We're almost to the 2023 NFL Draft.
We got a few of the Chargers beat reporters together to discuss what direction the Bolts could go Thursday night, plus other topics to watch throughout the weekend.
Here's what Jeff Miller (Los Angeles Times), Joe Reedy (Associated Press), Daniel Popper (The Athletic) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:
What is the Chargers biggest position of need ahead of the draft?
Miller: I've talked myself into thinking they'll pick a defensive player in Round 1, probably because so many people seem convinced it will be a wide receiver or tight end. I understand the idea of accumulating weapons for a quarterback like Justin Herbert. That will always be a popular opinion. But this team's biggest issues last year were consistently running the ball and stopping the other team. Let's be real here, the Chargers' defense just hasn't been good enough. I think they need to target an edge rusher, a defensive lineman or a cornerback on Day 1.
Reedy: The good news, at least for now, is that there isn't a position that is flashing huge neon red lights of "Draft Me" like three years ago at quarterback and two years ago with left tackle. However, all of that might change if Austin Ekeler is indeed traded. Among the positions that need fortifying are wide receiver, tight end and depth on the offensive line as well as on defense. Even with the re-signing of Jalen Guyton, the Chargers need another receiver that can stretch the field as well as depth for the future. At tight end, they have someone that excels catching the ball and one that excels at blocking, but they don't have one that can do both well.
Popper: I have a three-way tie between tight end, edge rusher and receiver.
Smith: They don't have one. This isn't like 2020 when the team needed a quarterback, or when there were obvious holes along the offensive line in the past two seasons. As it stands now, the Chargers could line up today and play without needing a starter anywhere. This is a great spot to be in, as the Bolts could possibly draft the highest player on their board at No. 21. But, with all that said, positions to watch could be tight end, wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback.
What's the ideal situation for the Bolts at No. 21?
Miller: In a perfect world, general manager Tom Telesco could trade back a few spots and add another Day 2 pick. Daniel Popper tells me Telesco never has traded back in a decade of doing this for the Chargers, and Popper is rarely wrong. Of course, Popper also said he thinks Telesco could trade back, meaning that move almost has no chance of happening. If two sportswriters think one thing, Tom Telesco is pretty much certain to think something else completely. But, to answer the question, I'll go with trading back, adding another pick and then drafting a defensive piece.
Reedy: Finding a trade partner where they can trade down a couple spots in order to add another pick or two. Knowing how the team loves its draft capital, the more picks you can accumulate the better.
Popper: A run on quarterbacks early, and Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith falling to 21. I think a difference-making edge rusher behind Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack is a big missing piece for Brandon Staley's defense.
Smith: A trade back to get more picks ... while still getting the player you wanted at No. 21. Hypothetically, let's say Player X is available at 21, but a team a few spots below you wants to move up for a quarterback. The Chargers could trade down and potentially acquire a third-round pick. Player X, meanwhile, is still available in the mid-20s and he ends up in powder blue after all. A win-win for the Bolts.
Who's a first-rounder you think could end up with the Chargers that isn't a popular pick in mock drafts?
Miller: Tough question in that there are so many mock drafts that roughly every prospect now has been attached to the Chargers. I would say Bryan Bresee, defensive tackle from Clemson, but his injury history is something I suspect would give the Chargers concern. Instead, let's go with a really big-bodied dude along the defensive front in Michigan's Mazi Smith. He would give the Chargers a run-stopper, which is something they lacked after experiencing some injuries in 2022. Having said all that, there's no guarantee Smith will be a Day 1 pick. But you said someone who isn't popular in mock drafts, right?
Reedy: Alabama safety Brian Branch. The selection of Zion Johnson last year was a mild surprise because they went with the offensive line for the second straight year. But if Branch is the best player available on the board ...
Popper: Alabama defensive back Brian Branch. He is the ideal Staley DB because of his versatility and instincts. He also comes from a scheme under Nick Saban that Staley respects. The Chargers could use some more depth in the slot, and that is primarily where Branch played at Alabama, though he could potentially play anywhere in the secondary.
Smith: Like Jeff said, it seems as if every player has been projected to the Chargers at least one with the millions of mock drafts out there at this point in April. But a name I haven't seen too often is Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks. He's been projected to the Bolts only a few times, and certainly not as often as some tight ends or wide receiver. Banks is Daniel Jeremiah's 24th overall prospect, so he could be there in the early 20s. Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley loves his defensive backs and Banks could be another chess piece to use going forward.
Check out some photos of the Chargers during the second week of the 2023 off-season program at Hoag Performance Center
Let's talk Day 2. What positions could be in play Friday?
Miller: If the Chargers do go defensive front Thursday, defensive back and tight end leap to the forefront for me on Day 2. For some reason - probably because I picked the Chargers to take a wide receiver in the first round of various mock drafts over the past few weeks - I have this nagging feeling that we're overthinking things. The Chargers already have three solid-plus wideouts in Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer. Sure, none of them are burners, but…
Reedy: Wide receiver and defensive line. It isn't a great class for defensive line at the top, but there are plenty of guys with grades in the second through fourth rounds.
Popper: Entirely depends on what happens in the first round. Tight end, receiver, edge rusher, corner all on the table.
Smith: As Popper said, it depends on what happens Thursday. But if tight end isn't the first-round selection, the depth and talent of that group could make it a desirable pick in Rounds 2 or 3. I'd also throw a nod to a potential third-round linebacker to add depth behind Eric Kendricks and Kenneth Murray, Jr.
How about a sleeper position the team could focus on for Day 3?
Miller: Nobody is talking about linebacker as it relates to the Chargers, but there's still a need to replace Troy Reeder as a depth piece. Amen Ogbongbemiga and Nick Niemann are still around and should have significant special teams roles again. Adding another linebacker who could compete for a reserve spot and for special teams snaps seems reasonable to me.
Reedy: Quarterback. The Chargers like having three on the roster and right now Easton Stick is the backup.
Popper: Quarterback. Tom Telesco said Monday he wants to enter training camp with three or even four quarterbacks. The Chargers only have two on the roster right now between Justin Herbert and Easton Stick.
Smith: Safety. The Chargers still have Derwin James, Jr., and Alohi Gilman and JT Woods could compete for the starting spot next to him in 2023. Raheem Layne is a strong special teamer but the Bolts could still use more depth at that spot. Keep an eye on that position in the final two or three rounds.
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