We’re three weeks into the 2023 NFL season but that isn’t going to stop anyone from looking towards the future, especially if things continue to go south over the first half of the schedule.
The Chargers have a lot of top-end talent at a number of positions so this year’s draft is likely spent either filling the voids between that talent or potentially starting new should the team move on from a veteran or two due to salary cap constraints.
This week, I want to start getting the community associated with some names that will likely be on every team’s draft boards come April. In this article, I’m highlighting three players that should be among the top players at several positions of need for the Chargers in 2024.
DT Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois
After struggling to stop the run for several years, the Chargers went out and upgraded their interior with the likes of Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson. The immediate results weren’t great as Johnson missed most of his first season in 2022 and the combination of Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox wasn’t enough to keep opposing rushers from going crazy.
If the Chargers’ misfortune continues to last through most of this season, they could find themselves in a spot where grabbing one of the nation’s top defensive lineman is a reality.
Enter Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton, arguably the best run stopper-pass rusher combination amongst interior defenders in the 2024 draft class. During the 2022 season, Newton helped Illinois’ unit finish as the number one scoring defense in the country while also leading them in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (14). Through four games this season, he has a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss with two pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. He also leads all interior defensive lineman with 14 pressures on the year.
Newton will not when because he possesses elite length or overall size, but he’ll give you maximal effort down-in and down-out combined with a sense and feel for the game that can’t simply be coached. Any play run between the tackles will be affected by him in some degree and that’s the type of impact any franchise would love to have in their front seven.
Jer’Zhan Newton has been UNBLOCKABLE in the first few weeks of the season, and some NFL Scouts believe he's the Next Jalen Carter.— The Football Scout (@NFLTrenchBattle) September 23, 2023
He had 7 Pressures vs Penn State in week 3, one of the best OLs in CFB. His 14 total pressures currently ranks 1st in the country. Keep an eye on… pic.twitter.com/8AK8Ws7ebI
LB Barrett Carter, Clemson
Carter is set to be the next uber-athletic defender to come out of Clemson following the likes of Isaiah Simmons (2020 first-rounder) and Trenton Simpson (2023 third-rounder). Like each of his predecessors, Carter can line up in a myriad of spots across the front seven and find a way to impact the play all the same.
This past season, the 6’1, 230-pounder stuffed the stat sheet with 77 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He’s been a bit quieter this year as he’s managed just 18 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss through four games, but it’s somewhat understandable as Clemson has seemingly taken a step back on both sides of the ball in 2023.
As a former five-star recruit, he’ll carry with him a pedigree that likely earns him a higher selection on draft day regardless of how his final season ends with the Tigers. But at the end of the day, teams will likely covet Carter as a do-it-all defender who earned Pro Football Focus grades of 75.0 or higher as a run defender, pass-rusher, and coverage player a year ago.
Lol alright there Barrett Carter pic.twitter.com/2R9sUGD4Vf— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 14, 2023
TE Ja’Tavion Sanders, Texas
Some of you might recognize this name as Sanders was highlighted to be a potential target for the Chargers in the number of “way-too-early” mock drafts that came out immediately following the Super Bowl. The Chargers are in need of a real difference-maker at tight end and Sanders offers that as a dynamic pass-catcher for the Longhorns.
At 6’4 and a little over 240 pounds, Sanders is off to an explosive start in 2023 with 268 yards and a touchdowns on just 12 receptions. That’s an average of 22.3 yards per receptions. Not many tight ends have ever touched those numbers and he did so with one of his four games coming against the vaunted Alabama defense.
A season ago, Sanders was named a First-Team All-Big 12 selection after catching 54 passes for 613 yards and five scores.
Sanders is an explosive athlete who lines just about everywhere for the Longhorns. He gets plenty of run in a three-point stance as a connected tight end and as a wing off the line of scrimmage. Scouts believe he’s a willing blocker, but he still needs some polish there to really take his game to another level in preparation for the NFL.