Eight days before the draft on April 20, General Manager Tom Telesco, President of Football Operations John Spanos and Head Coach Mike McCoy were in a short meeting discussing road hotels for the 2016 season when Spanos received a text message.
It was from Director of College scouting Kevin Kelly.
It read: “We’re going to get our guy.”
The Philadelphia Eagles had just acquired the second overall pick.
The Chargers celebrated and exchanged high-fives.
Somehow, someway, the Chargers were going to be in position to land the player they coveted in Ohio State Defensive End Joey Bosa.
The Chargers were the mystery team of this year’s draft. Everyone knew they’d steer the course of the entire first round, but no one outside of a select few knew the direction the team would go.
You know the rumors.
Now, learn the untold story as we go behind the scenes of the yearlong process that landed Joey Bosa with the third overall pick.
Part 1: Turning Pro
Joey Bosa entered his junior season knowing it would be his final year wearing the scarlet and grey. In Mid-January, he officially declared for the NFL Draft. Unbeknownst to Bosa, he initiated a chain of events that led him to San Diego, even if the Chargers doubted the likelihood at that moment he’d end up donning the lightning bolt.
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “I knew I was going to come out right after my sophomore season was over. We had won a championship, and I felt I was one of the top defensive prospects. I knew if I had another good year, and I stayed healthy, that I would definitely come out. “
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Knowing at that point that Tennessee didn’t need a quarterback, my first initial reaction was we wouldn’t have a shot at him because we don’t have the number one pick. Joey was the best player we’d seen all year, so that was my initial thought.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “I was watching some film on him and I remember walking down the hall to (Director of Player Personnel) JoJo (Wooden) and saying, ‘Can you imagine if we can get a guy like this?’ He made a comment to me that unless we were picking first overall, he didn’t think that was going to happen. And I remember thinking he was probably right.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Even with Cleveland at the time, obviously this is all hearsay, but you hear they weren’t looking to take a quarterback. Obviously you don’t know if that is true or not, but that is what you hear. So I’m thinking there are two teams who if they aren’t taking a quarterback, well this is one of the best defensive players in the country, so he won’t be there at three.”
Part 2: The Resume
Preparations for the 2016 NFL Draft began in earnest in late May of 2015, and Bosa wasn’t even on the Bolts’ radar as the Chargers don’t focus on underclassmen during the college season. After all, there is never a guarantee they will declare. Nonetheless, it was impossible to not notice Bosa whenever the Buckeyes took the field. In fact, he’d made a name for himself around Chargers Park as early as 2013.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Joey jumped out his freshman year. I was at a game he played against Purdue, and he jumped out in that game enough that he made you look down at your flip card to see who is number 97. And I saw he was a freshman. And the first question I thought to myself was I wondered if he was related to the Bosas who played in the NFL. ”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “One of his prior years’ impact plays I really remember came in 2014 against Penn State. The game went to double overtime. Fourth down. Game on the line. Ohio State needs a stop to win the game, and he takes the running back trying to block him and literally sacks the quarterback with the back of the running back. Just drives him right into the pocket. Game over."
Once Bosa officially declared, he immediately vaulted near the top of the Bolts draft board. Still, he wasn’t alone. Combining valuable information gleaned by area scout James MacPherson, who was in charge of scouting all Ohio State prospects, and Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly, it didn’t take long for Bosa to cement himself as the apple of the team’s eye.
Head Coach Mike McCoy: “Joey stuck out regardless of who you were watching. It didn’t take long to evaluate his film. Even when you turned on the tape of other players, he was all over the place. It was just one play after another every game.”
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano: “The first time I put the tape on, the first thing you see is his effort. I ended up watching his whole season. He had great hands. Heavy hands. He got off blocks in the run game and put pressure on the quarterback. Even when I tried watching other players on that defense, my eyes always ended up going back to Joey. His game against Michigan really stood out.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “I remember when I was watching some tape of Michigan’s offense against Ohio State, and Bosa sacks the quarterback and knocks him out of the game, then he had an incredible interception where he tips it, catches it and shows his athleticism. You aren’t even focusing on him, but he keeps making incredible plays.”
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “Joey was a guy I think they had identified before I got here, and the qualities they saw jumped off the tape from the very first one I watched. He’s got real good technique and real good effort. But what really stood out to me was when he rushed the passer, he had a real natural feel for where the quarterback was in the pocket and where he drifted. That is an underappreciated skill with pass rushers.”
