San Diego Chargers’ 2015 Draft — Quick Reaction

A few quick thoughts on the Chargers’ 2015 Draft. Hopefully, more content to follow.

Trading Up in the 1st Round — In principle, sacrificing two Day-3 picks for the opportunity to move up a few spots in the teens of the Draft’s first round seems fine. Historically, the aggregate talent in the top 13 or so picks far exceeds what’s available from about 15 through 40. Sacrificing fourth- and fifth-round picks to move up and nab an elite talent that’s still available could yield positive results over time (especially given that the fifth rounder falls in 2016); someone please write if this conflicts with more modern assessments of draft pick values. In the end, however, given the player the Chargers took at 15, and the way they executed the rest of the draft, I think they should have stayed at 17.

Melvin Gordon III — Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco sees Gordon as an elite talent. I disagree, and I also think he’s a somewhat awkward fit for the Bolts zone-blocking scheme. I’ll post a more complete breakdown forthcoming.

Denzel Perryman — I never saw the tape of Perryman defending the run at an elite level that everyone else so passionately references. Given the talent available (at positions of need, if it matters) when the Chargers picked in the second round, the Chargers made a very, very troubling choice here.

Craig Mager — We may come to view Mager as the most talented player the Chargers selected in 2015 – and the pick still concerns me a bit. I hope to review Mager in an upcoming post, as he has a lot of good (and some bad) tape. But I get the feeling, as I did last year, that the Chargers selected a player in the third round that they would have taken in the fourth, given that option. This suggests a lack of commitment to the team’s supposed “best-player-available” strategy. Of course the Chargers traded their fourth rounder each of the past few years, so they were forced to select a coveted player in the third round or run the risk he wouldn’t be there in the fifth. Thus, the downside of the team’s Day-1 trade.

Kyle Emanuel — I didn’t see Emanuel show the burst up the field or the agility to make an impact as an NFL pass rusher, and he looked really uncomfortable playing in space on the few occasions he dropped into coverage. I simply don’t see how he succeeds at outside linebacker for this team. Until Emanuel proves me otherwise, I consider this a wasted pick. I certainly doubt very highly that Emanuel will provide any kind of answer for the Bolts’ pass-rush woes.

Darius Philon — Philon adds a bit of depth to the Chargers’ corps of defensive ends. His skill set played well in a one-gap scheme against SEC competition. He’ll need bulk, for starters, to hold up effectively in the Chargers’ two-gap system.

At first blush, I think other teams got a lot better, and the Chargers largely flubbed this draft. But I hope to explore the pros and cons of each pick in a bit more detail in the coming weeks…

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NFL Draft 1st Round Reflections

I love Todd Gurley, but he should be valued a bit like a quarterback in the 1st round: if you have one, you don’t need one. St. Louis should have looked for help at another position.

Cleveland Browns made up for last year’s draft debacle. Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving could each tip the scales at their positions. To get them at 12th and 19th, respectively, is almost unfathomable.

49ers put themselves in position to re-load. Two extra picks for moving down two slots in the 1st.

Love the #HOUpick and #AZCardinalspick. Waited for best player to fall to them.

Can these teams desperate for pass rush help afford to pass on Randy Gregory? My guess is they regret it.

Quote of the night? My girlfriend: “Did they just say Girlie?”

Wondering how Manziel projects? Look no further than this rising NFL star.

Johnny Manziel was the proverbial ‘black box’ of this year’s NFL Draft: even seasoned analysts and coaches were compelled to shrug with uncertainty when asked how his seat-of-the-pants style would translate to the NFL. Yes, the chicken-legged gunslinger made SEC defenders look silly for two seasons. But on Sundays? No one was quite sure how to peg Manziel’s projection to the next level.

Watching Manziel execute against professionals for the first time on Saturday, the contents of the black box were revealed. Manziel’s pro game compares to a current NFL quarterback, with some physical limitations built in.

Manziel is a six-foot Colin Kaepernick.

Lets get the obvious differences out of the way. Kaepernick has a much stronger arm, effortlessly zipping the ball downfield on a line. Manziel, by contrast, really needs his legs to do the work on his throws. If Saturday is any reflection, Manziel seems unlikely to gallop gazelle-like through NFL defenses in quite the same way Kaepernick has for nearly two seasons. (Manziel saw less daylight than we’re accustomed to on his scrambles in part because the Browns offense draws more defenders into the box than the Texas A&M spread.)

manziel
kaepernick

But Manziel and Kaepernick have more in common than you think. Both players can make defenders miss with the ball in their hands. Both players are transitioning from a spread offense in college to a pro-style approach, and consequently struggle to progress through their reads. And both players show less accuracy than you would like. Manziel will make some of the same jaw-dropping plays that Kaepernick has made routine; Kaepernick’s struggles will be Manziel’s.

Was “Colin Kaepernick Light” worth the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft? Tough call. Even with their quarterback a regular feature on Sportscenter, the 49ers generally go as far as their defense and smashmouth running game take them. When Josh Gordon gives way to the likes of Miles Austin at the end of training camp, this Browns team may well wish that Brian Hoyer had Kelvin Benjamin to throw to. Or another piece in the secondary. Or help along the offensive line.

