Perhaps the biggest misconception of the NFL Draft is that preparations truly begin after Week 17 concludes, coinciding with January's slate of collegiate all-star games.
The truth is the process begins in earnest nearly a whole year before draft day, meaning the bulk of the Bolts' evaluations are already complete.
General Manager Tom Telesco led a large Chargers contingent to the Senior Bowl this week as the team continues to fine-tune their draft board and narrow in on their targets. While it may be inaccurate to call the event the kickoff to draft season, it does mark the first time teams are able to meet with prospects in person. The Bolts came back impressed by this year's crop of senior talent.
"It was a very productive week," he said. "This is the first time in the draft process you can sit down with the kids and talk to them. You get a feel for their personalities and their football intelligence, so that's important. It was a really good, talented senior class down there this year for all positions. Sometimes the Senior Bowl is referred to as the beginning of the scouting season, but for us, it's past the halfway mark. We began scouting this class last May, or even early April. They worked through the fall, and a bulk of the scouting is down there at the colleges, watching them practice, going to games and talking to people. That is the bulk of the work, but this all-star circuit is a big piece of the puzzle."
The Chargers will be one of the most discussed teams leading up to the NFL draft as they own the third overall pick. Right now, the team is approaching the pick like they always do in terms of evaluation. However, while it doesn't change how they evaluate prospects at the moment, it will change the process as draft day nears.
"Picking third overall doesn't really change anything when it comes to evaluating the player," Telesco explained. "Now, as it gets into April, it will change the process a little bit in terms of how we decide where we go with the first pick. Right now, that is still to be determined, but that is a lot easier to determine when you are picking at three than at number 23. So our pool for that pick will be much smaller, but you also have to factor in if you trade down. If that happens, then the pool has to be much bigger. That's why our process won't change a lot for how we scout because there is no guarantee we are picking number three on draft day if we choose to trade down."
While the number three overall pick will obviously garner the most attention, Telesco explained how the Chargers are putting in an equal amount of preparation into each round. The Bolts currently have seven selections, including two in the sixth round and none in the fifth. However, the general manager expects to have another selection added to their arsenal in the form of a compensatory pick based on last year's free agency. Teams are awarded additional picks based on a formula that weighs the number of players added compared to those lost.
Even though the first round pick is naturally the most talked about, hitting on every selection is of the utmost importance. Often times, players with higher grades fall through the cracks into the early picks of the subsequent round. Thus, having a high selection each time is extremely valuable.
"It certainly is nice to have early picks in each round," Telesco said. "It is brutal during the season to go through a 4-12 year to get to that point, but it is very important this year having a high pick in each round and not just the third overall pick. I'm really excited about the second round, and it should help us in each round after that, too."
The next major milestone in the process is the NFL Scouting Combine, which makes February one of the most important months leading up to the draft. All of the team's scouts from across the country will return to Chargers Park for a busy month of meetings where the draft board will continue to take shape.
"The board is constantly moving, but it's been up there all through the fall," Telesco said. "We've got some pretty heavy draft meetings to do before the Combine, and all our scouts will come in and we will meet with them over a number of days. We will discuss every player that is eligible, and all the players that will be at the Combine. We start to solidify where we see those players being drafted. So February is a *big *month of meetings for us. There will be some changes after the Combine, but we don't make too many changes after it. We want to draft these players and scout them based on football players, not how they run around in shorts and a t-shirt."