Chargers 2023 Pre-Combine Mock Draft 1.0: Adding Speed at Wide Receiver, Depth at Edge Rusher

Charger Report beat writer Nick Cothrel publishes his first mock draft of the NFL offseason.

The NFL Draft is almost two months away, but it’s never too early to fire up the mock drafts. Teams have already began their scouting preparations at the East-West Shrine Bowl, the Senior Bowl and other prospect showcase events, while the Scouting Combine sits one week away.

The Chargers have a handful of roster needs, but the priority in which they presumably addressed each one could change during the free agency period – three weeks from now. 

First, the Chargers will need to become compliant with the salary cap. Currently, they’re $20.5 million over the cap, according to OTC’s contract calculations, meaning roster cuts or contract restructures will be on the horizon.

Without further ado, here is the first installment of Charger Report‘s mock draft 1.0:

*In an effort to make each selection as realistic as possible, picks were chosen using Pro Football Network’s mock draft simulator.

Round 1, Pick 21: Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee

How the draft selection fills a roster need: It can’t be overstated how much the Chargers lacked speed at wide receiver last season. They entered the year with few options to stretch the field vertically, and following the season-ending ACL tear to Jalen Guyton in Week 3, and Mike Williams being in and out of the lineup down the final stretch, Justin Herbert didn’t have the weapons to rip off the explosive pass plays to. Adding a burner who can get downfield and take the top off opposing defenses is a must for the Chargers.Analysis of the pick: In addressing their top positional need, I have them selecting wide receiver Jalin Hyatt out of Tennessee. Hyatt, the top target in the Volunteers’ high-flying offense last season, hauled in 67 receptions for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns. His deep speed to stretch the field vertically is what has elevated him up draft boards, averaging 19 yards per catch this past season. Hyatt is expected to run in the late 4.2s to early 4.3s when he runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Pairing Hyatt into the pass-catching group that consists of Williams and Keenan Allen would provide Herbert with a full arsenal of weapons for the offense to reach its full potential.

Round 2, Pick 54: Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn

How the draft selection fills a roster need: The Chargers are hopeful they’ll be able to see Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa play alongside one another more regularly this upcoming season than they did just a year ago. But it’s also important to not ignore the fact that both players aren’t getting any younger and injuries have been a part of their careers. Pending free agent Kyle Van Noy finally came into his own late in the year, logging a sack in five consecutive games entering the playoffs. But the Chargers also went 11 games in a row without a sack from an edge rusher outside of Mack – most of which occurred during Bosa’s groin injury that sidelined him. They simply can’t afford to go through that drought again.Analysis of the pick: The selection of edge rusher Derrick Hall gives the team some much-needed depth with the upside of stepping into a starting role in the event that Bosa or Mack go down for an extended period at a time. At 6’3″ and 256 pounds, Hall has the body structure to set the edge against the run in addition to his contributions as an adequate pass rusher. At Auburn, Hall displayed a quick first step and closing burst to finish his rush, wrapping up quarterbacks. Across his final two seasons in the college ranks, Hall logged 15.5 sacks.

Round 3, Pick 85: Cameron Latu, TE, Alabama

How the draft selection fills a roster need: Tight end is another glaring need for the Chargers, and for a couple reasons. Gerald Everett was nearly the only player at the position to provide a spark as a pass-catcher. But also, the tight end group severely struggled from a blocking perspective, which led to their deficiencies in becoming the No. 30th-ranked rushing attack. There’s also a chance Everett could be a cap cut causality or a trade chip as a result of his contract. He’s set to make $8.25 million, but the Chargers can save $4.25 million by releasing or trading him.Analysis of the pick: Certainly, this is a position the Chargers could target earlier in the draft with five tight end prospects expected to go within the first 50 picks. But there’s only so many picks to go around for the Chargers, and free agency will likely determine how early they leap at drafting a tight end. Alabama tight end Cameron Latu is a fluid athlete with a natural receiving ability. Because of the multitude of weapons in Alabama’s offense, Latu was somewhat viewed as an afterthought. A two-year starter, Latu totaled 787 yards and 12 touchdowns throughout his final two seasons. He has the makeup of presumably being molded into more of a prominent pass-catching threat after getting settled into the pro game than what he saw on a yearly basis in college. Ultimately, the Chargers need to take a stab at drafting a tight end with one of their early to mid-round picks to put the stop-gap tight end signings they’re relied on in recent years behind them.

