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5 Takeaways: Joe Hortiz on 1st Draft as GM, Why Bolts Are Open to Trade Calls at Pick No. 5

Hortiz 04.18

Chargers General Manager Joe Hortiz spoke for 30-plus minutes Thursday morning ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Here are five takeaways from Hortiz's pre-draft press conference:

1. Draft No. 1 for Hortiz

With the Chargers holding the No. 5 overall pick, it won't take long for the Bolts to be on the clock Thursday night.

Which will also means Hortiz, a first-time GM, won't have to wait long to bet thrown into the fire of the draft frenzy.

Hortiz on Thursday detailed his emotions ahead of the first draft where he's going to be fully in charge.

"I think I'll be excited. I think there will be some anxiety, but pressure, I think there's pressure in every draft," Hortiz said. "I felt it before, but if you have everything prepared, and I mean everything, your list, that's your trade scenarios, you talk through them, which we've been doing."

He later added: "I don't think the pressure should be there. I don't think I'll feel pressure because we'll have the plan set in what we're going to do if this happens, that happens. If something happens that we don't anticipate, which I would be surprised if it does, you adjust and you think quick, you move, you react to the decisions. I don't think I'll feel pressure, I think I'll excitement and anxiety because it's the first time."

Hortiz noted that once he took the Chargers job, other GMs asked if he was waking up in the middle of the night with his mind racing.

Since the Combine, Hortiz said he's had a few more wake windows at 3 a.m., but he also credited the Bolts entire front office for being detailed and prepared as the draft approaches.

"You don't sleep as much as you did in the past because something pops in your head and you start thinking early in the morning and you're rolling," Hortiz said.

"I'd say the process itself has been great. I've enjoyed everyone's involvement, coaches, scouts, I think everyone's done a great job," Hortiz added. "It feels a lot like it's been in the past for me and I think everyone in the building and organization has done a great job participating in it."

With Hortiz and Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh approaching their first draft in powder blue, he didn't shy away from the importance of infusing young talent onto the roster.

"High level of importance. But next year is going to be just as important," Hortiz said. "We're going to take players we deem to be Chargers.

"That's the right mentality, the right work ethic, the toughness, the desire and love for the game, play-making ability," Hortiz added. "All those things wrap into it."

Months of planning, meetings and preparation will culminate into the three-day draft next week, beginning with the Chargers on the clock at No. 5.

"I'm the one who picks the player," Hortiz said. "But when I tell you it's a collaborative process, it's a collaborative process.

"I put the list together based on what we do. That's scouting, that's coaching, that's talking to Jim. I'm the one who ranks them and calls them … but it is a collaborative process."

2. A possible trade down?

Of course, there's a chance that the Bolts don't actually end up picking at No. 5.

There has been outside speculation from draft pundits that the Bolts could be a team that ends up trading back to a team that is looking to come up and get a quarterback.

Hortiz spent the most time Thursday talking about potential trades and how things could end up shaking out for the Bolts.

Will the Chargers need to be blown away to move down from the fifth pick?

"I think that's a good way to look at it," Hortiz said.

He later noted that a handful of quarterbacks going ahead of No. 5 means the chance to take the first non-quarterback is a premium position.

"If four quarterbacks go, we believe strongly we have the first pick," Hortiz said. "So, what are teams willing to give us? Now, we know it's the fifth pick and teams are going to be trading on that scope, but it's got to be a value for us.

"Do we have to be blown away? What is blown away? I don't know the answer to that," Hortiz added. "You weigh the options and the offers that we get. We'll take the best one if we do move back."

And the chance to move down means amassing extra picks and value, something that needs to happen because of the chance to get a top-tier player at No. 5.

"That's going to be the reason because we've got really good players, great players that we're going to be staring at," Hortiz said. "So if we're going to trade away from great players, there's got to be a reason in terms of value for us. Certainly, there's going to be more great players, but it's got to make sense for you and it's got to make sense for the team that wants to come up.

"There's certainly, 'It's too good of a deal', in terms of what you're getting back," Hortiz added. "They have to make it attractive to us for us to move away from those players. The whole, 'It's a fair trade, it's a wash'. I don't think that's a trade we're interested in."

Hortiz said he's had preliminary chats with other teams about a deal, something that is commonplace this time of year.

"People have called about interest in coming up to us," Hortiz said. "We've had conversations, but I think we'll have conversations through this week … through the weekend, through next week.

"Then on draft day, that's when it will really pick up," Hortiz added.

Hortiz did say that he didn't want to cap how far down the Chargers could potentially move and added that you "create layers" based on which offers come from which spot in the draft.

And a factor will also be whether the potential picks offered to the Bolts for No. 5 in the 2024 draft of future selections.

"Certainly we want to create more picks, as many picks as we can this year, but you do look forward, too," Hortiz said. "If you get a chance to get a high-round pick next year, sometimes that creates more value."

We're a week away from finding out what happens with the Chargers at No. 5.

