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Ranking the Chargers biggest draft needs

Should the Chargers continue building around Justin Herbert or does the defense still need reinforcements?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft officially begins three weeks from this coming Thursday. The Chargers have continued their quiet free agency period as former Viking Eric Kendricks remains their only external player to added since the start of the new league year.

As we get closer and closer, I’ll continue to update these rankings if the the Bolts continue to make more moves, but as it stands, here is how I’d rank the team’s five biggest draft needs.

If you feel like persuading me otherwise, hop in the comments below and let me know how you’d mix things up.

1.) Wide receiver

Current wide receivers under contract: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, John Hightower, Keelan Doss

Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will make at least $20 million in 2023 before each of their cap hits jump to over $30 million in 2024. It’s safe to say that will change between now and then but that ultimately may mean one of the team’s top wideouts will play elsewhere after this upcoming season.

The Chargers cannot afford to leave Justin Herbert without a superb pass-catching group from now until the end of his career. Looking ahead, it’s best that they grab one of the elite receivers in this year’s class to get a jump on things prior to the team losing Allen or Williams. There’s simply no reason to kick it down the road any further.

Names like Zay Flowers and Jordan Addison should be available when the Chargers select in the first and even if they do secure a receiver on day one, there are plenty of enticing names through the middle rounds that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chargers double-dip at the position later this month.

2A.) Cornerback

Current cornerbacks under contract: Asante Samuel Jr., Michael Davis, J.C. Jackson, Ja’Sir Taylor, Deane Leonard, Kemon Hall, Michael Jaquet

The Chargers drafted a pair of cornerbacks on day three last year to help build depth behind 2022 starting trio of Samuel, Davis, and Jackson. Unfortunately, Jackson’s injury in week seven looks severe enough that he’s not expected to be near 100 percent by the start of the 2023 season.

To be fair, even if he was healthy, his performance this past season while on the field was nowhere near what many expected from him after he signed a massive five-year, $82.5 million contract a year ago.

If Jackson’s rehab timeline really starts to take a turn for the worst as we inch closer to the regular season, the Chargers may be forced to find another player much more capable of competing right away over hoping that either Taylor and Leonard could fill the void in the meantime.

If the Chargers don’t go cornerback in the first, some names I like on day two are Kansas State’s Julius Brents and Utah’s Clark Phillips III.

2B.) Edge Rusher

Current edge rushers under contract: Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph II, Carlo Kemp, Ty Shelby

This group was rough to watch once Joey Bosa went down for the majority of the season and the Chargers got extremely lucky that they had Kyle Van Noy step up in a spot he wasn’t expected to play full time when the team signed him a year ago. With KVN now a free agent and looking for a bigger pay day after his resurgent performance in LA, the Bolts are plenty thin behind their two stars.

Unless Rumph makes a huge jump forward, he’s still no better than a rotational player with a skillset that best fits specific pass rush packages as opposed to a three-down player in Brandon Staley’s defense.

Most would say edge rusher is the most important position on the field aside from the quarterback, so I’d actually consider listening to any argument that edge rusher should be higher on this list. Based on where the Chargers are picking in the first and second, I can’t help but feel there will be a run on the draft’s Tier 2 pass rushers between their picks which makes me feel that the Bolts won’t be able to get great value at either one.

I like Georgia Tech’s Keion White but he may be gone between No. 21 and No. 54. If that’s the case, Auburn’s Derick Hall is a great fit, in my opinion.

4.) Tight End

Current tight ends under contract: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre’ McKitty, Stone Smartt

I’ve seen some outlets call the Chargers tight end room “good” when it comes to depth but I just can’t see it that way. Everett recorded career highs in his first year with Herbert but part of that is likely due to injuries to both Allen and Williams. Someone had to catch the ball and Everett found himself right up there at the top next to Austin Ekeler in some games.

At the end of the day, the Chargers need a well-rounded starter that can excel at in-line work and that just isn’t on the roster right now.

Notre Dame’s Michale Mayer has been a very popular name for the Chargers at No. 21 but let’s not forget about Georgia’s Darnell Washington. The way he moved the sled at the combine last month was lightyears better than any other tight end aside from Mayer. He’s essentially an extra offensive tackle that can catch and runs a 4.64. Those types of players definitely do not grow on trees.

5.) Linebacker

Current linebackers under contract: Eric Kendricks, Kenneth Murray, Amen Ogbongbmiga, Nick Niemann, Damon Lloyd, Tyreek Maddox-Williams

The linebacker group was one of the weakest on the Chargers heading into the 2022 season and it has only gotten worse now just several weeks away from the 2023 draft. The Bolts swapped Drue Tranquill for Eric Kendricks in a move that will certainly divide fans who believe one is much more valuable than the other. Regardless of the subjective discussion, Kendricks is into his 30s with a lot of tread on his tires. He’s still a much more proven linebacker with many years of sustained success but only time will tell if this was the right move when it comes to building a Super Bowl contender as fast as possible.

Aside from Kendricks, the team has just Kenneth Murray as the only other linebacker with notable experience in the NFL. After those two, it’s Amen Ogbongbemiga (2021 UDFA), Nick Niemann (2020 sixth-round pick), Damon Lloyd (former UDFA), and Tyreek Maddox-Williams (2022 UDFA). While they have plenty of bodies, none of them inspire much confidence, which means they’re one injury away from playing career special-teamers.