The Chargers will hold the No. 21 overall selection in the 2023 NFL draft.
Keeping in mind their biggest areas of need, here are some of the top prospects the Bolts could target in the first round.
WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
The Chargers are missing one element that would maximize quarterback Justin Herbert’s talents: speed.
Hyatt, the reigning Biletnikoff Award recipient, has an electric 4.2 speed, which he used to outrun SEC defenders routinely. Additionally, he has elite ball-tracking skills and is excellent at the catch point.
Hyatt caught 67 passes for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He averaged 18.9 yards per catch, ranked 13th in the nation, and had 14 catches on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield, tied for fourth.
WR Jordan Addison, USC
Addison began his career at Pittsburgh, where he caught 60 passes for 666 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games in 2020 before posting 100 receptions, 1,593 yards and 17 scores in 2021. He transferred to USC after the season and ended 2022 with 59 receptions, 875 yards and eight scores.
Addison boasts some high-quality traits, with the refined route tree to separate at all levels of the field, game-breaking speed, quickness and vision to leave defenders in the dust and the ball skills and body control to reel in nearly everything thrown his way.
WR Josh Downs, North Carolina
Downs might not have the vertical speed that Hyatt does, but he is an explosive runner after the catch. He is great at finding room in open space and taking it for chunk yards. He is a talented route runner with a full route tree. Given his shiftiness and dynamic ability in the open field, Downs can come in and immediately make a play as a return man, too.
Downs left North Carolina ranked No. 3 in the program in career receptions with 202. He had 2,483 receiving yards (No. 4 all-time at UNC) and 22 touchdown catches (No. 2) in his career as a Tar Heel. He put up back-to-back 1,000 receiving-yard seasons in 2021 and 2022.
TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
With Gerald Everett set to be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season, the Chargers could find a true No. 1 tight end in this year’s draft, and Mayer could be that guy and an integral piece in the offense from the get-go.
Mayer showcases focus and strong hands in contested situations, the ability to get upfield quickly after the catch, and the toughness to bring down in open space. Further, he does an excellent job of blocking in space and inline, something the Bolts have struggled to get from their tight ends.
Mayer set program marks at the position for receptions (180), yards (2,099), and touchdown receptions (18) throughout his collegiate career. He also owns the single-season tight end records for receptions (71 in 2021), yards (840 in 2021), and touchdowns (nine in 2022).
TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
Washington’s stats won’t appeal as he caught three touchdown passes and snagged 44 total receptions for 746 yards during his collegiate career. But that’s because he was a part of a loaded Georgia offense. Still, the 6-foot-7 Washington projects to be a high-upside player in the pros, given his traits as a blocker and pass catcher.
Washington has the bulk and strength to punish edge defenders and linebackers. He has the power to make it extremely difficult for defenders to bring him down. While he’s not as natural of a separator, Washington is fantastic in contested situations with his large hands to catch the ball away from his body.
TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah
Kincaid is a prolific pass-catcher with good route-running skills, can produce after the catch, and has the toughness to win and secure crowded catch points. In addition, he is consistent in pass protection and shows the willingness to block in the run game.
Kincaid amassed 103 receptions for 1375 yards and 16 touchdowns in his four years as a starter for the Utes, with his best season coming in his senior campaign, where he racked up an impressive 890 yards on 70 catches.
EDGE Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
In a pass-happy league, you need players to disrupt quarterbacks consistently. And the Chargers would benefit from adding another premier pass rusher, especially as they start preparing for life after an aging Khalil Mack.
As a pass rusher, Van Ness can overwhelm blockers with the ability to convert speed to power. At 6-foot-5 and 269 pounds, Van Ness has the burst and flexibility to corner and close. He possesses the strength and length to defend the run well. Van Ness has the versatility to play up and down the line.
Despite not being a starter, Van Ness was still a key part of the Hawkeye’s defensive line over the past two seasons. In 26 games, Van Ness totaled 69 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, and 12 sacks.
EDGE Nolan Smith, Georgia
Smith, a former five-star and top recruit, has been with Georgia for four seasons. He has been a consistent leader for the defense during his time with the team. However, midway through his senior season, Smith tore his pectoral muscle against Florida. Smith underwent surgery, which ended his season early.
With an elite athletic profile, Smith has good burst, quickness and speed off the snap of the ball. Smith can change direction well too, which helps him track down ball carriers and shoot inside gaps. With his athleticism comes excellent flexibility to bend around the edge. As a run defender, Smith sets firm edges, sheds blocks well, and is a good tackler.
The injury could impact his draft stock, but Smith’s athleticism and leadership ability are first-round worthy.
RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
I’m a firm believer that running backs should not be drafted in the first round, given the longevity of the players at the position. Still, given the Chargers finishing the near bottom in the league in rushing offense and Austin Ekeler entering the final year of his contract, they might be intrigued by the idea of taking the best in this year’s class.
Defenses need to properly game plan for him, as Robinson is a threat to take any carry to the house. At 6-foot and 222 pounds, Robinson oozes athleticism with explosiveness, elusiveness and speed as a runner. He has the power to run through defenders. Furthermore, Robinson is proven in the passing game, both as a receiver and a blocker to pick up blitzes effectively.
Robinson left Texas fourth on the school’s all-time rushing list, with his 3,410 career yards ranking. He became the first Texas player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Vince Young in 2004-2005, and won the Doak Walker award this year as the best running back in college football.
S Brian Branch, Alabama
This is more of a wild card, but as long as Brandon Staley is the head coach, the Chargers will always be looking to add pieces to the secondary. And with Nasir Adderley, a free agent, likely on his way out, a player like Branch would make sense.
Branch, who played the STAR role in Nick Saban’s defense, has the movement skills and footwork to lock down slot receivers. Against the run, where the Chargers struggled, Branch takes proper angles and breaks down to finish in space. His versatility to play free safety and nickel should appeal.
In his junior campaign, Branch amassed 90 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, three sacks and two interceptions.