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Tom Telesco: The fix to the Raiders’ draft day woes?

Las Vegas’ new GM hit on his picks, but more importantly he’s a veteran personnel man to pair with rookie head coach

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders
Former Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, left, is on the Raiders radar for the GM role. Telesco was in the AFC West as Chargers’ GM for the 10 years and was in direct competition with the Raiders and former GM Reggie McKenzie. That’s how long he was the chief personnel man for the Bolts.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The initial opinions and thoughts on Tom Telesco becoming the Las Vegas Raiders general manager are wide and varied. There isn’t a consensus and it goes in extremes in either direction of positive and negative, to even indifferent.

Yet, there’s one constant regarding the Silver & Black’s new chief personnel man: He has a solid eye for talent. And that alone must’ve piqued the Raiders decision-makers’ interest, namely, owner Mark Davis.

The Raiders have long been a sad bastion of poor drafting. Paragons of sound talent evaluation the Silver & Black are not. And while much of Telesco’s tenure as the Los Angeles Chargers chief personnel man — perhaps the angst is because the Raiders new GM was with the Bolts for the last 11 years — was steeped in underachieving and not reaching the potential ownership so desperately wanted (more on this below), he did hit on early-round draft picks.

Telesco did draft (in no particular order): Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry, Mike Williams, Derwin James Jr., Jason Verrett, Denzel Perryman, Rashawn Slater, Asante Samuel Jr., and of course, Justin Herbert, with the Bolts’ first- or second round selections. And, despite being scattershot in the mid to late rounds, Telesco did snag Keenan Allen, Josh Palmer, Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Desmond King in the later stanzas, and each have produced at the NFL level — with the Chargers or another team.

Telesco can be the fix to the Raiders’ draft day woes. That had to be alluring to Davis. Of course, like any other personnel person, Telesco had his whiffs draft day such as: Jerry Tillery, Kenneth Murray Jr., Nasir Adderley, Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, and D.J. Fluker, to name a few.

That all said, if Telesco brings a similar hit rate to Las Vegas with the Raiders he had in the L.A. and San Diego variants of the Chargers, it’s not difficult to imagine how much better off the Silver & Black will be after the habitual gross misallocation of draft capital the team engages in. During his tenure as the GM for the AFC West foe, Telesco built a reputation on leaning heavily to what the coaching staff wanted and bringing in players to suit said crew. And that should mesh well with the Raiders newly minted rookie head coach Antonio Pierce.

Which brings on another key aspect to the Telesco selection. As GM, he brings a wealth of experience as a versatile personnel man for a neophyte head coach. That’s important.

The last time Davis rolled with a rookie combination at head coach and general manager, it was Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie, respectively, in those spots back in 2012. We all know how that ended up. Not wanting to make that same mistake, the Raiders are rolling with a general manager in Telesco who is from the Bill Polian tree and has over a decade of experience roster building — with a division foe or not.

On the surface, it looks like Davis is banking on Pierce’s ability to coach and get the most out of his players and Telesco’s capacity to identify and draft talent. The team’s foundation should be built via the draft and having someone with a keen eye and history of making good judgement calls in the first two rounds should amplify that line of thinking. And combining someone who can make the proper selection with a coach that can get the most out of them would be a boon for Las Vegas. That’s something that didn’t happen regularly when Telesco was under the Spanos family’s watchful eyes in L.A. and San Diego, before that.

In fact, it’s unclear how much sway Telesco had as the Bolts GM overall. The consensus is Telesco drafted players, picked free agents, and made trade acquisitions. But the contracts side of that business may have lied elsewhere, namely, president of football operations John Spanos, the son of owner Dean. Named to that position in 2015 — two seasons after Telesco was named GM — John Spanos rose through the ranks and is listed as the one that “oversees all football-related functions of the team, including player personnel, coaching, player finance and the salary cap, medical, equipment, video, player engagement and security” on the Chargers’ official website.

That all said, it’s difficult to ignore the warts from Telesco’s tenure with the Chargers. He was the GM of a team that went 84-95 overall. The Bolts made the playoffs three times under his watch, most recently in 2022, and went 2-3. The best record the team had was a 12-4 campaign in 2018 and the worst was a 4-12 season in 2015. And who can forget the 63-21 shellacking the Raiders handed the Chargers inside Allegiant Stadium in Dec. 14 that emphatically put the “You’re Fired” rubber stamp on the foreheads of Telesco and then-Chargers head coach Brandon Staley?

Perhaps that’s what Davis and Telesco bonded on during the second interview that netted the latter the Raider GM gig: Having to suffer through ineffective coaching by then-Raiders head honcho Josh McDaniels and Staley.

Davis picked Pierce after he saw a tangible change in coaching when Pierce ascended to the interim head coach role. And now Davis has earmarked Telesco to supply his coach of choice with talent. Telesco focuses on roster building and Pierce hones in on coaching the players acquired and assembled.

It’s a gamble, but a calculated one. And we shall see if it pays off.