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Chargers Mailbag: How the Bolts Can Ace the 2024 NFL Draft

JH mailbag

Welcome to a special edition of the Chargers Mailbag!

With the 2024 NFL Draft on deck, here's a look at what could happen Thursday night.

Off we go...

What do you think the Bolts actually do in Round 1? (Kevin via email)

The wait is almost over, as we're just over 24 hours from Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft.

And you know what the best part is? I have no idea what will happen. In fact, outside of the No. 1 pick, everything is on the table for what could happen Thursday night and beyond.

But with that in mind, I took a stab at what the Bolts could do in Rounds 1-3 with three different mock draft scenarios below using Pro Football Focus' mock draft simulator.

Something to note, these are simply a look at how things could play out for the Chargers over the next few days. Don't take it too seriously.

Let's dive in!

Option No. 1: Stick & Pick

The Chargers hold the No. 5 overall pick, yes, but they could be looking at the de-facto No. 1 pick when it comes to non-quarterback prospects.

If quarterbacks end up going 1 through 4 in Round 1, the Bolts — who certainly do not need a quarterback — can simply pick the highest player on their board.

Chargers General Manager Joe Hortiz said Thursday that the Bolts will always favor taking the best player available, a mindset he learned in Baltimore and has said he'll carry over to Southern California.

In this scenario, quarterbacks went 1 through 3, but Arizona took wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. with the No. 4 pick.

I originally thought I might have to choose between Harrison and LSU's Malik Nabers, but with Harrison off the board, Nabers is the easy pick to give Justin Herbert and the Bolts offense a dynamic playmaker.


So, why Nabers? To start, he's easily a top-five player in the draft according to, well, everyone.

The Athletic's Dane Brugler, Jordan Reid of ESPN and CBS Sports all have him as their No. 3 overall prospect.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network and ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. ranked Nabers at No. 4 overall. So, yeah, he's legit.

And Nabers, who was third in college football with 14 touchdown catches in 2023, would add immediate juice to the Chargers offense.

Here's what Brugler wrote about Nabers:

Overall, Nabers has only average size/strength, but he offers dynamic potential, because of his ability to accelerate/decelerate on command and always make himself available with his athletic catch-point skills. He projects as a playmaking receiver in the NFL.

And Jeremiah's scouting report said:

Nabers is an electric playmaker who reminds me of DJ Moore with the ball in his hands.

The Chargers have plenty of areas to address on their roster, something Hortiz alluded to Thursday.

But wide receiver is one of them, and the chance to add Nabers is simply too enticing.

The Bolts do fill other needs in Rounds 2 and 3. West Virginia center Zach Frazier can step in and be the potential long-term option there while Oregon's Khyree Jackson provides much-needed depth to that position room.

So, this is a scenario where the Bolts stay at No. 5 overall.

What if they decide to trade down?

Option No. 2: Trade Down

As we just mentioned above, the Chargers have multiple position groups they likely need to add to in this year's draft.

With nine picks already at their disposal, the Bolts could add even more quantity by trading back with a quarterback-needy team and amassing more draft capital.

Enter the Vikings, who hold Nos. 11 and 23 and seem primed to draft a long-term quarterback in Minnesota for the first time in nearly a decade.

In this scenario, I sent the No. 5 pick in exchange for Nos. 11 and 23, plus third and fourth-round selections next year.


Now, I'm limited by what PFF allowed in their simulator, so this was the best I could do.

And while this is a solid deal, would it be enough for Hortiz and the Chargers? The Bolts GM said Thursday that the team would need a significant haul in order to move back from the fifth pick.

"They have to make it attractive for us to move away from those players," Hortiz said. "The whole, 'It's a fair trade, it's a wash.' I don't think that's a trade that we're interested in."

In this scenario, the Bolts would come away with a clear win based on this trade value chart from Over The Cap.

Pick No. 5 here is worth 2,184 points. Minnesota's picks at Nos. 11 (1,785 points) and 23 (1,411 points) already exceed the value of No. 5, and we really get strong value with the 2025 third and fourth-rounders, which are roughly a combined 1,380 points.

Add it all up and we obtain 4,500-plus points while giving up 2,184 points. That's massive value.

And while I don't want to come across and too greedy here, maybe it takes more than that for the Bolts to move off of No. 5?

If the Vikings make such a trade, they will obviously do so looking for a quarterback. Perhaps they have to give up more than the pair of 2025 picks as part of a so-called quarterback tax.

Either way, the Chargers now have a pair of first-round picks to infuse talent into the roster.

Screen Shot 2024-04-03 at 12.52.00 PM

Let's add some beef to the Bolts offensive line with the addition of Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga at No. 11.

I'm not going to guarantee that the Chargers select an offensive lineman in the draft. But if it happens, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

Remember three months ago when every Chargers fan was hoping and pining for Jim Harbaugh to be the next head coach?

Well, that happened. And ever since, Harbaugh and his staff have repeatedly mentioned how important the offensive line is in nearly every way you can.

