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Chargers Mailbag: Assessing the Bolts Draft & UDFAs to Watch

Q Mailbag

Welcome to a post-draft edition of the Chargers Mailbag!

Send in submissions for future Mailbags here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go…

What's your take on the draft class? Seems like some good players but no immediate starters. (Ron via email)

Hope you all were able to take a breather after the three-day flurry that was the 2023 NFL Draft.

I came away impressed by the Chargers draft haul and actually agree with Ron's point above.

But here's why that's OK.

The Chargers are in win-now mode and, by my count, don't have any starting spots open on the roster.

Even in early May, we know who is going to be lining up at all 22 spots, and perhaps a few more if you include positions such as the third wide receiver or slot cornerback.

This isn't a rebuild. The Chargers chose to draft proven and experienced college players who can come in and simply add to the loads of talent that is already on the roster.

Quentin Johnston is a perfect example of this.

Johnston likely won't start right away, not with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer already here.

Yet imagine a scenario where Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore helps bring Johnston along and allows him to thrive in a non-starting role.

Johnston won't be expected to wow the league in Week 1 and instead can get his feet wet in his rookie year.

I'm not saying Johnston won't play at all. But he should be on a gradual upswing and be able to contribute on offense as the season plays out.

The same goes for the pair of defenders drafted on day 2. Outside linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu and linebacker Daiyan Henley are perhaps more suited for a niche role such a third-down pass rusher or special teams ace early on.

Save for Derius Davis, the Day 3 picks might be given a redshirt year of sorts.

Jordan McFadden can learn from the starters along the offensive line and be a key backup. Scott Matlock could be a rotational piece and Max Duggan will compete with Easton Stick for the backup job behind Justin Herbert.

Davis is the exception here, as he is likely to be the primary returner and should jump into the fray right away. He was the 2022 Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and could provide some juice in that phase with his 4.36 speed.

On the whole, the Chargers seven draft picks will fill important depth roles with the chance to expand them going forward. And depending on how the roster ebbs and flows in the coming years, most of them could develop into starters down the road.

I knew these questions were coming, especially when the tight end spot was so heavily mocked to the Chargers in recent months.

I'll echo something I wrote last week in the pre-draft Mailbag. For all of the information out there, we all don't really know what's going to happen.

And just because pundits project one tight end after another to the Bolts, it doesn't mean the front office is surely going to pick one.

"We like our tight end room. We draft what the board presents us," Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said Saturday night. "You really can't manufacture anything. I think it's a really good group of players. We have some depth there at that position. We're ready to go."

So, while tight end and running back were popular projections in mock drafts, it didn't turn out that way in the actual draft, which is as fluid and unpredictable as anything in the league.

The Bolts have Gerald Everett as the starter, with Donald Parham, Jr., Tre' McKitty, Stone Smartt and Hunter Kampoyer on the roster. Michael Ezeike was added as an undrafted free agent Saturday night.

Moore met with beat reporters Monday and was understandably asked about that position group.

He had a great answer, which is in full below, on what the tight end spot means to his offense and how he'll use this current group.

"I think the tight end room is a very rare room and it's a very important room for an offense because they're part of every aspect of the game," Moore said. "The run game, they're right in there with the O-Line in the run-game component and the techniques. They're in the pass game, obviously, with the QBs, at times they're a protector, even in the play-action game and what not.

"Those guys have to be able to do a lot of different things. It's a very important role just because of those things," Moore continued.

"We probably used a little bit more tight ends, maybe, the last couple of years in Dallas. A little bit more 12 and 13 [personnel] and some of those different things. It suited us well," Moore added. "We'll do whatever suits us best as we kind of build this thing. I am excited about the guys we have. I think they all have traits that are really exciting. I'm excited to just work with them."

That final part of Moore's quote, where he says the Bolts "will do whatever suits us best," is the key for me.

The best coaches adapt their scheme and gameplans to what their players do best. If they don't, sometimes it's like trying to put a square peg in a round hole by asking a player to do something on the field that doesn't fully fit his skillset.

