Chargers post-2023 NFL Scouting Combine 7-round mock draft
This year’s NFL Combine has come and gone, with those who performed well skyrocketing up draft boards while those who had a week to forget fade into obscurity.
Here are Chargers Wire’s Gavino Borquez and Alex Katson’s first seven-round projections following the event.
Alex - Round 1: EDGE Nolan Smith, Georgia
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After a pectoral tear cut his senior season short, Smith had gotten lost in the shuffle of what’s proven to be an elite pass rusher class in the first two rounds. At the Combine, however, the former No. 1 overall recruit reminded NFL decision-makers that he’s well-deserving of a top pick.
After measuring at 6-foot-2 and 238 lbs, Smith had some concerned with his light playing weight. Those concerns were quickly assuaged with a 4.39 40-yard dash, 41.5″ vertical, and 10’8″ broad jump, all elite numbers for his position.
We’ve established many times that head coach Brandon Staley loves the Georgia football program. While Smith’s 32 5/8″ arms are a tick below Staley’s usual 33″ threshold for the position, his testing numbers may be enough for LA to look past the physical measurements.
Gavino - Round 2: TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa
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The Chargers have not had a bonafide No. 1 tight end since Hunter Henry a few seasons ago, and I firmly believe that LaPorta can grow into that role by Year 2.
LaPorta has great hands, speed to stretch the seam, route running to work all areas of the field, and yards-after-the-catch ability, as evidenced by him breaking 14 tackles on 53 catches for 592 yards with a low 7.3-yard average depth of target. Additionally, he has the strength and competitiveness as a blocker.
One of the biggest winners at the combine, LaPorta posted a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical and 6.91-second three-cone drill.
Alex - Round 3: WR Trey Palmer, Nebraska
If the Chargers elect to address other needs in the first two rounds, there are still plenty of options for a speed receiver later in the draft. A prime example? Palmer, who ran a 4.33 40 yard dash in Indianapolis this week, the fourth-fastest time of any position and fastest of the wide receivers.
An LSU transfer, Palmer got his first opportunity to play meaningful minutes at Nebraska this past season. He made the most of those chances, reeling in 71 catches for 1,043 yards and 9 TDs for the Cornhuskers in 12 games.
With a more developed route tree than some of the other speed receivers available in this year’s draft, Palmer also fits the Chargers’ long-standing category of needing to be able to win at every level of the field. He also logged 18 punt returns as a junior at LSU, giving him additional pro upside.
Gavino - Round 4: LB Dee Winters, TCU
Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic
If the Chargers don’t re-sign Drue Tranquill, the linebacker room will require shoring up. Should that come to fruition, Los Angeles kicks off Day 3 with the selection of Winters.
While a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 226 pounds, Winters plays bigger, with the strength to take on and hold ground against blockers. Winters is a tackling machine with outstanding range and speed. In addition, he has great instincts to read and react to disrupt plays in the backfield quickly.
Winters finished with 246 total tackles as well as 12.5 sacks and three interceptions during his career as a Horned Frog.
Alex - Round 5: OL McClendon Curtis, Chattanooga
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Curtis let slip before the Combine that the Chargers were among the teams that have sent scouts to Chattanooga to watch him all season, which has led many to believe that he’ll be a focal point of LA’s Day 3 plans. It’s a compelling target, too: Curtis has experience at guard and tackle, which makes him an ideal depth candidate for a Chargers team that badly needs it.
Curtis’ athletic testing was average to above average pretty much across the board, so his week in Indianapolis will only boost him up boards if he performed exceedingly well in interviews behind the scenes. It’s not fair to ask any prospect to live up to the season Jamaree Salyer just had, but Curtis’ positional versatility certainly gives shades of the current Charger.
Curtis is also familiar with the Chargers staff via pass game specialist Tom Arth, who recruited Curtis in high school and coached his freshman season at Chattanooga before Arth left for the head coaching job at Akron.
Gavino - Round 6: DT Karl Brooks, Bowling Green
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The Chargers could address the interior part of the defensive line, with Austin Johnson and Otito Ogbonnia coming off serious knee injuries. Morgan Fox is also set to be an unrestricted free agent.
Brooks lined up as an edge defender in college and still became one of the most dominant players in the Group of Five, racking up 46 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks in five seasons. He was a Senior Bowl participant and dominated the bigger competition.
Projected to be a three and five-technique at the next level, Brooks is a problem for blockers with his size, power, quickness off the snap, and good repertoire of initial pass-rush moves. He’s also stout in the run game.
Alex - Round 7: S Chamarri Conner, Virginia Tech
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Brandon Staley has gone on record that as long as he’s with the Chargers, the team will constantly be on the lookout for more DBs. Conner fits their profile as a versatile and experienced defensive back: in 51 career games at Virginia Tech, he’s played both safety spots and nickel corner.
In Indianapolis, Conner posted a 9.44 RAS with elite marks in the 40 yard dash (4.51 seconds), vertical (40.5″), broad jump (10’5″), and bench press (20 reps of 225 pounds). That could ultimately push him up into the sixth or even fifth round, but for now it sounds like the former Hokie could be available into the deep end of the draft.
As a Charger, Conner could step in and compete for reps at nickel or safety given the current depth chart at the positions. 2022 sixth round pick Ja’Sir Taylor is slated to start at nickel, with Alohi Gilman currently the starter opposite Derwin James at safety. Neither of those spots are secure, however, and Conner’s ample college experience could make those positional battles interesting or, at the very least, provide quality depth.