Mock Draft Monday 1.0: Who analysts are sending to Chargers

With the offseason in full swing for the Chargers, it’s time to start thinking about the 2023 NFL Draft.

To help kickstart your draft crush research, we’ve compiled the latest mock drafts from around the internet to familiarize you with some potential Chargers.

WR Josh Downs, North Carolina

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Cummings, Pro Football Network

Los Angeles is in dire need of speed and burst at wide receiver. Josh Downs provides that. Beyond that, he also provides electrifying RAC ability, sharp route-running skills, and uncanny catching instincts and body control for an undersized receiving threat.

Personally, I love this one. Downs is one of my favorite players in the draft because of how often he wins contested catch situations as an undersized player. A Biletnikoff semifinalist this season, Downs was, at times, the only source of offense for North Carolina. How he handles press coverage at the next level will be the big question: the Tar Heels used him on the outside and in the slot with equal effectiveness, but his frame suggests he’s more of a slot-only player in the NFL. How that meshes with the Chargers current corps is an open question given Keenan Allen’s contract status; the veteran’s future with the team continues to hang in the balance as the Chargers try to manufacture cap space.

WR Zay Flowers, Boston College

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Oliver Hodgkinson, Pro Football Network

If the Los Angeles Chargers are going to maximize the Justin Herbert rookie window, then they need to give him a weapon who can take the top off a defense and create yardage for fun by themselves.

That’s Boston College WR Zay Flowers‘ game. Flowers has the speed to trouble the deep third but comes alive as an elusive after-the-catch threat who snatches souls and breaks ankles on every play.

Billed as the primary attraction of the East-West Shrine Bowl, Flowers’ stock has skyrocketed in recent weeks and days as more and more people look past his stats in a poor Boston College offense and find the traits that make him special. Now being talked about as a fringe first rounder, Flowers looks to be moving at a different speed than just about everyone in Las Vegas during practice. He will be a hot commodity, and I’m not 100% sure that he’ll still be available by the time the Chargers are on the clock.

WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Mosher, PFF

The Chargers can’t count on Mike Williams and Keenan Allen to stay healthy for a 17-game season at this stage of their careers, and so they take the best wide receiver on the board. Smith-Njigba might be a slot-only in the NFL, but he gets open and makes nearly every catch. He would give quarterback Justin Herbert another reliable pass catcher to make the Chargers’ offense even more dangerous.

This one is interesting to me, because Smith-Njigba reminds me a bit of one Keenan Allen, who we established earlier is no guarantee to remain on the roster going into next season. If Allen departs, either via trade or release, I could see Smith-Njigba entering the picture quickly for LA. If you’re drafting Smith-Njigba and keeping Allen, that feels redundant. Much like Allen, the Buckeye wins primarily through his instinctual knowledge of body position and savvy route running than premium athletic traits. As a slot weapon over the middle, I like Smith-Nijgba, but replacing Allen would be huge shoes to fill as a rookie.

IDL Bryan Bresee, Clemson

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Doug Farrar, Touchdown Wire

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley’s preferences for light boxes and interesting coverages have taken the league by storm, but in Staley’s case over his two seasons in his current position, that’s also led to some serious run defense deficiencies. The Chargers ranked 28th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive Adjusted Line Yards metric in 2021, and they ranked 29th in 2022, so we’re rowing in the wrong direction here.

At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Bresee isn’t the massive run-plugging monster you’d get in a Jordan Davis or Dexter Lawrence, but he proved perfectly capable of creating tackles for loss in his own anarchic fashion. No. 11 can be a real problem as a head-over nose tackle and overall, he’s been a huge pain for opposing offenses through his college career.

I don’t necessarily see defensive tackle as a big enough need to be worth spending a first round pick on unless a top-tier talent slides to 21, similar to the way Derwin James slid to 17 in 2018. A few weeks ago, it seemed like Bresee was in that pantheon, but recent rankings have pretty consistently adjusted to push him down the board in favor of powerful EDGE rushers like Tyree Wilson and Lukas Van Ness.

The Chargers are not devoid of talent on the defensive line, despite their struggles in run defense. It’s difficult to play consistently when three defensive tackles suffer season-ending injuries and another misses a game with an injury of their own. Austin Johnson looked fantastic beforing tearing his MCL and fracturing his kneecap, and his return should immediately solve some issues up front. Same for Christian Covington, who found success in his limited role, and rookie Otito Ogbonnia, who showed plenty of flashes this season.

All that to say: I don’t really think the Chargers think that the Chargers need a defensive tackle in the first round, unless they’re an elite prospect.