"The draft is the draft," Hortiz said. "You think you know what they're going to do but you actually don't until it happens."

3. Big on BPA

Hortiz didn't mince words when asked what his core draft strategy is.

"It's best player available," Hortiz said.

That's the mantra Hortiz grew up on while with Baltimore for the past 26 years — and a mindset he's brought with him to Southern California.

Hortiz shared an example when the Ravens had two good starting safeties on the roster but still picked Kyle Hamilton at No. 14 overall in 2022.

Two years later, Hamilton is one of the game's best safeties and a key piece of the Ravens defense.

"Certainly there's some positions we don't "need", but like I said, you're one play away from needing a position," Hortiz said. "If you look at it based on need, you're never one player away, ever.

"I've learned that from my predecessors — Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta — and I believe that," Hortiz added. "You get a chance to add a great player, you add him. That's how we're going to approach it."

Hortiz said the Bolts Big Board is mostly set in stone a week away, with some minor final tweaks to come between now and Round 1.

"Board is pretty set," Hortiz said. "What we're doing now as an organization … we're looking at clumps and saying, 'Let's sort these clumps'.

"You're looking at these three guys, these four players, who do we see as the best option if we're picking at that spot and the players are available," Hortiz added. "A lot of times you sort that clump and there's only one guy sitting there when you're picking. There's a bit of tweaking but there's not vast movement in the list."

And Hortiz knows there's no perfect method with the draft, calling the whole thing "a little bit of art and a little bit of science."

Check out the latest photos of The Bolt, the Chargers new state-of-the-art practice facility that is coming summer of 2024.

4. A look at WR & OL groups

While it remains to be seen which position the Bolts ultimately take in Round 1, draft experts have wide receiver and offensive line high on their respective lists.

In the most-recent Mock Draft Tracker, 18 of 20 experts had the Chargers taking either of those positions with their first pick.

Hortiz was asked about both groups, beginning with a wide receiver class that features big names such as Marvin Harrison, Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze.

But Hortiz pointed to the overall depth of the wide receiver group, something he said has shown up in previous years and will be true going forward due to the rise of 7-on-7 camps.

"Certainly, the position has increased in pay, so you have to take that into consideration when you're valuing players," Hortiz said of the wide receivers. "But in terms of depth — I've said it before, I'll say it again, I'll say it next year and I'll say it in five years from now — I can promise you wide receiver is going to be a deep position in the draft every year.

"It's just the way the game has changed and evolved," Hortzi added. "It's a passing game and has certainly increased the past 20 years. Players are coming out more polished."

The Chargers currently have Joshua Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis and Simi Fehoko in their wide receiver room.

As for the offensive line, the Bolts return four of five starters from a year ago. Center is the lone exception but the team added Bradley Bozeman in free agency and have two others — Jordan McFadden and Brenden Jaimes — who could also factor in there.

"I'm excited about what they're going to do. I really am," Hortiz said of a group that he's seen work extremely hard since returning to the building.

"There's a lot of talent in there," Hortiz added. "I love the commitment and passion and enthusiasm they have."

However, if a lineman is the top player on the Chargers board when they come on the clock, Hortiz wouldn't shy away from creating even more competition.

"We could go out and play football today. 100 percent, I really believe that," Hortiz said. "But again, best player, you just take them. Because you create great depth and great competition.

"The best players play. If you have five starters and you draft someone who is better than one of your five starters, you've just made your team a lot better," Hortiz added. "Offensive line, those guys get hurt, too. One goes down and you're still in great standing."

Check out the latest photos of The Bolt, the Chargers new state-of-the-art practice facility that is coming summer of 2024.

5. The Harbaugh Factor

Don't discount how Harbaugh will factor into the Chargers three-day draft decisions.

Hortiz said the head coach "pours his heart and soul into the game" and is also fired up for his first draft with the Bolts.

Harbaugh, however, has special insight given he (and some of the Chargers current coaching staff) just came from the college ranks.

Hortiz recounted a story from the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine where the Chargers held 40-plus prospect interviews … and every single player knew who he was.

"He's watched other teams, has played against the entire Big Ten plus [others]. He knows his whole team," Hortiz said. "So, he brings a wealth of knowledge about the players that are currently in college [and the draft].

"He remembers when he was recruiting them and what positions they played in high school," Hortiz added. "You gain a lot of insight from not only Jim, but the other coaches on staff who were in college."

Hortiz said that perspective also extends to a plethora of Harbaugh's former Michigan players available in the draft.

"Why wouldn't you? They are national champs for a reason," Hortiz said. "They have a bunch of great players on that team.

"We've put them through the process and ranked them and stacked them … you just have to get them in the right spot," Hortiz added. "But certainly we know the players better than anyone and that's a major advantage for us."

Finally, Hortiz smiled when asked if Harbaugh would be opposed to taking a player who was a rival in college such as someone from Ohio State or another elite school that Michigan played.

"I don't think he'll hold that against them," Hortiz said. "He's on board with us taking the best player regardless of what helmet they wear."

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