The San Diego Chargers are sitting in an interesting position with the No. 11 overall pick in next week's NFL Draft. The general consensus is the top five is still unsettled, much less the top 10, due to the lack of marquee talent at the top of this year's draft.
Denver Broncos president John Elway said picking 28th this year is just as good as picking 10th. That might not be music to the ears of first-year Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, who approaches the draft with one selection in all seven rounds and plenty of holes to fill with an aging offensive line and a defense hit by several free-agent defections.
"Each draft is always unique in itself. It's always cyclical," Telesco said Tuesday as the team opened its offseason program this week. "This year it's really unique because the first 15 picks or so, and we do this for a living every day, and we really don't know who will go in the first 15, which is a little different.
"Usually, the first four or five you can pretty much pinpoint and then after that you have to do some educated guessing but this year, I think from a fan standpoint should be really exciting. For us, it probably means just more preparation than usual because it's hard to get a real good feel for what may happen in the first 15, certainly the first 10."
The Chargers won't help teams around them solidify that top 15 picture because they can go in almost any direction at No. 11. San Diego needs multiple offensive linemen, the secondary has several question marks and wide receiver is a glaring need with Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal flaming out as free agents last year.
Considering all the holes to fill, it's a good thing the Chargers don't rank their needs pre-draft.
"To me, if you start ranking your needs, it may start influencing your draft board so we have position we think we'd like to add players to and then after that we let the board tell us where to go," said Telesco. "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.
"Obviously we do take in to account which position(s) we'd like to add players to, but we don't go into it with a one or two, these are positions we have to hit early."
Telesco said the trade chatter has been quieter than in most years. He attributes it to the inability of most teams to predict what will happen at the top of the board. While San Diego appears highly unlikely to move up, trading down to accumulate additional picks is always a possibility.
"The board will tell you a lot of times if you can do that. If you're going to trade down, you need to know what you're going to get if you do trade down. And then the other side of that is can you find someone if you want to trade up," said Telesco. "That's something where you can make some calls before the draft but really in reality you don't really know until either you're on the clock or a couple of picks before if you can actually do that."
One of the saving graces for the Chargers may be the depth of this year's draft. While the elite talent may be lacking, quality prospects are available deep into the later rounds.
The Chargers own three of the first 76 selections and five of the top 150. That should allow Telesco to target several prospects who can be plugged in and contribute as rookies.
"I know one thing, we're trying to add some team speed," he said. "That would be one thing. We're looking for depth almost everywhere. We'll get a better feel for these guys once we get in to training camp, exactly what we have.
"Training camp is where you really evaluate your roster. OTAs, mini camps, that's really more for instruction purposes but right now we're looking to add almost everywhere. We're looking to add competition and add some talent almost everywhere."
In a common theme for general managers and head coaches this week, Telesco said nothing he sees during team activities this week will affect what San Diego does in the draft. These are instructional workouts, especially for a franchise breaking in a new head coach in Mike McCoy and a new GM.
"(This week is) not where guys are winning or losing jobs. That's training camp, training camp is where guys win and lose jobs," said Telesco. "OTAs and mini camps, we try not to evaluate players in this environment. Especially if you look on offense right now, it's a completely new offense so guys are not playing as fast when they're still learning what they're doing and where they're going so what we see in the next two or three days isn't going to influence what we do next weekend."
The Chargers have an interesting dynamic with a new GM and head coach who had a little more than three months after being hired to evaluate the roster, navigate through free agency and then sit down in the draft room together next week as the final major piece of the puzzle in shaping their first roster.
"In Denver, the position coach, the coordinator were in every draft meeting and really it is very similar to what we're doing here of combining everybody's ideas and evaluations of everybody you watch positionally," said McCoy. "We're doing the same thing. Tom Telesco has done a great job of taking the coaches input, the scouting department's input, my input and really it's our job now to put all of our minds together and say what is the best thing moving forward."
While Telesco believes the draft is the most important part of building a winning team, he also said the process has become more difficult over the past 10 years with the college game becoming so much faster and wide open. Regardless of speed, there isn't as much space to work in the NFL, where all the players on the field are bigger and faster.
"That would be one change for us, trying to project who's going to play well at this level because a lot of times you just don't see it," he said. "You may be looking for a middle linebacker and how does he take on the power. Well a lot of college teams don't run power so you don't get to see it so there is some projection involved."
Telesco came over from the Indianapolis Colts, which puts him in the interesting situation of hearing opinions on the players in this draft class from scouts working for two different teams. In the end, he believes NFL teams have to trust the work put in and understand it's impossible to predict and unpredictable process.
"In the end, it's human picking human, so there's going to be some misses on both sides, either us picking wrong with a player that just doesn't perform," said Telesco. "A lot of it is it's just an inexact science so it's more of an art than a science per se and there's a lot of attributes that you can't see and you can't grade that when you get that player, he may flourish with the right coach and the right environment but there's a lot of attributes you can't scout.
"That's just a part of us as people trying to pick other humans and their performance in a different environment. You're just not going to hit on players 100 percent of the time. We try desperately to hit on all our picks.
"If you have seven picks, you want to hit on all seven guys. Every year you want to do it but every year, even the best drafters, it's like 65 or 70 percent over a four-year span. Those are the best, but the goal every year is you want all those seven guys to come in and contribute."
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