Telesco’s offseason acquisitions paying off early on

Sep 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) looks to pass as San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (92) works against offensive guard Luke Joeckel (76) during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) looks to pass as San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (92) works against offensive guard Luke Joeckel (76) during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Going into the 2016 season, many fans argued that this was general manager Tom Telesco’s best offseason. After three weeks of play, his newest additions are making their mark.

Telesco took over for A.J. Smith in 2013, and he was dealt a tough hand to begin his managing career in San Diego. Three years later, the Chargers, regardless of their 1-2 record, are more talented and deeper than they’ve been in the past.

What helped was the fact that Telesco really hit with this year’s offseason acquisitions–and he isn’t getting the credit he deserves. There’s always negativity when bringing up the Chargers front office including the coaching staff, rightfully so; but we never praise Telesco for the good things he’s done.

The Chargers ranked 30th and 31st in rushing in 2014 and 2015, respectively. A lot of the blame circled back to the offensive line. So what did Telesco do? He signed ex-Bears center/guard Matt Slauson. The Chargers’ offensive line, which dealt with an absurd amount of injuries over the past two seasons (five different starting centers in 2014 and 25 different O-line combinations in 2015), desperately needed a starting-caliber center more than anything. It is one of the more underrated positions in the NFL.

Many complained that the Chargers didn’t address the offensive line by drafting a tackle in the first two rounds, but Slauson, 31, has shown what can happen when you have a guy who anchors the line the way he does. It also helps that the entire front five has stayed relatively healthy.

Sep 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers center Matt Slauson (68) looks at the Jacksonville Jaguars defense before the snap during the second quarter of the game at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego won 38-14. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Through three weeks, the Chargers rank 12th in rushing offense with 342 rushing yards. 2015 first-round pick Melvin Gordon is averaging a respectable 3.6 yards per carry and has rushed for four touchdowns in three games, which is tied for the most in the league. That’s an epic turnaround. Slauson’s arrival (and a healthy O-line) has given us a completely new Gordon, so take him off your “bust” list and count him as a successful draft pick.

Let’s stick with blocking. The Chargers drafted tight end Hunter Henry and fullback Derek Watt this year. Henry has been unbelievable as a run-blocking tight end, and we saw what he could do in the passing game (five receptions for 76 yards) while filling in for Antonio Gates in Week 3. It’s unfortunate that his fumble sealed a win for the Colts, but he’s a smooth route-runner who can easily get separation with his speed/size combination. This guy is going to continue to get better and be an all-around threat, which is hard to find these days. He’s the present and the future.

Watt’s familiarity with Gordon has been a sight to see. Watt, who’s had his ups and downs, paved the way for both of Gordon’s touchdowns in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. His presence has benefited Gordon greatly. Look for the versatile fullback to keep improving.

Travis Benjamin, who shined for the Cleveland Browns a year ago, was signed on to be the Chargers’ No. 2 receiver. An torn ACL in Week 1 shut down Keenan Allen’s season, and Benjamin was thrust into the No. 1 role–and he hasn’t been a disappointment. He has 10 catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns combined over the last two weeks. Yes, timing with quarterback Philip Rivers hasn’t been all that perfect yet, but he’s finally giving Rivers a true deep threat.

.@TravisBenjamin3 can become 1st Charger on Sunday since Bobby Duckworth in 1984 to catch a pass of at least 43 yards in 3 straight games

— Ricky Henne (@ChargersRHenne) September 27, 2016

And who is the man helping these offensive weapons flourish? Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. In 2013, when the Chargers made the playoffs, the Whiz helped lead a Chargers team that scored 24.8 points per game, which ranked 12th in the league. Under former OC Frank Reich, the Chargers finished 17th (21.8) and 26th (20) in scoring in 2014 and 2015, respectively. It’s 2016, and the Chargers rank third overall in scoring with 29 points per game through three games. Also, ex-Chargers RB Ryan Mathews had his best year with Whiz running things; it’s not a coincidence Gordon is doing the same. It’s still early, but the impact Whisenhunt makes is for real.

Let’s move towards the defensive side of the ball. Raise your hand if Casey Hayward was one of your favorite signings (that should be all of you). Hayward has been lights out for the Bolts. His three interceptions are good for second in the league behind Chiefs’ Marcus Peters (four). He was a top-15 coverage corner last season with the Green Packers, and pairing him up with Jason Verrett has created a deadly duo. Hayward’s ability to play on the outside and in the slot has been a blessing for the Chargers.

The Packers went with youth at the corner position, but Hayward is still only 27 years old. Even better, Telesco reeled him in on one heck of a deal (three-year, $15.3 million contract). We’ve seen a bunch of free-agent corners flop with their new respective teams (Derek Cox, Brandon Maxwell, etc.), so props to Telesco on finding a gem at a good price.

Speaking of gems, Jatavis Brown is a star in the making. Many fans wanted hybrid Myles Jack with the second pick, but the team opted to go with Henry. It makes it even sweeter that they ended up with a player like Jack in the FIFTH round. There was lot of hype for Brown before the season, and with Manti Te’o (torn Achilles) now out for the year, Brown will be starting opposite Denzel Perryman.

In place of Te’o, Brown finished with six tackles (five solo) including two for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and two passes defended in Week 3. His forced fumble led to a 61-yard recovery for a touchdown by Caraun Reid. Brown adds more speed and athleticism on defense, and even though he’s a bit undersized, he’s going to be a player who helps create turnovers.

#Chargers rookie LB Jatavis Brown owns the highest pass-rushing grade of any off-ball linebacker this season.

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 27, 2016

Speaking of Reid, why did the Detroit Lions let this guy go? Telesco did his work and not only added depth to the defensive line, but he added a big playmaker when he claimed Reid off waivers. Every time I see Reid, he’s getting pressure up front. He got to Chiefs QB Alex Smith in Week 1 for his first sack of the season, and we already mentioned what he did against the Colts in Week 3. Seriously, why did the Lions release him? Oh well.

And, of course, we saved the big man for last. Brandon Mebane is the nose tackle we’ve all been clamoring for. The Chargers, who finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing defense over the last two years, rank sixth in that category, allowing just 81.7 rushing yards per game through three games. A lot of that has to do with Mebane clogging up the middle.

The only negative is that they are giving up 4.4 yards per carry, which is the 10th-worst average, and have allowed four rushing touchdowns, which is tied for fifth-most in the league. It’s the reason why their DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) ranks 23rd for rushing (they are 16th overall in DVOA). But hey, at least the big guys up front are allowing the linebackers to finally get some sacks.

What’s great is that majority of these guys aren’t role players; they are impact players. And in terms of free agents, Telesco didn’t even break the bank to sign these players. Hopefully, defensive end Joey Bosa will be added to a long list of successful acquisitions.

Overall, Telesco did a great job this year, and we all need to start realizing that.