The draft is just days away, and for the last time this offseason, we have a seven-round Chargers mock draft for you.
This is my Mock Draft 4.0, and as always, these picks are my best attempt at predicting the Chargers draft as accurately as possible. We have detailed and analyzed numerous situations over the past two months. Will the Chargers pick for a speed receiver in the first round? Will they find a tight end? How about Texas running back Bijan Robinson or a defensive player like Alabama DB Brian Branch? How would the Chargers’ draft change if they traded back in the first round, and what would those trade returns look like?
The speculation ends Thursday night.
Of my choices.
Los Angeles Chargers 2023 NFL Draft Big Board: 67 targets for the first 3 rounds
Round 1, pick 21: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The hardest part of projecting the Chargers’ pick at 21 is knowing what will happen ahead of them. Because if some players go down — like Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith, Branch, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. or even Robinson — I definitely see the Chargers going in a different direction than I chose . But I think the players will go off the board. And that leaves the Chargers in a position where need and value align.
As Ted Nguyen and I detailed earlier this month, tight ends are absolutely essential to new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s scheme, both in the run and pass games. The Chargers don’t have the necessary run blocking in their tight end room to effectively run Moore’s system. Head coach Brandon Staley wants to run an offense that maximizes the mismatches that tight ends can create in all phases, pass and run. They need a complete room to do that, and I don’t think they have that level of talent between Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr. and Tre’ McKitty, who all have weaknesses in their games. Mayer has good value at 21, and he projects as the kind of all-around tight end the Chargers haven’t deployed since Hunter Henry left in free agency in 2021. Even Utah’s Dalton Kincaid is available at 21, I think the Chargers Mayer will take him because of what he can bring as a run blocker. There are a million ways to overthink this choice. If the Chargers end up in this situation, a trade back should be firmly on the table. But ultimately, Mayer only makes so much sense for the Chargers considering where the organization wants to go offensively.
Dane Brugler’s The Beast, the complete 2023 NFL Draft Guide, is available now.
Round 2, pick 54: Derick Hall, edge, Auburn
The Chargers can’t do another draft without investing in their edge rushing group. They passed on an edge rusher last year, instead opting to sign Kyle Van Noy after the draft as a depth piece. They traded their second-round pick for Khalil Mack in March of last year, but they lacked depth last season when Joey Bosa tore his groin and missed 12 games. Van Noy was outstanding down the stretch, but it took him most of the season to find his form after an early season back injury. Chris Rumph II is a really solid special teams player, but he is best served in the fourth edge rusher role. The Chargers need to invest in their third edge rusher spot with a young, cheap player with potential — both as a rotational player in 2023 and a potential starter down the road. I like Hall in this place. He is a strong, athletic, tough power rusher who can also set the edge in the run game.
Round 3, pick 85: Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska
The Chargers re-signed receiver Jalen Guyton last week, and while he’s coming off an ACL tear he suffered in Week 3 last season, he gives the receiving room some much-needed speed. I still don’t think the Chargers have enough burst at receiver. They haven’t had enough explosion at receiver in years. It’s a recurring theme, one that was exposed last season as Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both missed significant time with injuries. General manager Tom Telesco generally values route running, hands and size over pure speed. To create an explosive passing offense, however, you need explosive pass catchers who can stretch the field vertically and horizontally. That’s the best way to fully unlock Justin Herbert.
I think the Chargers need to invest in a speed receiver in the first two days of this draft. And Palmer is an interesting third-round option. On the surface, Palmer isn’t the type of receiver the Chargers are targeting. She has a slim frame. He can struggle in contested catching situations. He’s not the smoothest route runner. He had more drops than touchdown catches in his college career. But he proved at Nebraska last season that he can take the top off a defense. He ran a 4.33 at the combine. He is a factor as a horizontal speed threat on bubble screens, quick games and finishing around the perimeter. The Chargers have a hole at return after DeAndre Carter signed with the Raiders, and Palmer has “big-play potential” as a kick and punt returner, according to our Dane Brugler. He’ll bring the explosive element the Chargers have been missing, and with Guyton back in the fold, he won’t have to fight for starting playing time right away, fitting in as the fourth or fifth receiver and return man as a rookie.
Follow all of The Athletic’s coverage of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Round 4, pick 125: Roschon Johnson, RB, Texas
I’ve been going back and forth on whether to take a running back in this draft. I think Austin Ekeler will return to the team in 2023 — either on his current deal or with a short-term extension. Joshua Kelley is an up and coming player, and I really think he would have been a headliner last season had he not suffered an MCL sprain while blocking a kickoff in Week 6. The Chargers took Isaiah Spiller in the fourth round in last year with the understanding that he is not yet 21 years old and will need time to develop both mentally and physically. A preseason ankle injury halted Spiller’s progress in his rookie season. I expect a big jump in Year 2. But with Staley promising to improve the running game with Moore in 2023, I’d be hard-pressed to pass on another running back to add depth and versatility to the skill set. Kelley has shown flashes of being a capable and physical between-the-tackles runner, but that feels like the missing ingredient in this room. Johnson, who backed up Robinson at Texas, has that poise and punishing style on the interior. He is also a seasoned special teams player who led the Longhorns in special teams tackles as a senior last year.
Round 5, pick 156: Starling Thomas V, CB, UAB
I might wait too long to get to a corner, but I really like Thomas in this place. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day. He can play outside or in the slot. He had 25 passes defended over his last two seasons. The wildest part of Brugler’s scouting report on Thomas is that the UAB product played the final seven games of the 2019 season with a torn ACL. That’s remarkable toughness. Thomas is “quick to support the run with above-average tackling skills for a player his size,” according to Brugler. The Chargers lacked corner tackling last season. There are penalty issues with Thomas — he had 22 in his last three college seasons — but the Chargers are likely confident they can work around that with the right coaching.
Round 6, pick 200: Anthony Johnson Jr., S, Iowa State
Johnson is a repeat from our Mock 2.0, where he was projected in the seventh round. He moved to safety for his final season at Iowa State after playing corner for his first four seasons. This is the type of versatile defensive back Staley wants. Johnson played corner, nickel and safety in college. And Brugler cited several key traits that Staley values in his safeties, including an understanding of field leverage and strong awareness and vision deep down the field. Brugler compared Johnson to Nick Scott, who played significant snaps in Staley’s 2020 Rams defense in the second half of that season. Johnson is also an experienced special teams player.
Round 7, pick 239: Brodric Martin, DT, Western Kentucky
Martin has all the measurables Staley looks for in an interior defensive lineman. He was big (6-foot-4.5, 330 pounds) and long (35-inch arms) and showed “easy power from his legs and his upper half, including violent hands,” according to Brugler. The Chargers could use another depth piece on the interior of the defensive line with Austin Johnson and Otito Ogbonnia both coming off serious knee injuries. Martin will be more of a development pick.
(Top photo by Michael Mayer: G Fiume / Getty Images)