"The offensive line to me is important," Harbaugh said last month. "If I asked you the question like, 'What position group depends on no other position group to be good, but every other position group depends on them to be good. What position group is that?'. Offensive line.

"They're not relying on any other position group to be good. They go out, yet every other position group relies on the offensive line to be good," Harbaugh added.

And here's what Chargers Run Game Coordinator/tight ends coach Andy Bischoff said two weeks ago:

"This is going to be an O-line-centric building. When it comes to our strength program, it's built around the O-line. Everybody else fall in line. Some people don't value offensive linemen. We do. That will be shown in how we approach everything — from how we stretch to how we lift, to how we run the ball, to how we protect. This is a place where o-linemen are going to want to come and play because it's an o-line-centric space."

That's as clear as you're going to get on how Harbaugh and his staff feel about the trenches.

Enter Fuaga, who is 6-foot-6 and 324 pounds and plays with a nastiness and toughness to his game.

He's not a consensus top-10 propsect, and is ranked between 10 and 18 on most big boards, so taking him at No. 11 feels like good value.

Brugler said Fuaga "has the size, core strength and balance to be a plug-and-play starter in the NFL" while Jeremiah noted "I don't see much weakness in Fuaga's game. He has Pro Bowl potential at tackle."

Letting him compete with Trey Pipkins III or others along the offensive line is exactly the mindset Hortiz wants on the roster.

"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 said.

Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton would add some size and tenacity in the trenches on the other side of the ball.

Newton is primarily viewed as a late first-round prospect and had 17.5 sacks from the interior in college. He was a First-Team All-American in 2023 and was also the Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Brugler said Newton "is tough to block 1-on-1, because of his gap quickness, natural power and nose for the ball. He projects as a dependable starting three-technique in the NFL."

McKinstry and Cooper would then add defensive depth at key spots. Both could make an impact on special teams in 2024 with the chance to grow into starting roles down the line.

So, that's what a relatively simple trade down could look like.

But in the spirit of the wackiness that is the draft, let's get a little wild below.

Option No. 3: Wheel & Deal

Welcome to trades galore.

Before we get into all of that, here's what the final product ended up looking like.

Screen Shot 2024-04-03 at 12.58.33 PM

In this scenario, Hortiz and the Chargers end up making three different Round 1 trades.

Trade No. 1: No. 5 for Nos. 11 and 23, plus 2025 third and fourth-rounders. (This is the same deal with Minnesota as above).

However, what if the Bolts love Notre Dame tackle Joe Alt, who is the consensus No. 1 tackle in the draft?

Trade No. 2: Nos. 11 and 110 (fourth-rounder) to the Titans for No. 7 overall.

Alt would have to switch sides from the left tackle spot he played in college. But at 6-foot-9 and 321 pounds, he is a bonafide Top-10 prospect and would stay exactly in line with Harbaugh's affinity for the trenches.

Brugler has Alt as his No. 1 tackle and his No. 5 overall player. He wrote:

Alt stays light on his feet with the big-man agility, body control and instinctive recovery skills to become a high-level run blocker and above-average pass protector very early in this NFL career. He projects as a first-year, scheme-versatile starter with the pedigree to be a cornerstone player for an NFL franchise.

Jeremiah, who has Alt at No. 8 overall, added that "his combination of size, instincts and youth (he'll be 21 for his entire rookie season) is easy to bet on."

This trade might not happen in real life, but only giving up a fourth-round pick to move up four spots in a win-win for the Chargers, especially as they get a standout tackle.

And if you're concerned that this goes against what I said earlier about the Bolts needing to amass more draft capital, don't worry. Because I also have the Chargers trading back later in the first round.

Trade No. 3: No. 23 and a 2025 fourth-rounder to Detroit for Nos. 29 and 61 plus a 2025 sixth-round pick.

Screen Shot 2024-04-03 at 12.56.13 PM

Detroit took versatile Duke offensive lineman Graham Barton, a player the Chargers could very well be interested in, with the 23rd overall pick.

But the Bolts added an interior lineman of their own at No. 29 with the addition of Oregon's Jackson Powers-Johnson.

The Chargers have veteran Bradley Bozeman as an option at center right now along with Jordan McFadden and Brenden Jaimes.

Jackson-Powers Johnson could end up being a long-term solution there if he pans out. Brugler, who has him as his No. 23 overall player, wrote:

Powers-Johnson's inexperience is reflected in his technique, but he offers a fantastic combination of size, athleticism and toughness, with the skillset that translates to both center and guard.

Powers-Johnson is 6-3 and 328 pounds and was a unanimous All-American in 2023, a season in which he also won the Rimington Award as the nation's top center.

Jeremiah, ESPN's Jordan Reid and CBS Sports all have him as their No. 30 overall prospect, so trading down to get him at No. 29 feels logical.

Plus, it's another value win for the Bolts as they give up No. 23 (1,411 points) to get Nos. 29 and 61, which have a combined value of 2,211 points.

