The life of an NFL general manager is a busy one, and they have many duties to perform to ensure their team is competitive. They must sign free agents, negotiate contracts, run a full scouting department, constantly evaluate players, make trades and perform various public relations duties for their team. But perhaps the most important duty of all is the one that has by far the most impact on their team’s success, and that’s selecting players at the NFL Draft each spring.
When Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie took over in 2012 following the death of Al Davis, the cupboard was bare as far as talent, cap space and picks. Getting the Raiders back to respectability has been a long and difficult road. But how does McKenzie compare with the GMs of the teams he has to compete directly with in the AFC West? For the purposes of this article I will only be looking at the success or “bust rate” of the players they each have drafted and ignoring free agency, because the draft does not rely on the team’s cap space or anything outside of the GM’s control.
Let’s start with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers of South-Central Milpitas. The Chargers hired Tom Telesco to take over for AJ Smith in 2013. At the time of his hiring, Telesco was the youngest general manager in the NFL. He was a scout and later the Director of Pro Personnel for the Colts from 1998-2012, which happened to coincide with Peyton Manning’s tenure in Indianapolis. Telesco, then, has plenty of experience giving a dominant quarterback no help whatsoever, making him a perfect fit with the Chargers. Let’s examine his draft record:
2013: DJ Fluker, Manti Te’o, Keenan Allen, three nobodies
Fluker was awful and Te’o was consistently injured, first suffering a fractured foot and then a torn ACL. Keenan Allen might be the best value pick in the entire draft.
2014: Jason Verrett and five nobodies
Verrett is one of the best corners in football, but the Chargers got nothing else from this group.
2015: Melvin Gordon, Denzel Perryman, three nobodies
Gordon is one of the best running backs in the NFL and a first-round fantasy pick. Perryman has battled injury but is quite good when on the field so I can’t label him a bust just yet.
2016: Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry, Drew Kaser in Round 6, five nobodies
Bosa is one of the premier pass rushers in the game and Henry is a promising tight end who recently tore his ACL, so we won’t be seeing him for a while. Kaser is an excellent punter and a good value pick. Still, lots of dead weight.
2017: Mike Williams, Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Desmond King, 3 nobodies
Williams and Lamp both had injuries that caused them to not contribute the way the team would have liked. Williams’ bad back forced him to miss the majority of the season and Lamp tore his knee up in camp and he missed the whole year. Feeney, however, earned a starting spot on the line and made the All-Rookie team, and King looks like a promising defensive back.
2018: Derwin James, Uchenna Owusu
The Chargers’ 2018 class doesn’t have a ton of star power, but James could be an elite defensive back very soon.
All in all, the Chargers have a tendency to get one really good player out of each draft and totally whiff on the rest. Guys with tons of talent have blown out their knees on a regular basis. While injuries are not the GM’s fault, the Chargers have had consistent depth issues and awful special teams for Telesco’s entire tenure.
Bust Rate: 72%
Next up are the Denver Broncos, who have an actual horse as a general manager. In researching this piece, the thing that stood out to me the most was that John Elway has gotten worse as he has gone along. His first two drafts were magic, as was his signing of Peyton Manning, but since then? Woof.
2011: Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, 5 nobodies
Elway’s first pick has been his best. Von Miller is the standard by which all glasses-wearing edge rushers are measured.
2012: Derek Wolfe, Brock Osweiler, Ronnie Hillman, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, 2 nobodies
If Elway had stopped here, he would be the best GM of all time. This is the draft that won the Super Bowl. Danny Trevathan in the seventh round is mind-numbing.
2013: Sylvester Williams, 7 nobodies
It begins to fall apart. Montee Ball was the second round pick and it just got worse.
2014: Bradley Roby, Cody Latimer, Matt Paradis, 3 nobodies
Roby has been pretty good and Latimer hasn’t gotten as much run as he should. Paradis was a sixth rounder who just last year secured a starting gig on the worst line in football.
2015: The GOAT Shane Ray, Trevor Siemian, Max Garcia, 6 nobodies.
