Now that the new Chargers braintrust is in place, we can begin to look forward to the draft as we start to slowly but surely piece together the philosophies of both Jim Harbaugh and Joe Hortiz in regards to team building and roster construction.
Harbaugh was blue-collar collars who live and breathe the game of football. Hortiz likes a combination of tough and rugged trench players with speed and athleticism playing around them. Over the coming months, we’ll start to see which prospects the Chargers are reportedly meeting with during the combine and official visits and then be able to cross-reference those with what we are already surmising about their evaluation process.
To get things rolling in this regard, I took a look at three players who stood out during this past week’s Shrine Bowl that I believe could become late-round prospects of the Chargers during April’s draft.
Frank Gore Jr., RB, Southern Mississippi.
From 2011-2014, Gore’s father played under new Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh, averaging just under 1,200 yards and eight total touchdowns per season. Those were also his age-28 to 31 seasons, all of which came after a sub-1,000 seasons in the year prior to Harbaugh arriving.
Like his father, Gore Jr. is a no-nonsense runner who isn’t going to waste time dancing in the backfield. Despite his size (5’7, 200), Gore understands the importance of being able to make one cut and commit to a rushing lane. He carries his pads well and eve showed the ability to break one loose with a 47-yard touchdown run during the Thursday night’s game.
Gore has not been highly-touted thus far in the early draft process, but he made it tough for evaluators to write him off after his latest performance. Plenty of running backs in recent drafts have turned a late-round draft selection into immediate success in the NFL and something tells me his father’s former coach will be keeping an eye on him come April’s draft.
All aboard the Frank Gore Jr hype train— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 2, 2024
Malik Washington, WR, Virginia
During the week of practice, Gore Jr. told reporters that Washington was one of the other offensive players who stood out to him early on in the week of practice.
“Malik Washington, he’s nice. I haven’t been able to just sit there and watch him, but as I see him every day, I see he’s making plays. That’s great. I think that’s cool, and I’m happy for him even though I don’t really know him like that. Real happy for him because I know he put in a lot of work to be here, so just happy for him and happy to be on the team with him.”
The former Northwestern wideout who took his extra COVID season and transferred to Virginia for his final year of eligibility seemed to solidify some quick chemistry with his team’s quarterbacks. Former Maryland passer Taulia Tagovailoa called him a “very, very smart route-runner.”
Washington led the nation with 110 receptions for 1,426 yards and nine touchdowns this past season. His receptions total broke the Virginia and ACC single-season record while his yardage was a new high mark for the program, as well.
Similar to Shrine Bowl alum and former NFL star wideout Steve Smith Sr., Washington manages to find consistent success without being the biggest or fastest player on the field.
The Chargers easily go with a wideout in the first, but if they decide to roll with another position early, I like Washington as a Jim Harbaugh-esque player who will bring his lunch pail everyday for whichever franchise takes a chance on him.
Curtis Jacobs, LB, Penn State
Jacobs knows new Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh well from their days of battling in the Big Ten every year of his four seasons with the Nittany Lions. In 31 career starts, Jacobs has career totals of 171 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, two interceptions, five pass breakups, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries. For a three-year starter, you’d like to see a higher tackle total but that number makes sense when you recall that PSU has recently been a top unit year-in and year-out which means Jacobs hasn’t been subjected to long defensive drives. His unit was consistently quick to shut the door on opposing offenses.
While at the Shrine Bowl, Jacobs made the point to let everyone know he wanted to be the most-athletic linebacker at the all-star game. Per GPS tracking, he wound up with the eighth-fastest on-field speed of any defender during the week’s four practices.
Jacobs is likely going to come off the board on day three due to his sub-par run defense. When he wins, it’s because he used his agility to make blockers miss. When that isn’t the case, he can end up stuck on lineman and sometimes get buried into the ground.
He’s already got good size at 6’1 and 235 pounds, but he’ll have to work on his strength at the point of attack if he wants to raise his chances of success in the pros.
Really impressive rep by Penn State LB Curtis Jacobs #23 (playing. Plays the run fake, peaks back to find the deep over route and hustles to cut off the throwing lane. Nice job opening his hips and accelerating.@CurtisUpNext23 ✅ #ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/vREDIXdT6l— Matt Owen (@ProfessorO_NFL) January 30, 2024