Los Angeles Chargers Urged by NFL Analyst to Target Offensive Tackle at No. 5 Overall

Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Even before Mike Williams and Keenan Allen were ousted by the Los Angeles Chargers, the debate over who to take in the first round revolved around pass catchers. At the time it was between TE/WR hybrid Brock Bowers and the game-breaker Malik Nabers.

After the forced departures, the debate is over among draftniks and fans. It is set in stone in their minds that the Chargers will draft Nabers, maaaayyyyybee Rome Odunze. (Bowers, meanwhile, has tumbled down mock draft boards.)

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But some have taken clues from Jim Harbaugh’s past and determined that this tiger won’t be changing his stripes. Jordan Plocher, PFF’s Senior Data Collection Analyst, is one of those people and his preferred pick for the Chargers in the first round is Taliese Fuaga. He lays out his full case here.

Taliese Fuaga was built in a laboratory to be a Jim Harbaugh right tackle.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Stanford
Oct 8, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga (75) blocks Stanford Cardinal linebacker Levani Damuni (3) during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Plocher writes of Fuaga,

“Former Oregon State right tackle Taliese Fuaga seems like he was custom-built in a laboratory to be a Jim Harbaugh right tackle.” “The 324-pound Fuaga earned a 90.9 run-blocking grade in 2023, the highest mark at his position.”

“No player in the 2024 NFL Draft could make a more drastic or immediate impact on the Los Angeles Chargers offense than selecting Fuaga in the first round. The selection would give Harbaugh and Roman an injection of physicality, identity, and practicality but also give them a foundational piece for their future.”

Under Harbaugh and Roman, the Los Angeles Chargers become one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL.

NFL: Buffalo Bills-OTA
May 26, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman during the organized team activities at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers have already invested heavily in their offensive line, using two first-round picks on Rashawn Slater and Zion Johnson. But Plocher believes they need to continue to ensure a high-functioning running attack, which is the engine of the Harbaugh/Roman offense. The unit finished dead last in run-blocking grading the last two seasons, according to PFF.

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It is unlikely that Harbaugh will wait a full year to implement his core football philosophy. If he believes the offensive line is as bad as PFF does, then he will absolutely take action on it.

Looking at his time with the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh inherited a strong offensive line with two road graders at tackle. Those teams ranked in the top three in PFF’s run-blocking grade in three of his four seasons.

Harbaugh’s Past Investment in WR

They also invested nearly nothing into the wide receiver position. Michael Crabtree was their primary target in the first two seasons of the Harbaugh tenure. They added a 33-year-old Anquan Bolden for the second two seasons. They paid neither receiver more than $7 million per year. The offense relied heavily on running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis. Davis being the only highly-paid offensive weapon on those teams.

The 49ers only had one top-10 draft pick in Harbaugh’s four seasons. They selected a defensive end with the seventh pick in 2011. Of the 13 top-100 picks Harbaugh had, only one was a wide receiver and four were a tight end, running back, or wide receiver.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Head Coach Jim Harbaugh Introductory Press Conference
Feb 1, 2024; Inglewood, CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh speaks at an introductory press conference at YouTube Theater at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports