Tom Telesco Opens Up About Draft Board, Free Agency Plans, Players Who’ll Step Up in 2019 and More

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Each year at the Combine, General Manager Tom Telesco holds a Q&A in which he directly answers fan questions.

While he couldn’t answer the hundreds that were submitted, he did answer important questions about the team’s draft plans, free agency, players he expects to step up and more:

Q: At what point do you determine if you would rather draft a guy to fill a position as opposed to signing a free agent? – Adam Sonner

Telesco: That’s a great question. We do our free agency and draft meetings before the Combine, and we try to line up how the draft board looks at a certain position and how free agent options look at certain positions.  Since free agency is first, that can dictate sometimes where we go in the draft. We try and set the team after free agency that when we get into the draft, we don’t feel like we have to draft a specific position. We feel like we can draft the best player rather than trying to fill certain positions. We don’t have the same level of control in the draft as we do in free agency. So we make determinations by how our draft board looks and our free agency (board) looks, and you have to be flexible. Sometimes in free agency you are bidding against one other team or a lot of other teams, and the player decides to go somewhere else. So you can’t say, ‘Hey, we want to address this one position in the draft and this one in free agency.’  

Q: Tom! What can you tell us about this new punter/kicker from the CFL Ty Long? Can he handle both? Just punt? Could he handle kickoffs so Money Badger can focus on field goals? I think it is an interesting signing. Keep doing the great work. #InTomWeTrust – Buck Holster

Telesco: He’s an interesting prospect. He had a very good two-year career in the CFL. Up there he was their punter, kickoff guy and field goal kicker. And he really excelled at all three. We see him more as a punter right now, and we liked his game tape up there. He’s actually a player who we did a lot of work on for the college draft when he came out a couple years ago. So we did a lot of work on him then, watched him in the CFL the last couple years, and then we brought him down and worked him out. He’s got a really strong leg. He can also kick off really well. And obviously playing in the CFL, you have to get used to playing in difficult conditions, and we saw he could do that. We’re looking forward to seeing him compete.

Q: I thought Rayshawn played really well in the playoffs when he started. How did you think he did, and might we see more of him in 2019? – Reynaldo Graves

Telesco: Yeah, I think there is a good chance you see a lot more of him in 2019. We used him in a lot of ways last season. Earlier in the year we had special packages for him, and late in the year he played more at safety. He really excelled in both. He did a great job on special teams. He really took ownership of that position. Rayshawn had a lot of different roles for us, and there’s a good chance those get bigger next year.

Q: You mentioned maybe extending Melvin Gordon like we did with Casey Hayward. When you do start looking at that, and is that still in a possibility? – Trinity Phillips

Telesco: Yes, and we’ve got a number of young players that are certainly possibilities. We don’t really have a timetable for our own players with that, but those are certainly discussions we have. We talk about draft, develop and then re-sign our own. We have a lot of guys who fit in with that. We have free agency and the draft right now, but there are multiple things we can do at one time. And we do have some time between now and the beginning of the season.

Q: If it takes years to know how a player develops, how often do you go back and grade how accurate you were when scouting certain draft classes? – David Ngyun

Telesco: I don’t have a hard, fast rule on that. We usually look back at the guys we missed on, and we look at why. Very rarely do we look back at the guys we hit on and ask why. That’s just the way that it is. But anybody who doesn’t play like we thought he would be able to, we look back and analyze it. And we try to see where that miss could have been.

Q: How do you balance your emotional attachment to players as people compared to the business side of the game? – Kelly Schwartz

Telesco: That may be the toughest part of this job. You spend so much time with players, you ask a lot of them, and when they go out and perform for you, and do so at a high level and put all their effort into it, it’s impossible to not get emotionally involved in that. It just is. That’s the way all sports are. So you do become emotionally attached, but there’s a business side of it, too, so there is a line you have to be careful of. You have to keep perspective. I think everybody does it differently, but I know for me, it’s hard for me not to become emotionally attached to players because of what they do for you. They lay it on the line for you every single week. They do it in practice. They do it in training camp. And certainly, for the guys that you draft and have for five, six, seven, eight years, you watch them grow. They come into your program at 21 years old. And then you watch them grow. Some of them have wives and kids, and they have full grown families. So it’s neat to see, but the flip side is that there is a business aspect to it. I know that, and the players know that.

Q: What’s the latest with Kyzir White? He looked awesome early. – Caleb McMahon

Telesco: He came into camp and did a great job. He really won the job at starting Will linebacker for us. And he started the year playing really well. Then he hurt his knee and couldn’t finish the year, but his rehab is going really well. He’s on track, and so he’ll be back in the mix for next year.

Q: Tom, you’ve been with the club several years now and have really had a knack for drafting and signing great players. Is there any one player who you’ve really enjoyed watching develop into the role they are in today with the Chargers? Thanks! Go Bolts! – Bobby Caldrone

Telesco: Probably Adrian Phillips. I told the story earlier this year about how I released him eight times. Literally, eight times he came into my office and I let him go. And then to see him work his way up to being a big part of our defense and go to the Pro Bowl, like I’ve said, it’s a story you can tell other kids for years.

Q: You’ve talked in past years how QBs are the hardest position to scout. Not including quarterbacks, which is the other most difficult position to scout? – Daniel Samuelson

Telesco: Honestly, it’s quarterback and then everybody else. We need to be well-versed in scouting every position, but quarterbacks (are) just different. They touch the ball every play, and they have so much control on every play and what goes on. So that position is not just dictated by physical skills. 

Q: What is the biggest difference drafting 28th than when you draft high in drafts? – Mike Drayvus Jr.

Telesco: When you draft higher, you have a better feel for who is going to be there. When you draft 28th, your pool of players is going to be very large. So, it makes it a little more difficult and little more challenging, but also a little bit more fun. There is a lot of work that goes into it. We do try to predict who is going to be there at that pick, or a group of players that is going to be there at that pick, but you just never know.

Q: What is your process like after the Combine with going over information from the week, but also balancing it with free agency right around the corner? Do you put draft stuff on hold? – Andrew Tucker

Telesco: No, you’re just multitasking all the time. We have different departments. The college staff works on the college side 24/7, and the pro staff focus on the pro side 24/7. (Director of Player Personnel) JoJo Wooden balances a little bit of both because he has to, and I do as well, so it’s just time management.

As a reminder, Telesco and Head Coach Anthony Lynn will address the media Thursday morning. We’ll have live coverage of their press conference beginning at 8:00am PT on Facebook, Twitter, our app and Chargers.com.

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