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5 Takeaways: Why Jim Harbaugh Said It Was a "Unanimous Decision" to Draft Joe Alt


The Chargers tabbed Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt with the No. 5 pick in Round 1 on Thursday night.

Here are five takeaways from Chargers General Manager Joe Hortiz, Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and Alt:

1. A unanimous decision

There wasn't much debate in the Chargers draft room.

Harbaugh called it a "unanimous decision" to take Alt, who was viewed as the consensus top player at his position in this draft class.

"A player on the top of our board," Harbaugh said. "Nobody was rated higher than Joe Alt when it came to our selection."

Hortiz added: "We were going to take the best player available for the Chargers, and that's what we did today."

So, why was Alt the pick at No. 5 overall?

To start, he stands at 6-foot-8 and is 321 pounds, meaning he has the frame that teams are looking for up front.

He also has an NFL skillset, as Hortiz mentioned his ability to dominate in both the run game and in pass protection.

"You watch him come off the ball in the run game — obviously, we're going to run the ball here — and he drives off the line of scrimmage," Hortiz said. "You watch him move players over three gaps.

"Very athletic, excellent range, high-level competitor," Hortiz added. "Certainly an athlete as a pass protector. For a guy his size to bend and then recover … it was exceptional."

Hortiz raved about his ability to recover quickly if he get off balance. Harbaugh praised his toughness and how he never missed a game in college.

Put another way, the Chargers front office loves Alt and the upside he brings.

A unanimous All-American in 2023, Alt allowed just one sack and five total pressures this past season.

He was Pro Football Focus' top-graded offensive tackle at 90.7 among players with at least 700 snaps.

Alt said Thursday night that he's fired up to be with the Bolts.

"Extremely excited, couldn't be happier to be part of the Chargers organization," Alt said. "Getting ready to make this next step and go out and compete, I just couldn't be more excited for this next opportunity."

Others around the league love the Chargers pick, too.

Harbaugh's phone buzzed shortly after the pick of Alt was announced.

It was his brother, John, the head coach of the Ravens.

"My brother texted me," Harbaugh revealed, "and said, 'That's who I would have taken.'"

2. A move to RT?

Now that Alt is a member of the Bolts, the focus turns to where he slots in along the offensive line.

Hortiz and Harbaugh said that projection remains up in the air.

"We don't know yet. Those things are to be determined," Harbaugh said. "Count on us playing our best five offensive linemen. What position each guy plays within the offense and within the offensive line is to be determined."

He later added: "Competitors, welcome. Any country in the world, any state, any team … competitors, welcome."

Hortiz noted that Alt spent time at right tackle early in his college career and emphasized that Alt will indeed play tackle and not move inside.

The Chargers have All-Pro Rashawn Slater at left tackle, and while there's a chance he could switch sides, Alt said Thursday he's more than fine moving around.

"I don't think it'll be a huge adjustment for me," Alt said. "I've practiced during this Combine prep preparing to play right side. I think that's something I'd be able to do if the coaches would like."

Trey Pipkins III has been the Chargers starting right tackle the past two seasons and has two years remaining on his contract.

"Trey, I think he's one of our five best right now," Harbaugh said. "That's not going to change and that includes Joe Alt. Extremely impressed with Trey."

He later added: "Don't rule anything out. We're going to play the best five."

Take a look through some photos of the Chargers selection at No.5 in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, Offensive Tackle, Joe Alt from the University of Notre Dame.

3. The tip of the spear

Harbaugh has preached about the importance of a strong offensive line from the moment he took the Chargers job.

Actually, preached might be too gentle of a word.

Harbaugh and Hortiz want everything to start up front on offense for the Bolts, and reinforced that mindset with the selection of Alt fifth overall.

Yes, even with certain skill positions available at No. 5.

"I know the question is going to come up, 'What about a weapon?' Offensive linemen, we look at as weapons," Harbaugh said. "That group, when we talk about attacking on offense, the offensive line is the tip of the spear."

Harbaugh said in his introductory press conference that he wanted to "beef up" the run game.

He harped again on that point Thursday night but added that it includes pass protection, too, which means keeping quarterback Justin Herbert upright.

"It's not just the running game with the offensive line," Harbaugh said. "They protect and that's why they get paid so much money … because the quarterback has got to be able to finish his throwing motion.

"That comes from Bill Walsh," Harbaugh added. "I'm stealing that one, I didn't invent that one."

To sum it up, you shouldn't be surprised the Bolts first pick of the Hortiz-Harbaugh era was a lineman.

4. The Notre Dame connection

The Bolts met with Alt for an in-person interview at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

That included plenty of work on the whiteboard while breaking down Alt's film with the Fighting Irish.

But the Chargers did not host the mammoth tackle for a Top-30 visit in the weeks leading up to the draft.

The reason?

"With two coaches on staff, we felt like we knew him really well," Hortiz said. "No reason to bring him in."

That would be Chargers defensive line coach Mike Elston and safeties coach Chris O'Leary. While each are now on Harbaugh's staff, they both recently spent time at Notre Dame.

Harbaugh said the insight from those two were invaluable.

"Really good intel from Mike Elston, our defensive line coach," Harbaugh said. "He was coaching at Notre Dame for Joe's freshman year.

"And also Chris O'Leary, who was just at Notre Dame," Harbaugh added. "We had the kind of intel you expect to have, people that were right inside the building who were there with him every single day."

The Bolts also sent Assistant General Manager Chad Alexander, offensive line coach Mike Devlin and area scout Pat Ryan to Notre Dame's Pro Day.

When all was said and done, Alt said he felt like there was a strong chance he could end up in powder blue.

"I felt like I had a really great interview during the Combine," Alt said. "I had a good time with Coach Harbaugh and the staff.

"I was able to really talk about offensive line play in the future, and at my Pro Day, as well," Alt added. "I definitely thought that it was a possibility."

5. Trade offers in Round 1?

After weeks of speculation, the Bolts ended up sticking and picking at No. 5.

And while many projected the Chargers would move out of that spot, Hortiz said they felt perfectly fine staying right there.

"We had a few calls leading up to the draft. We did have one call when we were on the clock," Hortiz said. "We talked through it and ultimately didn't feel like it was worth trading back and passing on Joe."

Harbaugh noted that the Bolts hope it's a rarity for them to hold a top-five draft pick again anytime soon.

"We don't play on picking at five again … but we're there now, so let's get a player of that caliber," Harbaugh said.

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