2013 NFL Draft Grade: San Diego Chargers

By all accounts, Tom Telesco has infused the Chargers with renewed enthusiasm.  Look no further than Eric Weddle’s Super Bowl prediction – pronounced with the enthusiasm you would usually associate with a player and a team that has achieved the pinnacle of pro football at some point in the past.  It’s as if a thick cloud over the organization has been lifted.  (“Cloud” being one of the few names AJ Smith has not been called over the years…)

The Chargers don't have to choose between Navy and Columbia Blue confetti just yet...

The Chargers don’t have to choose between Navy and Columbia Blue confetti just yet…

But I worry Chargers’ General Manager is a bit too optimistic.

Listening to Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy over the weekend, the Bolts’ 2013 draft class took on a pinkish hue.  DJ Fluker projects to lock down the right tackle spot.  The front office duo struggled to find a single critical word to say about Manti Te’o.  The team was thrilled to grab Keenan Allen in the third.  Later round picks sounded like potential studs, to hear Telesco tell it.

Better the Chargers trade in the rose-colored glasses for the Google brand.

I like the Chargers’ draft haul, but there’s warning signs galore, and it doesn’t take a very lengthy internet search to find them.  DJ Fluker is a great example.  While I was surprised to hear the local rag characterize the pick as a “reach” – ironic choice of words, what with Fluker’s 37-inch pythons – there’s signs that the Chargers may be returning to the well for help at the tackle position before long.  Look up clips of the Crimson Tide steamrolling opponents circa 2010, and it’s clear Fluker’s one-time teammate, James Carpenter, looks the more athletic of the two – and Carpenter is now reportedly moving to guard.  Fluker will almost assuredly end up there, too.

I also think the Chargers’ faith in Manti Te’o is a little misplaced.*  In some ways, the pick stands as a true testament to a more discerning Chargers’ front office in 2013.  Te’o is masterful at making the run/pass call and plays the underneath zone like a violin.  The Chargers certainly acquired more than a mindless thumper at pick 38.  But Telesco described Te’o as a three-down player, and I’m not sure he has the speed or lateral agility to even play the first two in the NFL.  All too often in his Notre Dame career, Te’o put himself in the perfect position to make a play, only to have a back turn the corner or the receiver jet into a hole in the zone, simply because Te’o didn’t have the burst to capitalize on his excellent preparation.  If the Chargers’ had nabbed Te’o in the third, I could not have quarreled with the roll of the dice.  There was just too much talent on the board in the second to take him where they did.

Speaking of draft position, the Te’o pick looks all the more risky when you consider what the Chargers gave up to get him.  The Chargers sacrificed a fourth-round pick to move up seven spots at the top of the second round.  By comparison, the 49ers leap-frogged half of the NFL in the first round at the expense of a third-round pick.  Simply by reference to the historical value of the picks traded, the Chargers’ trade stands as one of the worst in the entire draft.

I like Keenan Allen, and I commend the Chargers for refusing to pass on him, even if the team has areas of greater perceived “need.”  Remember, this was a team without a 1,000-yard receiver last year, and had Danario Alexander not shown up on the scene midseason, Malcolm Floyd would have led all wideouts in touchdown catches with five.  So there’s not a particularly deep talent pool already in place.

The one thing I’ll say about Allen, and the Chargers’ first three picks as a group, is that they certainly didn’t add a ton of speed to the roster.  Even Allen ran a 4.71 at his pro day, and may enter the year with a lingering knee injury.  Contrast this with the additions the Rams made early in the draft, adding a receiver with unparalleled burst and short-area quickness in Tavon Austin and the most athletic inside linebacker in quite some time in Alec Ogletree.  Add those two to a roster brimming with athletic talent at tailback (Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead), tight end (Jared Cook), cornerback (Janoris Jenkins), and along the defensive front (Chris Long and Robert Quinn, to name two), and they start to present problems that the Chargers roster just doesn’t at the moment.

The later round picks suggest potential, if not guaranteed production.  Steve Williams can run with anyone, although he seemed to lack a natural feel for man coverage too often in his college career.  Tourek Williams – who evaded my radar completely, despite playing alongside heralded safety Jonathan Cyprien – consistently gets good leverage on linemen and possesses a surprisingly polished array of pass-rush moves, including a good inside counter.  He plays well in space, too – although he should, at only 260 pounds, he is not primed for a position on an NFL defensive line just yet.

So, look, there’s value in this draft class.  But Telesco’s work is not done, by a long shot.  Phillip Rivers should not be a whole lot more confident in the group assigned to protect him this year than he was at the end of last.  No one on the roster had more than seven sacks in 2012.  The defensive secondary remains a work in progress.

Room for optimism?  Yes.  Calling the engraver for the Lombardi trophy?  Not so fast.

* …to say nothing of Te’o’s faith in Lennay Kukua. Ba-dum-cha.

This post marks the first in a series of reviews of team drafts.  I will discuss methodology in future posts, and probably issue a set of grades as the reviews conclude.  For now, hope the content is helpful, and of course, spurs a little conversation.

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