Part 3: The Fiesta Bowl
Countless NFL scouts were in attendance on January 1st to catch a Fiesta Bowl loaded with top prospects from both Ohio State and Notre Dame. Telesco made sure to be there in person, taking the trip to Glendale, AZ to join MacPherson two days before the Week 17 finale. Meanwhile, Bosa was relishing the chance to rep the Buckeye’s one last time, never imagining that he only had 10 snaps remaining in his collegiate career. Bosa was ejected early in Ohio State’s victory for targeting. In disbelief over the way his college career ended, Bosa had no idea that in those 10 snaps, he had won over Bolts’ brass.
General Manger Tom Telesco: “Watching Joey play in the Fiesta Bowl, I left there thinking if he does declare, and if he is there at number three, we’ve got to take him.”
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano: “That game against Notre Dame before he got ejected for targeting was probably some of the best he put on tape.”
General Manger Tom Telesco: “He only played ten snaps, but you got a chance to see him do almost everything. He took on a double team from Ronnie Stanley and their guard, split it and made a play. He rushed the quarterback from off the edge, and they moved him inside into defensive tackle and pass rushed inside. He dropped into coverage. You saw everything in ten snaps that you’d like to see before he got tossed for targeting. ”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “That was very frustrating. I was furious. I felt like I let my team down. It still bothers me to this day because I was on my way to having a great game.”
General Manger Tom Telesco: “He could have really hit the kid hard on that play, and he did pull up on it. The adrenaline is flowing (as it’s) a big game and his last college game. He handled it with remarkable maturity. To me, it was impressive to see a guy playing that hard, that physical and that intense with that much adrenaline, and he was able to handle it with the maturity level of a pro.”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “I now look at it in a positive way. I mean, Jaylon Smith tore his knee in the last game of his college career. I made it out healthy, and now I’m here.”
Part 4: Combine Chaos
The entire scouting staff convened at Chargers Park in mid-February prior to heading to the Scouting Combine. At this point, Bosa was certainly in the conversation, but there were a number of players the Bolts also were interested in with the third overall pick. After all, there was no guarantee who would be available when San Diego was on the clock.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “There were other players besides Joey that were under consideration for our top pick. There were other guys we liked a lot as well, so we discussed a lot during that meeting. We had our top players up there, and we were still in a broad spectrum of players. But when it came to Joey, everybody that talked about him and read him spoke glowingly.”
Bosa was one of the top players under the microscope at the Combine, and his numbers were inconsistent. Even though he performed well in other metrics, he ran a disappointing 4.86 in the 40-yard dash. While the NFL world was underwhelmed by that number, it was music to the Chargers’ ears.
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “It was disappointing. Most of my numbers were nowhere near where I wanted. The Combine overall was pretty terrible. I felt like a piece of meat. It was a mental test. They look at every single thing you do, and I get it. They are investing a lot into you, so I understood. But it was chaos.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “I was actually happy when he ran a 4.86. I thought if he ran a 4.65 there would definitely be no way we could get him at three. I thought it was great. I was happier than everybody else, but I kept that to myself. The measurables mean a lot to us, and they are important. His get off quickness in his 10-yard split, three-cone and short shuttle; they were all really pretty elite numbers.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “While his 40 time may not have been spectacular, I certainly didn’t think it was terrible. He ran what he felt was a subpar 40, but then he runs out there and just works his tail off in all the position drills.”
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “I actually thought he did great. I don’t really care about the 40; the 10 yard split is a more accurate deal for me. I saw what I thought I’d see on the field. I was more interested to get to know him a little bit more.”
Part 5: Inside the Interview
While most fans keep their eyes glued to what happens on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium the train station is where the most important action goes down. Teams are given a tiny room in a converted train station to hold interviews and are allowed to meet with only 50 players in 15 minute intervals. 900 seconds. That was all the time the Bolts had to meet with Bosa as Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly led the interview.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “We try to split up our time between our scouts and our coaches. We try to let the coaches get as much as they can in those 15 minutes because we’ve done a lot of our work already. Kevin Kelly asked the first round of questions, and then we let the coaches take over.”
