Chargers Mock Draft Series: Improving The Offense
With free agency mostly behind us, this is the point in the offseason where attention officially shifts to the draft. With the Los Angeles Chargers veteran additions mostly focused on rebuilding Brandon Staley’s defense, it stands to reason that we could see the draft result in an offense-centric commitment. I’m running this mock draft through The Draft Network with that in mind. I’ll throw in some defensive picks here and there but the focus in this scenario is giving more help to Justin Herbert.
*Note: I will not be predicting any trades in this simulation.*
Round One, Pick 17
Zion Johnson, Offensive Line, Boston College
Chris Olave was very tempting to me in this instance, as he has been to every Chargers fan in a world where Williams is off the board but I think there are other options later in the draft to address the receiver position. I’m sure the Chargers front office will be thinking long and hard about selecting Trevor Penning if he is on the board like he was in this scenario.
I do not share the sentiment that Penning is worth a top 20 selection. I have concerns about his ability as an immediate starter. So instead I will be selecting Zion Johnson, who I believe is the best interior offensive linemen in the class. Alijah Vera-Tucker was somebody that made a lot of sense to me last year if they missed out on Rashawn Slater because of his verified versatility. With the emphasis on rebuilding the trenches, I have the same thought process by selecting Johnson here, who made starts at left tackle and left guard during his time at Boston College. Johnson also worked as a center at the Senior Bowl.
I don’t think he is necessarily a squeaky clean fit for what they want at the guard position from a size standpoint, however, the Chargers new offensive line coach Brendan Nugent was in New Orleans when they drafted Cesar Ruiz, and he has a nearly identical RAS to Johnson. So while Johnson isn’t as tall as the Chargers brass seem to generally prefer, there is some precedence in taking a player like this and Johnson is the best guard prospect in the class. In this instance, Johnson would slide in as a day one starter at either spot and possibly allow the Chargers to kick Matt Feiler to right tackle as The Athletic’s Daniel Popper has alluded to, and bring back Oday Aboushi. With the lack of a surefire right tackle on the board, this is simply about getting the five best players in front of Herbert.
Round Three, Pick 79
James Cook, Running Back, Georgia
After adding Johnson in round one I wanted to be sure to use the next two picks to add weapons to the offense. With fan-favorite Calvin Austin III off the board and no clear alternative at wide receiver, I decided to go and solve the running back two-spot that has plagued the Chargers over the last two seasons.
I happen to think Justin Jackson is the kind of complement they are looking for alongside Austin Ekeler. Jackson just can’t stay on the field, which is obviously why the Chargers are needing to upgrade. Enter Cook, who is that same kind of downhill slasher that can also catch the ball out of the backfield, a necessary skill set if I’m going to spend a top 100 pick on a running back. Cook also brings legitimate athleticism and 4.4 speed to the table, which is something Staley has said they are prioritizing. Cook would immediately stabilize the running back room and give the Chargers a long-term solution for the time when Ekeler begins to slow down.
Round Four, Pick 123
Bo Melton, Wide Receiver, Rutgers
Melton is one of my favorite “sleepers” of the draft class because he is someone that brings top-notch speed to the table (4.34 official at the combine) and he can also run every route in the tree, which makes him a good fit for the Chargers who are very demanding in that regard. Had Melton been in a more explosive offense at a more relevant school, I think he’d be going much higher in this draft – similar to Josh Palmer. He flashed the ability on tape to do a little bit of everything (including returning punts) and that stood out at the Senior Bowl, which is something Telesco has consistently valued as well.
Round Five, Pick 160
JT Woods, Safety, Baylor
Safety is a sneaky need in this draft class. Nasir Adderley is a free agent after the upcoming season, Alohi Gilman has only played in a handful of games in the last two seasons, and Mark Webb both spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve.
I think they want to be able to allow Adderley to play around the ball more often, so adding another safety capable of playing in the deep parts of the field is a crucial piece to the secondary puzzle. Woods’ top-tier athleticism (9.88 RAS) would allow them to do that at a significantly higher level than what they currently have with Gilman and Webb who are both limited athletically. Woods also led the Big 12 with six interceptions in 2021.
Round Six, Pick 195
Vederian Lowe, Offensive Tackle, Illinois
At some point in this draft, the Chargers need to invest in the offensive tackle position. In this instance where I took Johnson in the first round, that need gets pushed down the board and finally addressed with Lowe in the sixth round. Despite his 52 career starts in the Big 10, there hasn’t been a ton of hype surrounding him in this draft class due to his lack of dominant film. I think he’s firmly in the dart throw category with some intriguing athletic traits, particularly his elite 10 yard split time.
Round Six, Pick 214
Jeremiah Moon, Edge, Florida
Chris Rumph II is currently the Chargers third-best edge rusher, which is a significant problem in my opinion but again this is an offensive-centric exercise so that pushes the need down the board in this simulation. Moon is a highly intriguing athlete with an elite RAS, however, he does also bring a good amount of injury baggage to the table. Three of his five seasons at Florida ended prematurely, which is why an athlete of his caliber is widely viewed as a day three pick. Taking him in the sixth round provides a low-risk-high-reward scenario if they can get him to stay on the field.
Round Seven, Pick 236
DaMarcus Fields, Cornerback, Texas Tech
The Chargers cornerback room still needs more depth and competition and I would like to see them add to it through the draft. Fields is an experienced Big 12 corner with over 3,000 snaps to his name. He’s got good size, length and is a decent enough athlete to take a shot on this late in the draft. He also has a strong special teams background.
Round Seven, Pick 254
Connor Heyward, Fullback/Tight End, Michigan State
The Chargers have yet to re-sign Stephen Anderson who filled this role last year, so until they bring back Anderson, I’ll have them fill the hybrid role at some point late in the draft. Gabe Nabers is also a possibility. Heyward is a more physical blocker and would be a good option. He was also a core special teams player at Michigan State.
Round Seven, Pick 255
Keaontay Ingram, Running Back, USC
Yes, another running back. The Chargers addressed their second running back spot with Cook earlier in this draft but with this many late-round picks I believe they could take a chance on another one. Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree have not proven enough to carve out a role on the offense so in this offense-heavy approach why not completely overhaul the running back room? Ingram is a fast and violent runner that was a great fit in the Trojans’ zone-heavy scheme. His 8.62 RAS score isn’t necessarily elite but it’s significantly better than Kelley or Rountree’s.
Even in an offense-heavy scenario, I would actually be really happy with this draft. The Chargers would get two instant contributors in Johnson and Cook and a good blend of solid depth pieces and developmental projects beyond that.