Chargers' GM Tom Telesco's first NFL draft after the dismissal of long-time GM A.J. Smith was, indeed, interesting. San Diego fans watched with baited breath to see how Telesco would rebuild the team that A.J. decimated by letting go many exceptional players such as Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, and Shaun Phillips, to name a few, and rendering the Chargers of seasons past to sheer mediocrity.
This year, however, the Chargers did, in fact, make the postseason as a wildcard and even won a game, defeating the previously-undefeated-at-home Cincinnati Bengals (who had beaten the Chargers earlier in the season) to give fans a hopeful taste of what is to come.
This season's draft picks contributed in ways one typically only hopes. For San Diego, draft picks have run the gamut of success: from outstanding (LaDainian Tomlinson), questionable (Ryan Mathews who finally had a career season this year) and downright awful (Ryan Leaf, anyone?) So how did the 2013 draft class fare?
Round 1, Pick #11, RT D.J. Fluker, Alabama (B+)
A behemoth who started all but one game steadily improved as the season went on, particularly when he was switched to the left side for five games (a position the Chargers desperately needed to fill) due to injuries. Fluker's stint as LT earned him the Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week award in Week 7 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars; an honor not typically bestowed upon linemen.
The patchwork offensive line with which the Chargers had to deal throughout the season was also challenging for the rookie who played above average most of the time. Additionally, Fluker was named to the Pro Football Writers of America's All-AFC Team. It will be interesting to monitor Fluker's performance next season and throughout his career. Hopefully he will lend some stability to San Diego's oftentimes inconsistent offensive line.
Round 2, Pick #38, LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame (B)
The Chargers moved up one pick in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals to select Te'o (in an act reminiscent of the one-pick-trade-up, also with the Cardinals, in 1998 to select Ryan Leaf). Despite Te'o's odd personal life which garnered much publicity, he contributed well to the team. Granted, Te'o started off slowly, missing the first three games with an ankle injury and did not appear to be the impact player he was at Notre Dame; however, in the 13 games he did play he recorded 61 tackles and four knocked-down passes. During LB Donald Butler's absence for a few midseason games Te'o was the on-field play caller for defensive coordinator John Pagano. As the season progressed his talent became more readily apparent as he seems to have a natural nose for the ball, able to pounce on opponents like a lithe feline.
Round 3, Pick #76, WR Keenan Allen, California (A)
Without a doubt, Allen was the highlight of the Chargers' 2013 draft class. Allen managed 71 catches for 1,046 yards, eight touchdowns, and a 14.7 yard average. Of his receptions, 16 of them went for 20+ yards and he was instrumental in scoring in meaningful games such as his two touchdowns in the Chargers' victory over the Broncos on 12 December 2013; as well as his two scores in San Diego's playoff loss to Denver. Having been named to the PFWA All-AFC Team AND earning the PFWA's Offensive Rookie of the Year kudos (the NFL honors show airs February 1st), it appears the Chargers have added another worthy WR to their arsenal, much to, I'm sure, Philip Rivers' delight.
Round 5, Pick #145, CB Steve Williams, California (no grade)
Williams was placed on injured reserve during the preason with a pectoral injury and, thus, cannot be graded.
Round 6, Pick #179, DE/LB Tourek Williams, Florida International (C+)
Williams started six games, played in 13, and recorded ten tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. With the tremendous linebacker talent on the Chargers it's nice to see some depth and Williams provides that. Had it not been for the sack and turnover he would have probably earned just a C but, as a teacher myself, I prefer to issue grades based upon motivation, effort, and potential.
Round 7, Pick #221, QB Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah (no grade)
Sorensen did not play during the regular season. With long-time backup Charlie "Clipboard Jesus" Whitehurst's expired contract--thus making him an unrestricted free agent--the Chargers may keep the less-expensive Sorensen and let Whitehurst go to free up some salary cap room.