The Chargers then use their first second-round pick (No. 37) to select Iowa State cornerback T.J Tampa, while the second second-rounder (No. 61) is used on Clemson defensive lineman Ruke Orhorohoro. Both provide the defensive depth the Bolts are looking for.

Finally, pick No. 69 is spent on Michigan linebacker Junior Colson, who is generally viewed as Top-50 prospect.

Come on, I wasn't going to do this whole exercise without giving Harbaugh at least one Michigan player!

So, there you have it ... three vastly different scenarios that could take place Thursday and Friday night.

Until we get there though, everything is one big guessing game. Hope you enjoyed it.

That's the million dollar question right now ... and something I mentioned above when doing a hypothetical mock trade with Minnesota.

In that scenario, I received Nos. 11 and 23 plus a pair of 2025 picks for the No. 5 selection.

Again, it was a clear win based on the trade value chart, but it simply remains to be seen what the Chargers will ultimately want if they decide to move away from No. 5.

One the bigger questions I have for this week is whether or not the Bolts will prioritize current and/or future draft picks if they swing a trade.

Here's what Hortiz said about that last week:

"That's the valuation that you put on all of the picks. We value every pick in the draft, we create a value for each pick," Hortiz said. "You sit there and say, 'OK, is a future in X round worth more than one in this round?'

"Certainly, we want to create some more picks, as many picks as we can this year," Hortiz added. "But, yeah, you do look forward, too, and if you get a chance to get a high-round pick next year, sometimes that creates more value."

Put another way, a 2025 first or second-round pick could be what tips the scales for a potential trade if that is indeed the route the Bolts take.

I wouldn't be shocked by it.

After all, I took a second-round corner in two of those three hypothetical mock drafts above.

As for which players could be available there, the three you mentioned are certainly possibilities.

Michigan's Mike Sainristil seems to be the higher-ranked of those three prospects as he's generally viewed as a top-50 player, so the Bolts second-round pick at No. 37 could make sense. Max Melton (Ruthgers) and Kamari Lassiter (Georgia) are also names to watch.

Hortiz said last month that he will always be on the lookout for cornerbacks no matter who is on the roster and no matter what time of year it is.

The Bolts have Asante Samuel, Jr. and Kristian Fulton under contract for 2024 while Ja'Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard are still on their rookie contracts.

Adding more low-cost talent in the secondary is definitely in play.

I'm not sure it does.

Even though the Chargers added Dobbins to the roster last week — and also brought in Gus Edwards earlier in free agency — the Bolts could still be in a position to add to that room later this week.

Besides those former Ravens, the Chargers also have Isaiah Spiller on the roster as he enters Year 3 of his rookie contract.

But that trio of players all have relatively short-term contracts with none on the books in three years.

That could mean the Bolts address the running back group somewhere in the middle rounds, which is what NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah opined earlier this month.

Hortiz was also asked about Dobbins' addition affecting the need for a running back last week.

He said the Chargers objective will be to add depth and competition to every spot on the roster no matter the position or the round.

"You don't want to turn away from a good player because you signed someone," Hortiz said. "I think that if you look at the history that I've been a part of, we've done that. I think if you look back, we signed Marcus Williams in Baltimore, and then we turned around and took Kyle Hamilton in the same draft.

"I think it's important, if you get a chance to get great players, you take them. All you do is create great depth," Hortiz added. "I've mentioned it before, in the past here, that's a big issue and concern for us, is to really develop a deep, talented team at all positions across the board. You don't turn away from a great player who can help you, even if you may be a little bit deeper at that position."

My guy is bringing the heat so I'll try my best here.

The reasoning to take Alt was mostly outlined above but here are the cliff notes:

- He's the consensus top tackle prospect in the draft

- The Chargers might need a long-term tackle to pair with Rashawn Slater

- Jim Harbaugh — and I can't emphasize this enough — REALLY wants the offense to start with a dominant offensive line

Does that mean the Chargers will take Alt at No. 5? I have no idea.

But if you're going to dismiss taking Alt high in the draft, then you're also throwing the other tackle prospects out the window, too.

Has any NFL Draft even gone by the books?

I don't say that in jest but only to emphasize the point that nobody really knows what will happen once Thursday night hits.

I was chatting with Brugler earlier this month and he mentioned the phrase "educated guesses" when it comes to trying to figure out what happens in Round 1.

And this is from a guy who focuses on the draft all year long and puts out a draft guide called 'The Beast' that is 300-plus pages long and features write-ups on 400-plus prospects.

Add in the fact that this is the first draft for Hortiz and Harbaugh with the Chargers and there's an extra element of the unknown.

Every year we all think we know what will happen and then things are turned on their head by the first 10 picks.

So, let me reiterate it here again, I don't know what will happen Thursday night. Neither do you or your buddies or the dozens of draft analysts out there.

Let's all sit back and enjoy the ride, though, because it's going to be a fun one.

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