know, their performances are no different," Telesco explained. "So yes, it's something you look at, but this is me personally, I look more at athletic ability, strength, you know, football intelligence, I would probably hit those three just off top my head. I'd hit those three things first, before I worry about arm length."
A couple of weeks ago, head coach Brandon Staley spoke to the media and said that he felt there was a hole at left tackle for the team. Did Telesco share the same opinion?
"I guess if you define that as having a starting tackle that has a number of years of experience starting in this league, then yeah, maybe," said Telesco. "But, we're very bullish on [Tackle] Trey Pipkins [III]. I was impressed by how he played late in the year. He doesn't fit that category of having multiple years of starting at that position. As we sit here today, yeah, we don't have a multi-year guy at that position that has been a starter. So, that would be correct."
Trey Pipkins is a player they drafted in 2019 from Sioux Falls in the third round as a developmental pick. He has been okay at times but hasn't made that jump yet. Telesco praised him for his job at the right tackle spot last season when Bryan Bulaga went down with an injury.
The Chargers have numerous ways they can fill their left tackle hole, but an in-house option is not, in the words of WWE Legend Triple H, "good for business." Even though Telesco wouldn't come out and say it, left tackle might be at the top of his board.
Trade up or down?
It is always interesting to see how aggressive general managers get, especially if they like a player. Telesco has jumped up before in the draft. He did it in his first one but in the second round to draft Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
He then did it in 2015 when he traded up from the 17th overall pick to 15 to select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. He most recently did it last year, trading his second and third-round pick to jump to 23 to select Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray.
"I guess we like to 'zig' while others' zag,'" explained Telesco. “Generally, yeah, I'd rather go down than up. I think you have to be careful trading up. Especially nowadays, you have to guard about being over-confident that you can guarantee the player's success that you're trading up to get."
It will be interesting to see if there is movement from Telesco to try and grab one of the tackles or top cornerbacks.
Pass rush and corner
The Chargers general manager was asked if he saw they needed pass rushers. He broke down precisely what he liked about each one, even adding about defensive end Joey Bosa "that's self-explanatory." He mentioned that they liked Uchenna Nwosu and newly added Kyler Fackrell but did say…
"Pretty happy there, but I would love more," said Telesco. "You can never have enough pass-rushers and corners."
He also was asked about the cornerback position. If history says anything, it is that new head coach Brandon Staley values corners that are versatile. He explained it, and now Telesco broke down what he looked for in the position.
"It's not like we're looking for corners that also have to be able to play safety," said Telesco. "That's not what we're looking for. We're looking for corners who can play a variety of coverages. We had already been going down that route before. So, for us, it's nothing new. We don't want a corner who can only play zone-coverage, and we don't want a corner who can only play man-coverage. Obviously, that gives us some versatility to play a little bit of man and a little bit of zone and keep people on their heels."
Best Player Available
Since Telesco arrived at the Chargers in 2013, he has explained that he drafts according to his board and selects the best player available, not for a need. One of the reasons they follow that is probably the fact that they don't want to reach for a player and not be strapped to one position.
"We're drafting players, not positions, and that's kind of where we have to look at it," explained Telesco. "We're not just trying to fill out the team for opening day in 2021. I mean, this is how we look at it. This isn't just GM speak, we got to look at this year, and then 2022, 23, 24. That's what we're drafting these players for."
That is why when fans or others look at what the Chargers do, they get a little confused. Many believe that left tackle and cornerback are their most glaring needs. The Chargers may believe that as well, but if let's just say Sewell, Slater, Horn, and Surtain are gone, and they have Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle rated fifth and Virginia Tech Christian Darrisaw ninth.
If those two players are there, the Bolts will select Waddle even though receiver isn't a "glaring" need. They believe Waddle is the fifth-best player and feel like he could help more than Darrisaw.
That is the draft philosophy that Telesco believes in, and so do many GMs in the league.
No new QB's
It seems like Telesco is pretty happy with his quarterback because he said multiple times that he would not be drafting a quarterback high on Thursday.
"I'm pretty confident that we won't be drafting a quarterback real early this year," said Telesco. "Other than that, everything would be on the table."