The Los Angeles Chargers are in the middle of an enormous transition, and part of that movement will mean adding new players to the roster. In addition to maximizing the fifth overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft, they’ll need to hit on selections throughout the draft in order to build the depth that Tom Telesco rosters sorely lacked.
Events like the Senior Bowl are critical touchstones in that process, and give teams insight into some of the most exciting players the draft has to offer. With only 58 draft-eligible underclassman in this year’s draft, nailing these evaluations will be even more crucial.
With that in mind, we can cover some of the standouts – at least by my eye – that could help the Chargers build out their roster.
Los Angeles needs help in the secondary, but that’s unlikely to come in the first round without a surprise trade down. A number of prospects in this year’s Senior Bowl can serve as second- or third-round targets in addition to players that could serve as key special-teamers in the later rounds that may turn into necessary depth or even as eventual starters.
The talk of the town in Mobile has been the Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell, who has succeeded against nearly every receiver at the Senior Bowl in both man and zone coverage assignments. Mitchell has played with anticipation and stickiness uncommon among the players in attendance. His explosive play has given him range at the catch point and his confidence is undeniable.
Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell is the best defensive player at Senior Bowl & this is the best rep of the week! pic.twitter.com/SOBJeZGLlH— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 31, 2024
There has been talk that Mitchell could sneak into the first round but that’s true of any player with buzz this early in the process. If enough of those types of players make waves a steal like Mitchell could be available at the top of the second.
In addition to Mitchell, Notre Dame cornerback Cam Hart — a 6’3” behemoth at the position – has been playing to his size. His height and length – 32 5/8” arms – have given him an advantage that he seems extremely comfortable using and he plays with quickness more characteristic of a 6-foot player. He’s come away with a few picks in practice, primarily as a zone corner with eyes on the quarterback.
He showcases good tools in man coverage outside of just his length and his controlled, instinctive play might be a reason to wait a bit longer in the draft for help in the secondary.
We also saw flashes from D.J. James from Auburn, Jarvis Brownlee Jr. from Loiuisville and Kris Abrams-Draine from Missouri.
The Chargers need improvement everywhere, but if they really want to fulfill the Jim Harbaugh vision of a hard-nosed run-first franchise, they’ll need some help grading the road up front. This has been an excellent class of Senior Bowl representatives along the interior and it might be easy to lose track of standouts like Arkansas center Beaux Limmer, who was one of the few players who could consistently handle well-regarded nose tackles like T’Vondre Sweat.
Jackson Powers-Johnson, also known as JPJ, might be the star of the offensive line group this week. There are other high-profile prospects that have done well over the last two days, but it is impossible to ignore the dominance that the Oregon center has brought to the table.
Powers-Johnson has a great shot of going near the middle of the first round but has often been mocked going a little bit later. That puts him a bit out of the reach of the Chargers unless they trade down a bit early in the draft and use the extra ammunition to engineer another trade, this time up from the second.
Still, if he falls, he’s a good player to keep an eye on. He moved well in the run drills and showcased astounding balance and recovery. He’s a favorite in the trenches.
More JPJ...— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 31, 2024
Michael Hall has claimed multiple victims this week w/ his quickness. But JPJ stayed glued to him during each rep.
Love the patience off the snap and then the quick-reaction to avoid Hall's swipe and go right into his mirror, shielding Hall from the QB. pic.twitter.com/fZy4a60CUf
On the same offensive line, Taliese Fuaga – projected to go around where Powers-Johnson is – played lights-out football. The Oregon State product wasn’t quite as consistent as his rival at center, but he moved extremely well, demonstrated active hands, a great punch and good recovery. The fluidity of his action would have been impressive for a 290-pound tackle, so Fuaga’s movement at 332 pounds is even more eye-popping.
In a strong tackle class, someone like Fuaga could fall into the second round. There, the Chargers could play him at right tackle, his college position, or at guard.
Tyler Guyton, a tackle from Oklahoma, had a good day on Day 1 and was inconsistent on Day 2, but has the tools and movement skills of a potential star at the position. He also may be a first-round prospect picked in the 20s and is well worth a look from Chargers fans.
Later in the draft, they might be interested in Missouri offensive lineman Javon Foster or Illinois guard Isaiah Adams.
Adding pass rush to a Los Angeles Chargers unit that was top-heavy and aged before the addition of Tuli Tuipulotu seems critical and that could come along the edge or along the defensive line. In addition to someone like Sweat, who showcased pass-rush capability to go along with his obvious value as a run blocker, Darius Robinson stood out.
Robinson could be a five-technique defensive end/edge rusher hybrid in the same role as Calais Campbell or he could kick inside a bit more like Justin Madubuike, but he’ll likely be effective either way. He had a tremendous week and found himself in the backfield fairly frequently through individual and team drills. He may have improved his stock from an early third-round prospect to the early second round. There’s even first-round talk for the Missouri prospect.
Falling in love with Missouri DL Darius Robinson. Dude is absolutely killing it down here.— Lorin Cox (@CoxSports1) January 31, 2024
6’5”, 286 and unblockable this week
Stock up pic.twitter.com/LOFBO5QJQT
The Chargers aren’t getting younger at the position and need to reload quickly. The Senior Bowl brought in a number of types of receiver but there has been one type that has stood out – the quicker slot/flanker type in the mold of this year’s offensive rookie of the year Puka Nacua.
Both Roman Wilson from Michigan and Ladd McConkey from Georgia were dominant over both days of practice. McConkey had a bit more trouble with physicality in Day 2 but bounced back tremendously well throughout the practice.
Wilson and McConkey were deadly on slot routes like the two-way go as well as the now popular slot over routes seen from players like Nacua, Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson. On the outside both demonstrated what Tank Dell proved last year – that press coverage only disrupts players slow enough to get hit.
McConkey is a bit taller but struggled more with physicality and had some more success underneath, so he might be better utilized as a slot-dominant player who can flex outside while Wilson might be comfortable playing in a motion-oriented offense that can put him anywhere at a moment’s notice, but both were wonderful to watch.
Jamari Thrash from Louisville was also a fantastic watch. His patient deep-ball tracking combined with his furious release and explosive deep speed made him a problem for opposing corners. The woefully inaccurate quarterback group looked pretty lost on most deep balls until Thrash was the one reeling them in. Making a quarterback look good is a rare and valuable skill for a receiver to have.
For more pure underneath types, Tulane’s Jha’Quan Jackson and Missouri’s Cody Schrader both demonstrate ability while Florida’s Ricky Pearsall is worth a mention as a very solid pure route runner that kept giving defensive backs fits.