Head Coach Mike McCoy: “Joey was very intense. You could tell he was all ball. His passion for the game really came out. The best part about it was when he left, I mentioned to him he should put that Chargers helmet on before he walked out the door. And he said, ‘I can’t wait to put it on one day.’”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “All those interviews, they were all a blur. But I do remember when I left, there was a Chargers helmet sitting there, and I joked that I was going to put it on when I met with other teams in those meetings.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “He came across as very genuine, and that’s who he is. He comes across as someone who really loves the game. You can see his world revolves around playing football. That came across very strong in the meeting.”
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “You got the sense that he wanted to be great. He showed an innate drive to push himself, and that is another quality you look for, especially in the third overall pick. What impressed me was the overall knowledge he had about Ohio State’s scheme. That is most of what we talked about. You could tell that he had a good background. Obviously with his dad playing, he’s been around football for a long time, and he was able to articulate it back to you that you could tell the transition to a new system and new terminology wouldn’t be too much for him. You could tell he would pick it up at a faster pace than most.”
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano: “That was my first chance to talk to him. I saw how serious and intense his focus was. I was impressed just by the way he handled himself and answered the questions. His leadership qualities really stood out. When he left the room, we looked around and said that’s somebody you want on your defense.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “You could see his passion for the game immediately. He plays the game for the right reasons, and you can tell that just by talking to him. It’s hard in 15 minutes to get a great feel for a kid, but there was no doubt how much he loves to play and how much it meant to him. He was genuine.”
Part 6: The Dinner
Just over two weeks later, the Chargers had their final communication with Bosa before the draft. It was the night before his Pro Day, and Bosa ate dinner at Hyde Park with Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith, Director of College Scouting Kevin Kelly and College Scout James MacPherson. The Chargers left the dinner impressed. Bosa looked back on it and felt he’d blown his chance at being drafted by the Bolts.
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “It was a cool dinner. It was relaxed. After the Combine of just being pounded by questions, this was nice. They didn’t ask me much about football. It was just a normal dinner. I appreciated that. It was comfortable. “
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “You could tell immediately that his parents did a good job raising him. He was very respectful and complimentary of his teammates. He is very much a team guy. That dinner really added to the feel that we had about him as an individual.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “The point of that dinner is to find out about Joey as a person. We have a lot of information about prospects as football players, but we don’t have a lot of information about them as people. That is part of evaluating them. A lot of it is about spending time with someone in a relaxed environment. A lot of times we don’t even talk much about football.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “Kevin, Giff and James all came back very impressed. I remember them telling me how Joey’s dad came over during the dinner because he happened to also be at the restaurant. He gave Joey a hug, and Kevin offered his dad to join them. But Joey’s dad said, ‘Look, this is about Joey. I want you to get to know Joey.’ He realized it was a job interview and wanted to respect his privacy. He’s a dad who cares about his son, and wanted our team to really get to know his son.”
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “It was completely random that his dad was there. But he came over, spoke and let his son be. I know they are proud of him, and rightly so they should be. That dinner helped us get a feel for Joey. Again, you could see the drive he had to be better. I got a feel of how he learns, and what’s important to him on and off the field. And part of what you are trying to do is learn what buttons you can push to get more out of him.”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “What was weird was after that dinner, I didn’t have much contact with the Chargers. I definitely thought I’d be out there for a visit, but they didn’t contact me. I thought they weren’t interested after that. I gave up any hope of being a Charger.”
On the field, Bosa attacked his Pro Day with a vigor not often seen by top prospects. After a disappointing combine, the defensive end had something to prove.
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “I was pretty upset from the Combine, but I tried not to let it bother me and I did a lot better at my Pro Day. I ran over a tenth faster in my 40 and benched four more reps. Everything in the drills went well. But the coaches don’t really care how fast your 40 is unless you run in the 40s."
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “He had a great Pro Day. A tremendous Pro Day. He did all the testing again because he was competing against himself. He wanted to improve his numbers. In the drills he was incredible. From his explosiveness to his hand usage and competitiveness; he checked all the boxes.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Watching Joey’s Pro Day workout, you could tell how competitive he was to be the best in every drill. He wanted to do every drill again. You don’t always get that from the top prospects. Sometimes they do it because they have to. But he was truly competing in every drill. That means as much to us as the actual numbers.”
