The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books. The Los Angeles Chargers had a relatively uneventful Draft, having one pick for each round. Most of their picks were spent on trying to fill spots where there was not a desperate need, but where the front office/coaching staff evidently still wanted to upgrade. The Chargers added the following players for their 2023 NFL Draft Class:
- First Round, 21st overall: Quentin Johnston, wide receiver, TCU
- Second Round, 54th overall: Tuli Tuipulotu, EDGE/defensive end, USC
- Third Round, 85th overall: Daiyan Henley, inside linebacker, Washington State
- Fourth Round, 125th overall: Derius Davis, wide receiver, TCU
- Fifth Round, 156th overall: Jordan McFadden, offensive lineman, Clemson
- Sixth Round, 200th overall: Scott Matlock, defensive tackle, Boise State
- Seventh Round, 239th overall: Max Duggan, quarterback, TCU
Los Angeles Chargers 2023 NFL Draft Grade: 7/10
Breaking Down the Los Angeles Chargers 2023 NFL Draft Class
The Best Player: Quentin Johnston
Chargers fans may find themselves second-guessing this pick a little bit – not necessarily because something is seriously wrong with Johnston himself, but more because many were hoping for someone with a little more breakaway speed at the wide receiver position (Zay Flowers or Jordan Addison). But Johnston does bring some degree of skills that separate him, and it’s not like he wasn’t a first-rounder for a reason.
The main thing that keeps Johnston from being nothing but a discount Mike Williams is his YAC (yards after catch) ability. He has a nice combo of physical strength and speed (not super fast, mind you, but still faster than most of the other Chargers receivers – which isn’t saying much) which helps make him some impressive plays after the catch. His physicality and height make him a mismatch against most defenders as well. The main actual concern with him is his route-running ability (plus he’s not the 50-50-ball catcher that Williams is), but the hope from the Chargers seems to be that his other attributes will make up for this. Regardless, it’s another talented weapon for Justin Herbert, and fans can’t be upset about that.
The Head-Scratcher: No Running Backs
To reiterate the current Chargers running back situation: Austin Ekeler is in a contract dispute and requested a trade. There were no takers pre-Draft, and Ekeler has stated he will play and not sit out games. But Ekeler is still almost certainly gone next year, and there are literally no running backs currently on the roster that could step into an RB1 role. Joshua Kelley’s ceiling seems to be as a third-down back. Isaiah Spiller was a healthy scratch much of last year – which bodes terribly. Larry Rountree III probably won’t even make the final 53-man roster (again).
Despite all of this, somehow, the Draft came and went without the Chargers drafting any running backs. This is baffling. This leaves the Chargers without a backup plan right now for when Ekeler is gone. Do they plan to solve the problem in 2024’s draft? Do they think Spiller will have a massive turnaround in Year 2? Perhaps the Chargers know something we don’t, or they have a different plan. But until (and if) such possibilities come to fruition, Chargers fans will be left scratching their heads on this one.
The Surprise: Daiyan Henley
This is mainly a surprise because inside linebacker wasn’t a position expected to get a Day 1 or Day 2 prospect for the Chargers. Eric Kendricks and Kenneth Murray appeared to be the locked-in starters. However, this particular drafting suggests Murray could be in Brandon Staley’s doghouse – which is understandable, given that he has not shown much since his rookie year. They also declined his fifth-year option on the day of the Draft.
There was no indication of this going into the Draft, however; Murray still seemed to be slotted in as the starter, and the Chargers let Drue Tranquill walk. Perhaps the plan is to ease Henley into the starting lineup and let Murray walk next year and then make Henley the full-time starter with Kendricks for the 2024 season.
The Steal: Daiyan Henley (again)
Henley was really the only player that would qualify for this for the Chargers. He was expected to go in the second round and was projected to go as high as the 40s. Admittedly, this was not the most popular linebacker draft class, but Henley slipping all the way to 85 is still notable.
Most Likely to Turn Heads In Training Camp: Derius Davis
The Chargers drafted a second rookie wide receiver in the fourth round this year. This one is more of a kick/punt returner, meant to replace DeAndre Carter, who walked in free agency. Still, one can’t count out the possibility of him making some noise as a receiver. He recorded a 40 time of 4.36, making him possibly the fastest receiver in the corps along with Jalen Guyton.
Davis probably will only be a rotational piece as a receiver, given the competition in the receiving corps (Josh Palmer looks to be WR4 now). But don’t be surprised if he gets worked into the mix as a downfield dart throw. Even just as a rotational piece, his speed gives him too much potential electric ability to be relegated only to special teams. He may have been a bit of a reach in the fourth round, but he still has the potential to be an exciting player.
It’s a little surprising we’ve gotten this far without mentioning the second-round pick Tuli Tuipulotu. He’s listed as an EDGE/outside linebacker, but he could play on the defensive line as well. That would be more likely for him in 2023, given that Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack currently are taking the two EDGE slots. But given that one of those two is likely to be gone in 2024 due to their cap hits, Tuipulotu could become one of the new EDGE starters by next year. He will probably be a rotational piece for now until then – albeit a highly-drafted one who could potentially make some noise on the line.
The Chargers added another defensive lineman in the sixth round in Scott Matlock – at that point, it’s a dart throw as to how someone will pan out. Beyond that, offensive lineman Jordan McFadden is another one of those versatile linemen that can play in multiple spots that the Chargers love these days. Finally, quarterback Max Duggan will probably be competing for the QB2 spot with Easton Stick, and also marks the third rookie selected from TCU this year. Make of that what you will.
Most of the criticism that could be levied at this Chargers draft class is less who they took (aside from Duggan – that one just seems pointless), but rather what positions they didn’t take. Running back questions went unanswered. And given that Gerald Everett doesn’t seem to be the long-term answer at tight end, it’s surprising they didn’t take advantage of a strong tight end class. It is also a little odd they didn’t bring in any competition at free safety, even if only via a Day 3 pick. Still, there are certainly some interesting pieces in this Chargers draft class – even if not all of them contribute now, some certainly will later.