Many NFL draft experts say the Chargers in fact have found a long-term answer at left tackle with recent top selection Rashawn Slater, whom former scout Louis Riddick has as an All-Pro as soon as this year and former NFL tackle Geoff Schwartz rates” the most ready pass protector” of his draft class.
Slater’s selection Thursday night seemed simple, coming at No. 13 without the Chargers moving up or down, but keep this in mind:
The opportunity came in part because the Chargers, for all of their foibles in other areas, have shown a rare knack for finding good quarterbacks.
The franchise once again has made a smooth transition to football’s most important position, where it has gone from Drew Brees to Philip Rivers to Justin Herbert. That’s 19 years of quarterbacking, without a lemon in the bunch.
A good quarterback is a gift to his franchise 365 days a year, and not only during the NFL season but throughout the annual draft where he enables his team to plow premium picks into other positions. And because there’s often a raid on quarterbacks in the first round, the Chargers have in effect been drafting higher than their slot in most drafts since John Butler took Brees in 2001.
Advantaged by his selection last year of Herbert, the successor to Rivers who promptly won the NFL’s 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, General Manager Tom Telesco didn’t have to concern himself with a quarterback last week in the draft.
Cashing this “QB Draft Dividend,” Telesco got Slater with the No. 13 pick, but for his purposes, it was the draft’s ninth pick. That’s because four quarterbacks already had been chosen. Telesco had no interest in drafting any of them thanks to Herbert, a 23-year-old whose negotiating rights the Chargers control through 2024.
So it goes for the Chargers.
In the 13 drafts before they parted from Rivers and found Herbert, the former Oregon senior whom Telesco took No. 6 last year, they were the only NFL team not to take a quarterback in the top four rounds and joined the Dallas Cowboys as the only team not to draft one in the top three (premium) rounds. On average, seven quarterbacks were drafted each year in that four-round window, so the advantage enhanced Chargers draft leverage not just in the first round.
Telesco, who began drafting for the Chargers in 2013, saw no QBs go in his first draft before he chose Alabama right tackle DJ Fluker at No. 11 to try to protect Rivers and boost the ground game.
As the GM continued to double down on Rivers staying healthy — a gamble that worked out, although not without an opportunity cost, such as when Patrick Mahomes went to the Chiefs three picks after the Chargers passed on him — the popularity of QBs enhanced Telesco’s draft capital.
Defensive end Joey Bosa was available to the Chargers five drafts ago at No. 3 after quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz went first and second. Two years later, safety Derwin James was the 14th non-QB chosen when Telesco took him 17th.
Both Bosa and James would become NFL stars. The latter made the All-Pro team as a rookie, the same success ESPN’s Riddick posits for Slater.
Telesco cashed QB draft dividends in other years, as GM AJ Smith had done in the previous six years before his arrival. In both 2014 and 2015, two quarterbacks had been chosen when Telesco picked cornerback Jason Verrett and running back Melvin Gordon.
Three QBs were drafted before Telesco spent his first chip in 2019. The choice was defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, at No. 27.
Another topic for another day is whether Telesco this offseason has built what would be his first strong offensive line.
It’s about time I did. In my view, the Chargers’ offensive lines of the Telesco were all below average with the exception of the 2013 and 2018 units.
If Herbert holds up and Slater is true to forecasts, the Chargers should be set at both left tackle and quarterback for a number of years. That would be a big step toward the franchise ending an AFC West title drought now at 11 seasons.