Part 7: The Bombshell Trades
On April 13, the entire sports world tuned in to watch Kobe Bryant drop 60 points in his final game. Little did they know that at the same time, the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams agreed to a trade that completely shook up the NFL Draft. Early in the morning on April 14, the Titans announced they traded the first overall pick as well as a fourth round pick and sixth round pick in 2016 to the Rams in exchange for the 15th overall pick, two second-round picks (43 and 45) and a third-rounder (76) in 2016 as well as Los Angeles’ first and third round selections in 2017.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Oh, I was very happy when that trade went down because that’s one less team that could take Bosa.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “Even when Tennessee made that trade, I didn’t think we’d for sure get him because I thought there was certainly a good chance Cleveland would still take Bosa at two. People were saying Cleveland might take a quarterback, but you just never know. In my head, I still thought it was a long shot he would fall to us.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “We still didn’t know what the Browns would do at two. With a new front office and a new head coach, we had no idea what their thoughts were. Would they go offense? Defense? Quarterback or no quarterback? I don’t put too much into listening on the outside to what people are saying about them, because I heard a lot of stuff about us that was way off. I had no idea about Cleveland and what they were going to do, so we kept preparing for different scenarios.”
Telesco and the Chargers wouldn’t have to wait long. The Rams-Titans bombshell wasn’t the only trade that sent shockwaves through the draft helping to land Bosa in America’s Finest City. As mentioned earlier, Spanos received a text message while the Bolts’ brain trust was in a meeting learning that the Eagles acquired the second overall pick and a conditional 2017 fourth-round selection from the Browns in exchange for the number eight overall pick, a third-round selection and fourth round selection in 2016 along with a 2017 first round pick and 2018 second round selection. In effect, the Chargers were now on the clock.
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “The text I got basically said ‘we’re going to get our guy.' And I knew that meant a trade must have just come though. It wasn’t until Philadelphia made that trade that I finally believed we’d have the chance to draft Joey.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “John got the text and told us about the trade, and we all high-fived in the room after that one because we knew if we stayed here and picked, we got him.”
Head Coach Mike McCoy: “When that happened, we knew we had the pick of the litter. There were a lot of talented players available, but Joey was obviously someone we were interested in since the beginning. His name was at the top of the board for some time. Unless somebody wanted to move up and give us something we couldn’t turn down, we knew we’d get him.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “The next thing my thoughts turned to was there could be trade possibilities. Maybe our pick is worth something more now. So it then turned to if we trade down, can we still get Bosa? And if we can’t get him, then who could be available? There was always that possibility of us trading back, picking up a good player and also getting some picks. There were a lot of other really good players in this draft, and players that we liked. There were a lot of really talented players on the board where we were picking.”
Part 8: Rumors and Speculation
Nothing sparks debate like mock drafts. While rumors and leaks run rampant during draft season, there was little talk about the Bolts and little known about their deep-seeded interest in Bosa. The Chargers were the true mystery team in 2016.
General Manager Tom Telesco: “It’s never our intention to put a lot of work into trying to deceive people or make a smoke screen of what we’re doing. Our philosophy is really to just work really hard and keep our mouth shut. To be honest, nobody really asked me about Joey Bosa when it came to this draft class. And I wasn’t going to go out of my way to talk about him. But if someone asked about him, I would have talked about him.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “It was amusing to see. We would sit back, read these mock drafts and see who people thought we would take. We would look around at each other and say, ‘Man, I can’t believe no one knows.’"
General Manager Tom Telesco: “In this day and age, there are so many people that want to show you how smart they are with information. There is just so much out there that isn’t true. That’s why it is hard for us to read what’s out there because we have no idea if it is true or not.”
Head Coach Mike McCoy: “You do laugh at it all because nobody has any idea what any team is doing besides those in each building. It’s pure speculation. Everyone has an opinion. We knew the direction we were heading. We were happy to keep our thoughts for every player, not just the number three pick, close to the vest. So the mock drafts brought some smiles to our faces. We knew what we were doing. Our decision was easy. Once those trades went through and you knew the quarterbacks were going one and two, if we stayed at three, we knew we were taking Joey Bosa.”
The night before the draft, rumors started spreading that the Bolts were zeroing in on Ronnie Stanley. It started with one pundit saying he was confident the Chargers would take the Notre Dame tackle, and by morning the rumor spread like a virus. With few mock drafts pegging Stanley to the Bolts prior to draft day, the majority of pundits had now slotted him to San Diego in their final edition released hours before the draft.
