Chargers mock draft 1.0: What happens if they must make the pick at No. 5?


Welcome to my 2024 Los Angeles Chargers mock draft 1.0.

This is the first of four mock drafts I will be publishing from now until the NFL Draft at the end of April. The second will publish after the first wave of free agency later this month. The third and fourth mock drafts will publish in April in the lead-up to the draft — with the final one serving as my best guess at what I think will happen.

The first three mocks, including this one, will give us a chance to work through several different scenarios and prospects that make sense for the Chargers.

The exercises this year will be a little more challenging for two main reasons:

1. There is a new regime in place with coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz. Harbaugh last made an NFL draft pick in 2014. Hortiz will be making his first pick as an NFL GM. We just do not have a lot of data to try and project how this pairing will operate. Compare that to previous Chargers GM Tom Telesco. We had more than a decade of picks to use. I had covered Telesco for five seasons. There was a ton of information to draw on in terms of prospect fits and roster construction. Predicting the draft involves a lot of educated guesswork, and I am flying more blindly this year than in years past.

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2. The Chargers’ list of needs is extensive. They could use additional talent in every position group on the roster. That includes quarterback because they do not have a backup for Justin Herbert. Filling all those needs in one draft will be impossible. To take it even further, filling all of those needs in one offseason will be impossible. And so I had to prioritize based on the prospects available.

One final note before we dive in: Since this is our first mock of the offseason, I decided to make all the Chargers’ picks as they are currently slated. The picks in Rounds 4 to 7 are projected and will not be official until the NFL announces the compensatory picks closer to the draft. A trade down in the first round is absolutely an option, but we will have plenty of time to dive into those scenarios in later mocks and other draft-related stories.

Round 1, Pick 5: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

I fully expect the Chargers to try and trade down from 5. But within the range of outcomes, there is absolutely a scenario in which the Chargers cannot find a partner and must make the pick. A lot depends on how the quarterbacks shake out ahead of them. If the Chargers can trade down into the 8 to 12 range, they could take a tackle while also picking up extra Day 2 capital, perhaps even two more picks in the top 80.

The league feels pretty split on who the top tackle in the draft is. Different teams are going to have different prospects atop their OT boards come April. If the Chargers are forced to pick at 5, they could certainly go with one of these tackles, who all have strengths and weaknesses: Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, Penn State’s Olu Fashanu, Alabama’s JC Latham, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga, Georgia’s Amarius Mims. This would align with how Hortiz and Harbaugh have stated their vision for the roster: physicality, toughness, building through the front, running game, etc.

For me, though, a top-five pick should be a gravitational talent that can change the very identity of a team. Nabers has that potential with his playmaking and speed. He had 34 catches of 20-plus yards last season. Chargers receivers combined for 41 such plays as a group in 2023, according to TruMedia. I think the Chargers are likely to move on from receiver Mike Williams for cap reasons. They will need a replacement on the outside, and I find it hard to rely on Quentin Johnston in that spot given his performance as a rookie. The Chargers have been missing this type of receiver for Herbert’s entire career. The logic would be easy to formulate: Don’t overthink it, take the stud.

Round 2, Pick 37: Zach Frazier, C, West Virginia

Corey Linsley is set to retire this offseason. In all likelihood, he will be placed on the retirement list on June 2. The post-June 1 retirement would allow the Chargers to spread his remaining dead money over two seasons. The cap ramifications do not change the roster reality: The Chargers need a starting center. There will be options on the free-agent market. The price range available to the Chargers will be dictated by how much space they create with cap moves over the coming weeks. I think the best route is pairing a Day 2 draft pick with a mid-to-lower-level free agent. That alleviates some of the pressure of the rookie coming in and starting right away, even if that is the best-case outcome. Frazier was a four-time state champion wrestler in high school and plays with great leverage.

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West Virginia’s Zach Frazier could be a replacement for Corey Linsley at center. (Ben Queen / USA Today)

Round 3, Pick 69: Blake Corum, RB, Michigan

I’ll be honest: I had a tough time with this pick. And that is largely because by the time the draft moves out of the third round, the chances of hitting on a starting-level player shrink significantly. The Chargers need a corner. They need a tight end. They could use competition at right tackle and right guard. Edge rusher, linebacker, interior defensive lineman, safety — the list goes on and on. Leaving Day 2 without a defensive pick made me a little uneasy.