I expect Moore to do just that this season. We just won't know what it looks like until training camp and the season.

The Chargers were among the league's best teams in terms of roster additions after the draft a year ago.

Morgan Fox, Kyle Van Noy and Bryce Callahan were all added in May, and all turned into de-facto starters by the end of the season due to injuries.

I'm not going to list of players because I personally don't decide who gets added and who doesn't. That's up to Telesco, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley and the personnel department.

What I will say is that the front office is always looking to add talent, whether it be in March or May of August.

The Bolts don't have a ton of openings on their roster right now. But if they find a fit they believe it right, perhaps we'll see some fresh faces added in due time.

Staley was asked about the secondary Saturday night and said this:

"Just because we didn't draft a DB in this class doesn't mean that that group isn't healthy, because we think that our DB group right now is a very healthy group, corner and safety," Staley said.

When Staley talks about the health of the group in this instance, it's referring to the depth and potential. The actual physical health is solid, too, save for J.C. Jackson's rehab from a serious knee injury.

Staley also did mention Callahan in his answer and said how more bodies could be added.

"There could be guys out there that we think are good fits, that are veterans that we feel like could really increase the overall depth and productivity of the group, and we'll see how that takes shape," Staley said. "I want to say, we really like where we're at in the secondary because we think we have a lot of young players that are ascending.

"Maybe the fans don't know about them yet, but we feel like they're coming," Staley added.

The player who stands out the most in all of this is Ja'Sir Taylor.

If the Bolts feel he can be the starting slot cornerback, then perhaps bringing Callahan back isn't a high priority. We won't know that until OTAs and minicamp, so it's a bit of a waiting game.

Speaking of Taylor…

While he could be in line to start, I also think it's way too early to even think about who will be on the field in Week 1.

The NFL timeline after the draft is sort of odd where the schedule comes out and then people start looking ahead to training camp and the season.

But there's still so much time between now and then.

In the case of Gilman and Taylor, maybe they do show something in offseason practices to warrant getting a look at their respective starting jobs.

I'll agree with what Telesco said about the state of the roster on Saturday.

"What do we really have? We'll see when we get on the field," Telesco said. "I think the players, at least that we added [in the draft], and players in free agency, kind of added a lot more depth to some positions and got some younger players in the pipeline.

"We'll kind of see how it plays out in July and August," Telesco added.

It will be fun to track who's on the field in May and June, but the real answers will come later this summer.

I'll give you two names here, both on defense: cornerback Cameron Brown and defensive lineman Jerrod Clark.

Both of them landed on ESPN's list of the Top 25 UDFAs, so that's a good starting point.

Brown, who was 12th on that list, could carve out a role that Taylor and Deane Leonard had a year ago as a key special teams player. Most UDFAs start there if they make a roster.

Here's what Dane Brugler of The Athletic write about Brown in his draft guide:

Overall, Brown has optimistic moments on tape where his traits and instincts take over, but the inconsistent moments and missed plays were the lasting impression. He will need to stay healthy during camp to convince an NFL team he is worth a spot on the roster or practice squad.

Clark, meanwhile, could provide depth at the back end of the roster along the defensive line.

If you read my pre-draft position preview on defensive linemen, you'll know that Clark was someone mentioned by ESPN's Jordan Reid. He said:

Jerrod Clark from Coastal Carolina, he's one of that I think can go in the fifth or sixth round. I like him quite a bit as far as that 3-4 run-stuffing guy, I think he can be that.

Those are just two players who stood out to me right away.

I'll also note that it's tough for a UDFA to make the roster any year, but it might be tougher this year given how few spots on the 53-man roster there seem to be at the moment.

But I've also learned not to count anyone out. It's time to chase some dreams.

That will do it for this edition of the Mailbag.

As always, you can find me on Twitter at @EricLSmith and submit your questions for the Chargers Mailbag.

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