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “Sometimes when you hear rumors, you can piece together where it came from. In the specific case of the Ronnie Stanley rumor, I have no clue where that came from. So I was really amused, and I didn’t feel a need to set the record straight. I just sat back and enjoyed the false speculation.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “I have no idea where that came from. That came out of nowhere. We didn’t tell anybody anything, so I still don’t know where that came from.”
Part 9: On the Clock
By the time April 28 rolled around, the Chargers felt virtually assured they’d get Joey Bosa. There was a calmness permeating through the halls of Chargers Park as the draft got underway. Meanwhile, 2069 miles away, Joey Bosa was a bundle of nerves as he sat in the green room with his family. He clutched his phone in his hands when the Chargers were on the clock, wondering if he’d end up with the Cowboys, Jaguars, Ravens or 49ers. Then his phone rang.
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “I was holding the phone ready for Laremy Tunsil’s family to stand up and hug each other and kiss. Then my phone goes off, and my agents screamed ‘Cameras over here!’ None of the cameras were on me; they were all on Tunsil and Jalen Ramsey. It was just an overflow of emotions. Hugging and kissing my family.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “It was a little anticlimactic for us to tell you the truth because we knew who was going in front of us. We knew if we didn’t trade, he was going to be our guy. So it was a little different because usually, after the team in front of you picks, you know your guy is there and the room breaks out in excitement. But we knew our guy was going to be there. We were just waiting to make sure we didn’t get a trade offer that we just couldn’t turn down.”
President of Football Operations John Spanos: “That was awesome, and a little surreal in a way. At the very beginning I didn’t think we’d be able to draft this guy with the third overall pick. I thought back to that conversation with JoJo, and how we thought there would be no way we could get him without the number one pick. Now here we are five months later and he’s a Charger. We were all just so excited.”
Head Coach Mike McCoy: “I think we kind of surprised Joey a little bit. It is such a great time for him, and an exciting time for us an organization. We never want to pick in that position again, but you have to take advantage of it. I think we got the best player.”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “The number read San Diego, so it sank in pretty quickly. And I yelled ‘Holy beep!’ I don’t even know what they said to me. I pretty much blacked out. My mom started crying. Everyone started crying. It was pretty incredible. My coach started punching the table. It was amazing. I can just stare at pictures of it for hours and not get sick of it.”
General Manager Tom Telesco: “Making that phone call is always a neat experience. It’s hard when you call into Chicago because it’s so loud there with so many people around him. Once they hear what team they are going to, I don’t think they even hear what you are saying after that. But it’s always a neat moment to break the news and tell the player how excited we are. And I could hear Joey’s family behind him and how excited they were. They were really loud. It is one of those experiences those kids will never forget the rest of their lives.”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “To be honest, I’d given up hope on San Diego because we hadn’t had much contact. I didn’t think it was going to happen because I didn’t visit, hadn’t talked to them since the dinner, and I had no hope of going to the Chargers. I was looking past them, I guess. So it worked out better than I could have hoped. It doesn’t get much better than San Diego.”
Part 10: Bosa Begins
For all the excitement that came with landing Bosa, it is now up to the rookie to prove himself in the NFL. All the accolades, achievements and talent that led the Chargers to draft him are in the past. A new journey now begins; one in which he must prove he is worthy of the third overall selection.
Head Coach Mike McCoy: “We are excited to have Joey, but now he has to come in and learn our system. Get to know our teammates and learn to react fast where he doesn’t have to think. Just go play and excite the fans. He is a phenomenal talent, which is why we took him at three. But now it is on him to come in, do things the right way and produce. He has to work at it.”
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano: “This is a process, and it will take time for him to develop as a rookie. But he can change how we do things on our defense. He’s somebody that plays the run well, plays with proper technique and has great instincts. He’s so young at only 20 years old, and he is going to get stronger and better. So it’s a process, and he’s going to have to work. But I think Joey is looking forward to getting started.”
Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith: “We’ve got our hands on him now, and we’re teaching him what we want him to do. This is an exciting time for him, and I think for the city of San Diego. He is working really hard right now, and that’s what we expect.”
Defensive End Joey Bosa: “Nobody has higher expectations for me than I do. It doesn’t really put extra pressure on me because I already put it on myself to be the best player on the field. To always make an impact. To never get blocked. Extra pressure doesn’t affect me.”