IDL Tuli Tuipulotu, USC

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Mel Kiper, ESPN

Here’s what I wrote in my first mock draft for last year’s cycle: “The Chargers again struggled against the run in 2021, an issue that has plagued them for years. Just go back to their 2018 divisional round playoff game against the Patriots, when they were dominated up front. They allowed 4.8 yards per carry this season, which ranked 28th in the NFL.”

How are we back here again? L.A. allowed an even worse 5.4 yards per carry this season, which ranked last in the league. It also allowed 5.9 yards per play, which ranked 29th. This is a massive issue. General manager Tom Telesco has taken offensive linemen in the first round in back-to-back drafts, so this could be where he targets a big guy on defense. Tuipulotu played mostly on the edge for the Trojans and racked up 13.5 sacks last season, 8.5 of which came when he was lined up at end. At 290 pounds, though, he fits in L.A.’s 3-4 scheme as a big end who can help in the run game and take some pressure off Joey Bosa.

Same general idea as the Bresee pick here, except that Tuipulotu also has top-end pass rush upside from both the interior or on the perimeter. With Morgan Fox a pending free agent, the Chargers could potentially use an interior pass rushing presence. In 2022, the majority of their interior pressure came from Sebastian Joseph-Day or Khalil Mack when the latter flexed inside on passing downs. Adding the 290 lb Tuipulotu as another option there would improve the flexibility of the defense.

My issue with this pick, however, lies mostly with the valuation. I don’t necessarily agree with the notion that Tuipulotu is a first round player. He’s a stiff player bending around the edge, which is why he’ll likely move to the inside in the pros. Despite a 13.5 sack performance in 2022, he’s a pretty linear athlete; his ability to redirect and pursue is questionable at best. He’s a much better fit as an interior defender for the Chargers, which brings us back to the notion that LA will (in my opinion) only take an interior defender that early if they think he’s an exceptional value add.

WR Quentin Johnston, TCU

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports

Johnston is a long-striding vertical weapon who’d pair perfectly with the cannon-armed Justin Herbert. Here’s to hoping the Chargers let Herbert show off his arm talent more frequently in 2023.

Johnston is fascinating to me because he’s a bigger receiver who does not play to his size on the boundary. Unlike Mike Williams, who maximizes his frame to win contested catches downfield and outmuscle defenders, Johnston is much more of a short area receiver with run after catch upside. It makes for a weird profile that reads like a description of a much smaller receiver. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Chargers, who would love to snag anyone that has that sort of upside.

Johnston has been batted around higher than this, depending on your opinions on this wide receiver class. However, I think that 21 is a much more reasonable range for him, and his ability after the catch necessitates monitoring from LA’s perspective.

The next few players are ones who were linked to the Chargers in previous roundups, so I did not provide analysis for them this time around. You can see the previous edition here.

TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Joe Broback, Pro Football Network

Los Angeles could use a healthy pass catcher, even if that’s a tight end. Justin Herbert is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and it seems silly to not give him as many weapons as possible. Especially when injuries arise.

Michael Mayer is the most well-rounded tight end in the draft, and he’s a great fit for the Chargers. A physical and dominant blocker, Mayer can set the tone in the run game. He’s also proven to be a reliable pass catcher thanks to Notre Dame’s lack of depth with their pass catchers.

Joe Marino, The Draft Network

We only got to see one season of Hunter Henry with Justin Herbert and the tight end production for the Los Angeles Chargers has been lacking since. In Michael Mayer, Los Angeles lands a cerebral player that simply knows how to get open, catch the football, and block. He could provide a steady and reliable middle-of-the-field target for Herbert and elevate the offense.

Damian Parson, The Draft Network

Justin Herbert got his first experience of the postseason during wild-card weekend. I envision the goal is to continue to build a powerhouse offense around the elite-caliber star quarterback. Michael Mayer is the best tight end in the class. He run blocks well, runs good routes, and has an incredible feel for coverages. Whether working the middle of the field or detaching as a big slot receiver, Mayer would be a lot of fun in this offense.

WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

33rd Team Staff

GM Tom Telesco said this week that they needed to get faster at WR. There is no one with more explosive game speed in this draft than Hyatt, who averaged almost 19 yards per catch and scored 15 touchdowns.

Luke Easterling, Draft Wire

Justin Herbert already has a pair of big, physical receivers who can win in contested-catch situations all day long (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams), but he could use one who can separate consistently. Hyatt’s breakout season was fueled by his explosive, big-play ability, which is exactly what this offense needs.

RB Bijan Robinson, Texas

Bucky Brooks, NFL Network

The Bolts could look to become a tougher offense by adding a rugged runner with big-play ability to complement Austin Ekeler.

Story originally appeared on Chargers Wire