2016: Paxton Lynch, Adam Gotsis, Devontae Booker, Justin Simmons, Riley Dixon, 3 nobodies
Paxton Lynch is a lost cause at this point and the Broncos gave Gotsis a large extension right before he was arrested for sexual assault. Dixon, a punter, is the best pick here and Elway traded him to the Giants after signing Marquette King.
2017: Garrett Bolles, Demarcus Walker, Jake Butt, 5 nobodies
Bolles is the Donks’ starting left tackle, exactly as expected. Walker is a rotational DE, and although Butt has been injured, I can’t wait to see that Butt-Siemian connection.
2018: Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman, Josey Jewell, Troy Fumagalli
I have to admit, I am not happy with this class. I love it unconditionally and I think Elway absolutely knocked it out of the park. This might be the class that saves Bojack Horseman’s job.
Bust Rate: 65.5%
Next we have the Chiefs, who have had the same team for what feels like a decade. However, they’ve made a ton of changes lately, foremost among them firing their GM John Dorsey on account of he was a dickhead that the Hunt family couldn’t get along with. They replaced him with Brett Veach earlier this year.
Veach was the Chiefs’ former top scout and a front office guy who has worked for Andy Reid from way back in his days with the Eagles. So although Veach has only drafted one time on his own, he most certainly has been at least partially responsible for recent Chiefs drafts. However, I’m only gonna go back to 2016 on this one.
2016: Chris Jones, Tyreek Hill, 7 nobodies
Jones is a force in the middle and Hill might be the best pick in the draft. Reid uses him masterfully, and he is a danger to score on any play. However, they didn’t get anything else of note.
2017: Patrick Mahomes, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Kareem Hunt, 3 nobodies
Kareem Hunt is explosive and a major steal in the draft. Kpassagnon was a rotational guy who will surely take on a bigger role at defensive end this year, and Mahomes has the potential to be Good Brett Favre or Bad Brett Favre on any given play.
2018: Khalil McKenzie
The Chiefs draft this year lacked anything resembling star power, because they traded a bunch of picks for Mahomes last year. I doubt they get much out of this draft at all.
Bust Rate: 66%
And finally, the Raiders. Reggie McKenzie didn’t have much to work with his first year, due to the Carson Palmer trade and the supplemental draft selection of Terrelle Pryor. But he’s had plenty of draft capital since then, so how has he done?
2012: Miles Burris, 5 nobodies
Tony Bergstrom was the first draft pick of the McKenzie era, but he didn’t pan out and Burris was the only guy to see consistent playing time.
2013: DJ Hayden, Sio Moore, Latavius Murray, Mychal Rivera, Stacy McGee, Brice Butler, 3 nobodies
Hayden was awful for Oakland but did alright for the Lions, and Butler has become a big part of the Dallas offense. From the third round on, McKenzie found some real gems.
2014: Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis, TJ Carrie, 3 nobodies
This is one of the best drafts of all time without question, maybe second only to the Steelers’ 1974 Draft which netted them four Hall of Famers. Franchise cornerstones everywhere you look.
2015: Amari Cooper, Mario Edwards Jr., Clive Walford, Dexter McDonald, 5 nobodies
The Raiders got a premier offensive weapon and some serviceable starters out of this draft.
2016: Karl Joseph, Deandre Washington, Vadal Alexander, 5 nobodies
Joseph is just scratching the surface of his potential while Washington and Alexander have key rotational roles.
2017: Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu, David Sharpe, Treyvon Hester
This is the “everyone is hurt” draft. The Raiders haven’t got much production from it yet. Still, Conley should develop into a solid starter if camp reports are to be believed.
2018: Kolton Miller, Arden Key, Maurice Hurst
It’s possible that in a few years the Raiders will have upwards of six starters from this draft class. It oozes with potential.
Bust Rate: 60%
The numbers don’t lie, and they spell disaster for the other AFC West GMs. Telesco is easily the worst at drafting, although the injury bug has hit him hard through no fault of his own. John Elway had several years where he was an absolute dumpster fire and has coasted along on reputation and the presence of Peyton Manning and Von Miller. Brett Veach did next to nothing in his first year, and the jury is out on him. So your winner, and new AFC West Draft Champion is our own Reggie McKenzie, with a whopping 40% of his draft picks becoming productive starters. Now someone find him a belt that fits.