Chargers' search for Philip Rivers' successor starts at NFL combine

Philip Rivers, at age 37, had one of his best seasons in 2018, but the Chargers must plan for the future at some point. Al Pereira/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- Every draft season, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco says his scouting department diligently does its homework on quarterback prospects.

Telesco says he'll stay true to that strategy when the NFL combine begins this week in Indianapolis. The Chargers have not selected a quarterback since 2013, when the Bolts drafted Brad Sorensen in the seventh round. Only the Carolina Panthers (Cam Newton in 2011) and the Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck, Chandler Harnish in 2012) have a longer drought when it comes to drafting a quarterback.

Sorensen is the only quarterback the team has taken in Telesco's seven-year tenure as general manager, and there's a good reason: The Chargers have one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league in Philip Rivers, who is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro.

But at some point, Telesco has to address the depth at the most important position on the field.

"Since the day I arrived here, it's something that we've looked at every year," he said about drafting a quarterback. "It just hasn't lined up yet. It's too hard to tell right now [if the team will draft a QB this year]."

The Chargers have two quarterbacks on the roster, Rivers and Cardale Jones. Last year's backup quarterback, Geno Smith, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

The Chargers were was active in evaluating quarterbacks last season when coach Anthony Lynn got an up-close look at both USC product Sam Darnold and UCLA standout Josh Rosen at their pro days. Representatives from the Chargers also met with Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph.

Two years ago, the Chargers held private workouts with Patrick Mahomes before the 2017 draft, and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt worked out Memphis product Paxton Lynch before the 2016 draft.

Each year the Chargers chose not to take a quarterback, in part because they know, as Rivers has said, anyone they draft "is going to sit for a while."

During locker room clean-out, Rivers said he feels great and can play a handful more seasons. He has one year left on his deal, but Telesco said earlier this year that the 37-year-old signal-caller isn't going anywhere.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has shown quarterbacks can play into their 40s if they take care of themselves. But can the Chargers afford to not have a succession plan in place once Rivers decides to move on?

Lynn has shown interest in bringing in quarterbacks who have some mobility to threaten a defense with their legs and by running read-option plays. But Lynn also has been an adamant supporter of Rivers since he took over the team two years ago.

"After what he showed this year, I really think he can play for a couple more years, maybe even more," Lynn said. "Who knows? I don't know what these guys take these days. They play forever."

Although this year's is not as highly touted as last year's quarterback draft class, which had five quarterbacks selected in the first round, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Chargers could select a signal-caller in the opening round for the first time since they took Eli Manning No. 1 overall and traded for Rivers in the 2004 draft. Kiper believes Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, MVP of the Senior Bowl, could be a fit for the Chargers. However, he has Jones going to the Patriots with the final pick of the first round in his latest mock draft.

"As far as quarterbacks go, if you're going to plug a quarterback in there [at No. 28 to the Chargers], it would be Daniel Jones," Kiper said. "He's got that size Rivers has. He doesn't have that great arm, but he can make all the throws.

"At times in the pocket, he doesn't sense things as well as you would want, but he's got some escape ability. He ran for 186 yards against North Carolina. He was a really good basketball player in high school and comes from a very athletic family."

Kiper also noted that six quarterbacks with whom Duke coach David Cutcliffe has worked have reached the NFL, including Peyton and Eli Manning.

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who also serves as the Chargers' color analyst during radio broadcasts, does not believe this year's quarterback draft is as strong as last year's. However, Jeremiah pointed to Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham as a Day 2 or Day 3 prospect who could make sense for the Chargers.

"He's going to need some time to develop," Jeremiah said. "But just in terms of his skill set, he's got a big arm. He's a great athlete, so he'll be able to move around a little bit.

"He just needs to be a little more consistent. He missed too many layups when you watch him on tape. But he has arm strength, athleticism, and by all accounts, he's a great kid. … Having Philip in place for a couple more years, I think you could take a shot on somebody like that, who would be a developmental guy you could get more in that third-round range."