The initial push into free agency changed, and clarified, some things for the Los Angeles Chargers and their draft projections.
First and foremost: trading for Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears means the Chargers no longer have a 2nd round pick. Secondly: bringing in JC Jackson, Sebastian Joseph Day, and Austin Johnson means that Cornerback and Defensive Tackle become “nice to have” positions in round 1 instead of being “absolute need.”
With that in mind, let’s get into the mock. I’ll be using the PFF mock draft sim this time as it gives options for trades.
Round 1 - Trade down (17, 160 for 22, 53) Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, FSU
When the Chargers were on the clock at 17 the PFF mock simulator gave me a bunch of potential trade offers. Some of them weren’t very realistic, like the Kansas City Chiefs, but there were a few that were realistic and I wound up pulling the trigger on one. The Green Bay Packers have two first round picks and two second round picks after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, so they have the picks to make a move if they want to, and at pick 17, Jameson Williams was there and the Packers make the move to replace Adams with possibly the best wide receiver in the class. So I packaged pick 17 and pick 160 to trade back to pick 22 and pick 53, picking back up a 2nd round pick.
With the pick at 22 I took Jermaine Johnson. I almost took WR Chris Olave, or OT Trevor Penning, but I think the Chargers choose to go Edge here with Johnson still on the board. The whispers we are hearing is that the Chargers feel “good” about their WR and OL groups, and with the DT’s they added in free agency I don’t see them going there either with who was on the board for me. I take Johnson who becomes VERY high upside depth and would easily be able to come on the field a lot in “Nascar” packages. Being able to rush the passer is more important than ever and Johnson gives the Chargers 3 premium edge rushers.
Round 2 - Trade down (53, 214, 2023 4th for 56, 88) Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky
I chose to trade down again because why not have a little fun. The Chargers have set themselves up to make a legit run this season if they are able to fill a few more holes so trading down 3 spots with how many players I liked were still on the board and being able to pick up another 3rd round pick seemed like the right move.
I know I said the Chargers feel like they’re “good” with the OL group, but with Kinnard still there at pick 56, I felt like I needed to pull the trigger. I am one of the, few, people who think that Kinnard could actually play tackle at the NFL level, plus he started at RT for Kentucky, so unlike a lot of OT’s that get drafted in the first 2 rounds, he wouldn’t be having to make the transition from the left side to right side which is much harder than people give it credit for. But even if he can’t he would likely start at RG for the Chargers. He’s an absolute mauler in the run game and, despite his numbers at the combine, moves well enough on tape to block at the 2nd level. He gives the Chargers position versatility, more young talent on the line, and a big boost in the run game.
Round 3 (pick 79) - Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis
I’m not sure if Calvin Austin is still on the board in the 3rd round, despite his size concerns, after the performance he put on at the Combine and Senior Bowl. Austin showed at the combine he has legit game breaking speed (4.32 in the 40 yard dash!!!) and agility (6.65 3-cone!!!). The Chargers don’t currently have any WRs that can create after the catch in any meaningful way and Austin solves that problem instantly. He plays bigger than his size and his route running and athleticism help him create so much separation off the line that his size concerns vs press coverage are somewhat mitigated.
Round 3 (pick 88) - Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
I guess I’m going “small” in round 3 because after grabbing a 5’7” WR I’m taking a 5’8” CB. Marcus Jones vastly outplays his size and I think he can continue to build on that learning from JC Jackson and Asante Samuel Jr who are also shorter CBs. In addition to inside-outside versatility at CB, Jones is a fantastic returner on special teams with 9 return touchdowns over his college career. He also ads some gadget versatility with 15 receptions as a WR in college which he took for 9.1 yards per catch and a touchdown. He has the kind of mentality that I think Coach Staley would appreciate and covet and has the skills to back it up.
Round 4 - Zach Tom, C/OT, Wake Forest
Zach Tom is firmly one of “my guys” at this point. From a size and athleticism standpoint he is almost a clone of Rashawn Slater and Creed Humphrey. He played the last 2 years at LT for Wake Forest and was their starting Center before that. A lot of people think his best position is moving back inside but after watching him shut down Jermaine Johnson II vs FSU this year, I think he actually does have the skills and athleticism to play any position on the OL. The Chargers now have to find someone to replace Scott Quessenberry and Tom should be that guy.
Round 6 - Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, Maryland
The Chargers TE room looks decent right now with Donald Parham, Gerald Everett, and Tre’ McKitty, however they are losing their most versatile TE in Stephen Anderson (who they have not re-signed as of yet). The team technically has a FB on the books in Gabe Nabers, who is also a converted TE. However Chig is a more developed player at TE than Nabers was, and has extra juice, clocking a 4.52 40 yard dash at the combine at 6’2 1⁄2 and 238 pounds. Garrett Sisti also has heard that the team interviewed Chig at the combine and really liked him.
Round 7 (pick 236) - Max Borghi, RB, Washington State
Borghi didn’t participate in the combine, so his pro day (March 28th) will be important to whether he gets drafted or not, however he definitely has a draftable grade from me. He’s on the smaller side at 5’9 but is 210 pounds so he’s very solidly built, and his 20 reps of 225 shows that thickness does mean some actual strength. On tape, he looked a lot like a poor man’s Austin Ekeler in my opinion. He has great vision and balance, catches the ball effortlessly out of the backfield, and knows how to get north and south quickly.
Round 7 (pick 254) - Isaiah Weston, WR, Northern Iowa
Isaiah Weston is an intriguing late round option at WR. He played at a lower level of competition at Northern Iowa, but you see flashes of a real deep threat weapon there if he can develop. Against this lower level of competition, even with sub-optimal QB play, he averaged 24 yards per catch and had 15 touchdowns on 88 catches. The biggest reason you make this gamble is his athleticism. At the combine he measured in at 6’3 1/2” and 214 pounds then ran a 4.42 in the 40 yard dash before jumping out of the gym with a 40” vertical jump and 11’3” broad jump.
Round 7 (pick 255) - Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor
Barnes is another player you take late because of his athleticism and hope you can develop him into a player. He has a lot to clean up as a CB, but at 5’11 1/2” 183 lbs, he ran a 4.23 in the 40 yard dash, which is just otherworldly speed. Tyreek Hill may be gone, but if you can add that speed to your team in the 7th round you do it. You try him as a gunner, as a returner, and keep developing him at corner, but you find a way to get that speed on the field.
Round 7 (pick 260) - Kalia Davis, DT, UCF
Davis is a prospect that would have been drafted earlier, and still may be, if not for the fact that he opted out of 2020 for COVID-19, then tore his ACL 5 games into the 2021 season. He is a very good athlete for his size at 6’1” 302 lbs. He was a linebacker as a freshman before putting on mass and becoming a DT. He has some inconsistency on tape but when he is on, he is extremely disruptive on the interior as shown by his 15 tackles for loss and 4 sacks over his last 16 games played.