Revisiting NFL Draft Classes For Joe Hortiz And Jim Harbaugh, What It Means For The Los Angeles Chargers

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The Los Angeles Chargers offseason kicked off with back-to-back home runs by hiring head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz. With the new leaders of the Chargers organization in place, it’s time to think about the team’s future.

Harbaugh is quickly putting together a strong staff in Los Angeles. New Chargers defensive coordinator Jesse Minter orchestrated the best defense in college football over the last two seasons and he previously studied under Wink Martindale. Harbaugh is also expected to add Greg Roman and Jay Harbaugh to his staff for the 2024 season.

Related: Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator candidates for Jim Harbaugh

While the Chargers coaching staff is what matters for the regular season, the front office is put under the spotlight this offseason. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the history of NFL Draft classes by Harbaugh and Hortiz to help get an understanding of what Los Angeles is getting.

NFL Draft classes with Jim Harbaugh as head coach

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When examining Harbaugh’s history with the NFL Draft it is important to consider context. He clashed for years with general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Yed York, working through a strained relationship that showed up in a myriad of ways.

Related: Los Angeles Chargers mock draft 2024

Baalke himself doesn’t have a glowing track record in the NFL Draft, his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars proves that. With that said, it’s also fair to acknowledge that the 49ers’ draft classes with Harbaugh’s involvement put this franchise at a disadvantage.

San Francisco 49ers draft classes during Jim Harbaugh era

1.07: Aldon Smith, EDGE1.30: AJ Jenkins, WR1.18: Eric Reid, DB1.30: Jimmie Ward, CB
2.36: Colin Kaepernick, QB2.61: LaMichael James, RB2.40: Tank Carradine, EDGE2.57: Carlos Hyde, RB
3.80: Chris Culliver, DB4.117: Joe Looney, iOL2.55: Vance McDonald, TE3.70: Marcus Martin, iOL
4.115: Kendall Hunter, RB5.165: Darius Fleming, LB3.88: Corey Lemonier, DE3.77: Chris Borland, LB
5.163: Daniel Kilgore, iOL6.180: Trent Robinson, DB4.128: Quinton Patton, WR3.100: Brandon Thomas, OL
6.182: Ronald Johnson, WR6.199: Jason Slowey, OL4.131: Marcus Lattimore, RB4.106: Bruce Ellington, WR
6.190: Colin Jones, DB7.237: Cam Johnson, DE5.157: Quinton Dial, DE4.129: Dontae Johnson, WR
7.111: Bruce Miller, DE6.180: Nick Moody, LB5.150: Aaron Lynch, EDGE
7.239: Michael Person, iOL7.237: B.J. Daniels, QB5.170: Keith Reaser, DB
7.250: Curtis Holcomb, DB7.252: Marcus Cooper, DB6.180: Kenneth Acker, DB

Related: Best 2023 NFL rookie classes

Several picks can easily be described as “hits” by the 49ers. Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Jimmie Ward, and Eric Reid would each qualify in that regard among San Francisco’s top picks in a four-year period. Although, the A.J. Jenkins selection – picked ahead of Alshon Jeffery and Bobby Wagner – stands out.

Moving into Day 2 of the NFL Draft, there are a few other notable “hits” by Harbaugh. Carlos Hyde accumulated over 5,000 scrimmage yards in his NFL career, linebacker Chris Borland earned All-Rookie honors in 2014 then immediately retired, Joe Looney played 104 games (32 starts), Daniel Jilgore had a 10-year career (60 starts), seventh-round pick Michael Person lasted 6 seasons (48 starts) and Aaron Lynch finished his career with 21 sacks in 81 games.

For the most part, though, the 49ers’ draft classes during the Harbaugh era didn’t work out. However, it’s a testament to Harbaugh’s coaching that his teams finished with a 44-19-1 record. Besides, there’s a reason Hortiz is the Chargers general manager.

The importance of Joe Hortiz to the Los Angeles Chargers roster

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are few relationships more imperative for long-term success than that between a head coach and a general manager. Things didn’t work out between Harbaugh and Baalke in San Francisco, which is why Los Angeles let its new head coach help pick the leader of football operations. Following multiple interviews and with an endorsement from brother John Harbaugh, Los Angeles found its man.

Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz has spent more than 2 decades with the Baltimore Ravens, learning from legendary general manager Ozzie Newsome and more recently Eric DeCosta. In his rise from personnel assistant (1998-2000) to director of player personnel (2019-2023), Hortiz has been instrumental in finding talent in Days 2 and 3 of the NFL Draft.

Related: Los Angeles Chargers draft picks 2024

Notable Baltimore Ravens draft picks by round (2002-2023)

1stZay Flowers, Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum, Patrick Queen, Marquise Brown, Lamar Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Ronnie Stanley, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, Joe Flacco, Ben Grubbs, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs
2ndJ.K. Dobbins, Tyus Bowser, Kamalei Correa, Timmy Jernigan, Kelechi Osemele, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Chris Chester, Dwan Edwards
3rdTravis Jones, Brandon Stephens, Justin Madubuike, Devin Duvernay, Orlando Brown Jr., Mark Andrews, Chris Wormley, Carl Davis, Brandon Williams, Lardarius Webb, Marshal Yanda
4thIsaiah Likely, Damarion Williams, Za’Darius Smith, Brent Urban, Kyle Juszczyk, John Simon, Dennis Pitta, Le’Ron McClain
5thBroderick Washington Jr, Jermaine Euluemunor, Matthew Judon, Nick Boyle, Ricky Wagner, Pernell McPhee, Arthur Jones, Aubrayo Franklin, Tony Pashos
6thBradley Bozeman, Chuck Clark, Darren Waller, Ryan Jensen, Tyrod Taylor, Derek Anderson, Sam Koch, Chester Taylor
7thGeno Stone, Zach Sieler
Ed Hortiz served as Baltimore Ravens pro scout (2001-’02), area scout (2003-’05), national scout (2006-’08), director of college scouting (2009-’18), director of player personnel (2019-2023)

Related: Grading NFL coaching hires 2024

Of particular importance to the Chargers should be how effective Hortiz and the Ravens were at finding starters on Day 2 and even some in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. Thanks to analyst Arjun Menon‘s charting we can even compare how Baltimore fared versus Los Angeles.

Team Success in the NFL Draft via Arjun Menon
Team Success in the NFL Draft via Arjun Menon

Hortiz’s addition could be a franchise-changing moment for the Chargers. After a decade with a general manager who consistently had one of the worst track records outside the top 50 picks, Los Angeles now has a talent evaluator who excels at finding diamonds in the rough.

Related: NFL mock draft 2024

This addition also means a few other things for the Chargers moving forward. Firstly, after years of being run by a front office that rarely traded back during the NFL Draft, Hortiz will now be extremely active working the phones. While fans don’t typically love moving further down the draft order, Hortiz’s success rate in the middle rounds justifies his approach. Furthermore, expect the Chargers to let free agents walk instead of overpaying them more frequently, meaning they’ll recoup compensatory picks in future years and maintain both roster and financial flexibility.

While Harbaugh will have some influence on the big decisions, he signed off on hiring Hortiz for a reason. To put this situation into a metaphor, Hortiz gets to go out and get the ingredients he likes the most and Harbaugh will choose which of them to use. It will be a give-and-take relationship, Hortiz and Harbaugh are the perfect pairing.