Round 4, Pick 125: Ronnie Hickman, S, Ohio State

How the draft selection fills a roster need: Derwin James is about as good of a safety as it gets, but he needs a counterpart on the backend. Nasir Adderley is set to become a free agent at the start of the new league year and based on his recent play and the team’s salary cap situation, he very well could be playing for another team in 2023. That leaves last year’s third-round pick JT Woods, Alohi Gilman and Raheem Layne as the only other options to fill the void. None of which have exactly proven they are ready to take on a starting role over the duration of an entire season. While it might not be the most pressing need on the roster, it still remains a position the Chargers need to consider adding too.Analysis of the pick: I have the Chargers taking Ohio State’s Ronnie Hickman to fill the potential loss of Adderley. It’s not exactly the most desirable thing, taking another safety in the mid-rounds of the draft for the second consecutive year, but without knowing what Woods has to offer in his sophomore campaign, I think it’s important to do so. What Woods lacked to do in the limited playing time he had as a rookie – be a sound tackler – Hickman does quite well. He’s plenty big at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and has shown adequate burst to come downhill and wrap up ball carriers. The safety position alongside James could be an area on the roster the Chargers add a player through the draft to then hold a training camp battle for the starting role.

Round 5, Pick 158: Jalen Graham, LB, Purdue

How the draft selection fills a roster need: Linebacker Drue Tranquill is set to become a free agent following a year in which he set several career highs. Recent history has shown, the Chargers don’t allocate top financial resources into the inside linebacker position. With Tranquill’s future in doubt, linebacker sits as a position of need for the team. Also, Troy Reeder, who signed a one-year deal last offseason with the Chargers, will be a free agent at the start of the new league year.Analysis of the pick: At this point in the draft, most prospects selected will be more of the developmental mold, rather than a plug-and-play starter. But when two of the team’s top three inside linebackers could spend next season elsewhere, it’s an area the Chargers will need to replenish. Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham, at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, played in a linebacker/safety hybrid role in which he recorded 52 tackles, five for a loss, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and five pass breakups. He appeared in just nine games because of a broken leg against Penn State in the season opener.

Round 6, Pick 200: Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State

How the draft selection fills a roster need: With Justin Herbert being the only quarterback on the roster that’s set to be under contract in 2023, drafting a backup who can grow under the guidance of one of the game’s premier passers makes a lot of sense. The Chargers could opt to go with a veteran and a rookie backing up Herbert – a similar approach they’ve done the past two seasons.Analysis of the pick: Jake Haener out of Fresno State is well worth a Day 3 flyer. His size will probably be the biggest factor that pushes him near the final two rounds or so, but his arm strength and athleticism provide qualities that are desirable. In Heaner’s final two seasons, he completed passes at a 70% clip for 6,992 yards, 53 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Round 7, Pick 241: Grant Miller, OG, Baylor

How the draft selection fills a roster need: The Chargers could opt to go after a possible swing tackle here, but I think depth at guard makes more sense as Jamaree Salyer has shown he can play from the interior or along the edge if need be. Waiting this long to add to the offensive line is also assuming right tackle Trey Pipkins will be brought back in free agency after a very productive season in his first year occupying a starting role.Analysis of the pick: The Chargers struck gold on Day 3 of the draft last year when they selected Salyer in the sixth-round, and they could take a shot at trying to duplicate their efforts yet again. Baylor guard Grant Miller graded out as the fourth-best guard in the Big 12 by Pro Football Focus, and 60th in the nation at his position. PFF tabbed him with a 67.8 pass-blocking grade and a 73.9 run-blocking grade. Miller helped pave the way for Baylor’s balanced offense, passing for 3,009 yards with 19 touchdowns and 2,371 rushing yards with 34 touchdowns. At Baylor, he made 14 starts at right guard. Before that, he attended Vanderbilt for four years, where Miller primarily played center.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.

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