Los Angeles Chargers Wide Receiver Rebuild: Analyzing the New (and Improved?) Pass-Catching Unit

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The Los Angeles Chargers‘ new regime gutted the wide receiver room by cutting Mike Williams and trading Keenan Allen. Most expected them to atone for the sin by adding Malik Nabers in the NFL Draft.

That did not happen.

But they did add three receivers in the draft and at least one more through free agency, as well as, another three as undrafted free agents. And don’t forget about Joshua Palmer, Quentin Johnston, and Derius Davis.

Together they have 11 wide receivers vying for six to seven roster spots. With so many knowns on the roster, it’s hard to know how all of it will shake out. Let’s look at the players most likely to make the team and what each brings to the table and work out how the depth chart may look come September.

Analyzing Los Angeles Chargers Wide Receivers

The Veterans

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DJ Chark: Chark’s career was derailed by injury in his fourth season. Since then he has never found his footing with a team. Now he is with the Chargers, his third team in three years, on a one-year contract. While at 28 he has lost a step from his sub-4.4 40 time he posted at 2018’s Combine, he offers the Chargers veteran leadership.

Considering LA’s 10 other receivers have played a combined seven seasons in the NFL, Chark has oodles of experience. Don’t expect enormous production, but Justin Herbert will be looking to him in high-leverage situations.

Josh Palmer: Palmer is in the final year of his rookie contract. Since joining the Chargers, he has been buried behind Allen and Williams. In 2022, with the Twin Towers missing a combined 10 games, Palmer had a chance to shine. Which he did, to a certain extent. He caught a career-high in all metrics including 54 percent of his catches going for first downs.

Palmer is a tough football player and a sure-handed receiver. They would be hard-pressed to find one with a $3.4 million cap hit. As it stands now, he is the leading receiver on the Chargers roster over the last three NFL seasons.


Quentin Johnston: Johnston didn’t do himself any favors last season with untimely drops and mental mistakes. But the 2023 Chargers were a complete mess, so it is hard to judge where incompetence ended and incoherence began. Johnston’s draft profile reads like a Mike Williams re-dux. Great ball skills and catch radius with the size and athleticism to create big plays at all three levels. Just need polish to the route tree and finishing.

2024 seems like a make-it-or-break-it season for Johnston under the new regime. If his confidence is built up and he is used correctly, he could easily be the biggest breakout of the 2024 season.

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Derius Davis: Similarly to Johnston, Davis suffered from a cattywampus rookie season. Although, he was able to carve out a spot for himself as a return man in special teams. He was a gadget receiver while at TCU and it seems that is what his role will be with the Los Angeles Chargers. But speed like his is unique and few coaches know how to use it best. Harbaugh found success with a guy with similar size and speed in Roman Wilson last season, but that wasn’t the NFL.

If Davis finds a larger role on the offense, he will make the team.

The Rookies

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Ladd McConkey: McConkey is a theory waiting to be proven right. Can a shifty, smallish, pass catcher be a number-one receiver in the NFL? Most would cast McConkey as a slot-only pass catcher, but a good chunk of his college experience is as an outside receiver.

As the Los Angeles Chargers second overall pick this year, he is all but guaranteed a spot, but how and where he will be utilized is still up in the air. His 4.39 40 speed is intriguing and proof that his ankle injury isn’t affecting him.

Brenden Rice: There is plenty to be excited about with Brenden Rice. He has the size speed athleticism and hand-eye coordination to become an excellent NFL pass catcher, but Rice is not a finished product. He still needs to develop techniques to beat high-end corners and understand how to use his size to his advantage. The good news is he learned incredibly quickly once paired with the USC coaching staff. After falling to the seventh round, Rice will come in hotly motivated to prove himself.

Cornelius Johnson: Johnson will be in direct competition with Rice and Palmer for playing time on the outside. He is not the athlete nor the pass catcher that either of them is. His one leg up is he is already aware of what Jim Harbaugh expects and wants from a receiver like him. If it comes down to who is performing better on special teams, Johnson may earn more playing time. He has two blocked punts on his resume, not many receivers can boast of that accomplishment.