Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco did a great job finding talent in the 2016 draft class. How great? Well, the Chargers’ rookies received a high grade for their performance last season.
The days of balancing school work and social life are long gone for me, but those days I do remember. All the extracurricular activities I was involved in and the parties I attended would have been a waste if I didn’t come away with a degree in my field.
And in order to get that degree, you need good grades (unless you learn from Frank Abagnale Jr. the magical ways of forging documents). In the NFL, teams succeed largely in part because of how they draft. The Chargers, who had a top-10 draft pick for the first time since 2004, knocked it out of the park with their selections.
But it’s not always a guarantee that you’ll be successful if you pick at the top of each round. Take a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars as a prime example. They’ve picked in the top 10 for nine straight seasons (excluding the upcoming draft), and the Jags have failed to take the next step, finishing in third or fourth place in eight of those nine seasons (finished second in 2010, with their last playoff appearance coming in 2007). The Jaguars were considered a sleeper in 2016, but they finished with a 3-13 record and hold the No. 4 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
That said, NFL.com, the Chargers’ teacher in this case, handed out grades to all NFL teams for their rookies. The Chargers received an A- for their draft picks. Here’s what Around the NFL’s Conor Orr had to say:
“He (Bosa) might be the player who finally unlocks all the untapped potential across that defense–it’ll be a thrill to see him paired with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in 2017. Hunter Henry was sixth on the team in receptions but first in touchdowns (eight)… Linebacker Jatavis Brown added some serious energy to the middle rounds and led the Chargers with 64 solo tackles on top of 3.5 sacks… Eventually, the Bolts will get a look at third-round center Max Tuerk, but anything he gives them at this point should be considered a bonus.”
Immediately following the 2016 NFL Draft, NFL.com gave the Chargers a B+ for their selections. Usually premature grades are way off base, but the phrase “looks good on paper” carried over onto the field.
Joey Bosa, the Chargers’ first-round pick (No. 3 overall), was the star of this draft class. He led the team as well as all rookies in sacks (10.5) and had more pressures (60) through his first 12 games than any defender had in the last 11 years, per Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke. He brought a type of skill and aggression the Chargers haven’t had since the days of Shawne Merriman. Bosa deservedly won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, becoming the first defensive rookie since Merriman to win the award (coincidence or irony?) It was indeed a surprise pick, but it turned out to be the right pick.
The Chargers were running out of time finding a replacement for future HOF Antonio Gates. Their last experiment with Ladarius Green was a failed one, but the emergence of Hunter Henry should wash all the worry away. Henry had the most touchdowns for a rookie tight end since Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski (10) in 2010. Look for him to continue to develop an already solid rapport with QB Philip Rivers.
Jatavis Brown’s story is even more incredible.
Brown was a fifth-round pick out of Akron, a small school in Ohio. With Manti Te’o missing all but three games with a torn Achilles, Brown had the chance to showcase his skills–and he did just that. Brown was the lightning to Bosa’s thunder, leading the team with 79 total tackles after playing in 12 games (seven starts). He was always around the ball, and his ability to run sideline-to-sideline and track down defenders was impressive. He also forced two fumbles and showed he could take down the quarterback (3.5 sacks) and hold up in coverage (six pass deflections).
Many people begged Telesco to take hybrid linebacker Myles Jack when he fell to the second round, but getting Henry in the second and stealing Brown, who is as versatile as they come, in the fifth round proved to be an epic decision.
As for another rookie linebacker, fourth-round pick Joshua Perry only started one game on defense, with most of his playing time coming on special teams. Perhaps a change to a 4-3 defense could turn Perry into an impact player in 2017.
Orr even mentions notable undrafted pickups like RB Kenneth Farrow, OG Spencer Pulley and CB Trevor Williams. And that’s not even counting third-round C Max Tuerk and seventh-round OG Donavon Clark, both of whom could end up being starters in 2017. Punter Drew Kaser had his ups and downs, but look for him to keep improving (just don’t let him hold the ball on important field-goal attempts).
One player who won’t be talked about much but made a big impact was fullback Derek Watt. The Chargers brought in a fullback to help 2015 first-round RB Melvin Gordon get going. Watt, a sixth-rounder, happened to be Gordon’s fullback when they were teammates at Wisconsin. The chemistry (and Watt’s blocking ability) paved the way for a bounce-back season for Gordon, who finished the year with 10 rushing downs (12 total).
The AFC West overall received great grades. The Kansas City Chiefs also received an A-, while the Oakland Raiders scored a B and the Broncos a B-. As they say, the rich get richer.
The Chargers once again pick in the top 10 in 2017, as they hold the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. If Telesco hits on his picks for the second straight year, look for the Chargers to turn things around quickly–as long as these former draftees continue to play at a high level.