Still, the Chargers are going to try to build an improved run game under Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and one piece they have been missing in recent seasons is an elite runner. It is a need they have to fill if they are going to become the type of running team Harbaugh and Roman envision. Austin Ekeler does a lot of things at a very high level, but the strength of his game is not running between the tackles. He is set to be a free agent. Joshua Kelley is also set to be a free agent. He has good speed and physicality but lacks some of the natural vision essential for top-level rushing production. Isaiah Spiller, a 2022 fourth-round pick, is still very much a developmental player. Harbaugh has plenty of experience with Corum from Michigan. Corum scored 58 rushing touchdowns in his Wolverines career. As our draft expert Dane Brugler wrote in his top 100: “Corum has terrific vision and an energetic lower body to read and maximize the blocking in front of him.” The fit makes sense.

Round 4, Pick 106: Cam Hart, CB, Notre Dame

Last month, I asked new defensive coordinator Jesse Minter what traits he prioritizes in cornerbacks for his system.

“The outside guys in particular, there’s a size, there’s a height, a length,” Minter said. “Everybody wants the 6-foot plus corners that can match up on people, particularly with the receivers. Seems like they just keep getting bigger and bigger.”

Hart measured in at 6-foot-3, 202 pounds with 33-inch arms at the combine. Size and length. He tested extremely well with a 39.5-inch vertical and 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump. And he ran 4.50 in the 40. With his size and athletic testing, he might not be there on Day 3. But he checks a number of Minter’s boxes. Minter also mentioned “ball skills” as an important trait. Hart leaves a bit to be desired in that department with only 17 passes defended in 40 career games in college. No perfect prospects, as they say. Especially in the later stages of the draft.

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Round 5, Pick 139: Matt Goncalves, OL, Pittsburgh

Assessing the Chargers’ offensive line is an interesting process this offseason. They obviously have pieces to work with. Rashawn Slater is an elite player at left tackle. I think we will see a jump from left guard Zion Johnson, a 2022 first-round pick, with a more refined run-game scheme. We already discussed a potential plan at center. The right side is where a lot of uncertainty rests. Right tackle Trey Pipkins III took a step back in 2023 after signing his extension. Jamaree Salyer started almost an entire season at left tackle in 2022 while Slater was injured. He was not as good of a player inside at right guard, where reaction times for offensive linemen must be quicker. The argument for taking a tackle early is geared toward improving this right side.

If that does not materialize, I like a plan of adding a versatile offensive line piece in the middle rounds and having open competitions for both spots on the right side through the spring and summer. Salyer can play guard and tackle. Pipkins has not played guard in the NFL, but it’s worth giving him a look. Jordan McFadden, a 2023 fifth-round pick, showed flashes in his two starts at left guard in Weeks 17 and 18 last season. He was primarily a left tackle in college. Goncalves had experience at both tackle spots and left guard during his Pitt career. He missed most of his final season with an injury.

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Pitt’s Matt Goncalves would help create depth and competition on the offensive line. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

Round 6, Pick 183: AJ Barner, TE, Michigan

Another Michigan connection. Barner was a former captain at Indiana who transferred to the Wolverines for the 2023 season. He was the fifth-leading receiver on the national championship team, but his role in the NFL will likely be primarily as a run blocker. The Chargers have not had an even average run-blocking tight end since Hunter Henry left in free agency after the 2020 season.

Until the Chargers move on from either Khalil Mack or Joey Bosa — or both — edge will not be a super pressing concern. Jean-Baptiste has some NFL-level measurable traits in terms of length (33.75-inch arms) and athleticism (4.66 40-yard dash).

Round 7, Pick 256: Justin Rogers, DT, Auburn

The Chargers have six interior defensive linemen on the roster: Morgan Fox, Otito Ogbonnia, Scott Matlock, Jerrod Clark, Christopher Hinton and CJ Okoye. Clark, Hinton and Okoye are on futures contracts. Hinton played for Harbaugh at Michigan. Fox is a possible cap cut. They could need pieces to round out this group. Rogers, at 330 pounds, projects as a run-stuffing nose tackle.

(Top photos of Blake Corum and Malik Nabers: Kevork Djansezian and Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)





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