But Manziel, for all his limitations, will probably give this team an offensive dimension that it has lacked for so long. He will frustrate with his penchant for bailing from the pocket, and errant balls that fall harmlessly to the turf in August may land in the arms of the first-team defenders Manziel will face during the regular season. But he will also get this team first downs with his legs; he’ll keep plays alive when less athletic QBs might have gone down; and he may eventually command enough attention that his receivers will find a bit more running room across the middle of defenses.

It will be fun to watch Manziel grow as an NFL quarterback. And while his future is unwritten, we do have a bit of a roadmap: a raw, lanky, exceptionally athletic gunslinger that emerged from a spread offense a few years ago. Browns fans can only hope that their team’s fortunes turn the way the 49ers’ did.

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.

The Real Motive Behind Belichick’s Bail on Wes Welker? (and another reason to hate this move…)

The Patriot Way

 

As I listened to Bill Simmons and Bill Barnwell commiserate abou– analyze the Patriots’ decision to trade in their Wes Welker for a pre-owned Danny Amendola, something struck me.  Barnwell suggested that Belichick had to give up on Welker at age 32 in the name of “the Patriot Way.”  What if, I thought, giving up on Welker at 32 is the only thing that gives life to the Patriot Way in the first place?

 

“The Patriot Way” is an ill-defined label that conjures up Belichick persuading the Randy Mosses of the world to behave and the Tom Brady’s of the world to take less-than-market value, all in the name of team success.

 

In one sense, Barnwell’s take makes sense: team does come first on the Pats, no matter what.  In this case, the suggestion is that trading in an older slot receiver for a younger model is good for the team.

 

But Belichick’s no fool.  He knows he’s taking a risk by committing two-and-a-half times Welker’s salary to an unknown commodity.  So there’s more to the story.

 

The classic example of the Patriot Way is kicking Randy Moss out the door mid-season, just a few years removed from his run at the record books.  Refusing to suffer bad apples puts teammates on notice not to go rotten, too.  The “stick,” of the “carrot-and-stick approach.”

 

But, even if players understood the Randy Moss departure as a signal not to misbehave, that doesn’t make it an effective way to encourage players that haven’t come into their own that they can perform when the job falls to them.

 

Particularly in the salary cap era, it’s not always easy to ensure that the grumbling superstar has an equally polished back-up to fill his shoes when he leaves.  Belichick needs a carrot to put in front of those players.  Belichick needs to signal to Rob Ninkovich that he can pressure the quarterback given the opportunity; to express confidence that Stevan Ridley can handle the backfield duties; to tell Danny Amendola that he can be a 100-catch receiver.  Belichick lets those players know that their moment has arrived by kicking Mike Vrabel and BennJarvus Green-Ellis and Wes Welker out the door in their prime.

 

“You can produce just as well as those guys because you’re a Patriot, and that’s the Patriot Way.”

 

As the team witnesses this carousel of veterans leaving and new players taking the stage, the players internalize the belief that if they only step into their role on the team, success will follow.

 

Cutting Welker loose was a stubborn move.  But, I imagine, in Belichick’s world, it puts the rest of the roster on notice that anyone is expendable, and there’s always someone out there that can fill those shoes.

 

The Rich Get Richer

 

One more point about the Welker deal.  I heard a great piece of analysis on ESPN’s “Football Today” podcast (yes, I just typed that).  Matt Williamson pointed out that the market for Welker’s services really boiled down to a handful of teams, so the Patriots could almost count on him going to a competitor.

 

A 32-year-old, decorated player going to a bottom-feeder like the Jags or the Raiders?  Laughable.  Taking a flyer on a middle-of-the-road team (e.g., the Chargers) that would need a lot of breaks just to make the playoffs?  Where’s the upside for Welker in that?  Certain contenders – Dallas, Washington – are too cash-strapped to afford even the deal Denver dolled out.

 

The market for Welker was probably limited to four to six teams, all of whom were likely to face the Patriots in the regular season (Denver, Houston), the AFC playoffs (same), or the Super Bowl (Green Bay, San Francisco, Seattle).

 

There were a lot of reasons for the Pats to retain Welker, but this one can’t be overlooked.

Pete Carroll: “Up with Replacement Refs!”

The Falcons and Cardinals are the class of the League?

The Seahawks and 49ers have the restored the luster to downtrodden franchises?

The Pats and Packers are under .500?

Bill Bellichick nearly decapitated a zebra, and Pete Carroll (see below) looked like he wanted to high five one as if he had just completed a minute-long keg stand, all within 24 hours?

We have had more controversy in three weeks than Rex Ryan, Tim Tebow, and the New York media could generate in an entire offseason of backhanded compliments and ridiculous gaffes?

 

And people want to do away with these replacement refs?!  (See ESPN; Rick Reilly; whatever; don’t get me started; and Mike Lombardi, of all people)

 

I, for one, love the new NFL.

 

(Thoughts on the last few weeks of Chargers football, and recent game action more generally, forthcoming…)