Grading the first Harbaugh and Hortiz Chargers draft

The Sporting Tribune's Fernando Ramirez on Hortiz and Harbaugh hitting it out of the park in their first NFL Draft.

COSTA MESA, Calif. — It is a new era for the Los Angeles Chargers, who just completed their first draft with Jim Harbaugh and Joe Hortiz in charge.

When looking at their complete draft layout, they went for need, players who can make an instant impact, and no projects. They have three players who slid in the draft and could become quality players for them.

Here are the pick grades and then the overall grades:

1st round: Joe Alt, T, Notre Dame

Grade: A

Alt was the Chargers highest rated player when they selected, and they got a mountain of a man. He is 6’9, athletic, and fills a huge need for the team. The Notre Dame product will likely slide into right tackle, which he said he spoke to the Chargers about multiple times. 

He will help solidify the opposite side of the tackle position as Rashawn Slater plays the other side. Now, the Chargers staff need to work on solidifying the interior.

2nd round: Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia

Dec 30, 2023; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) makes a catch and runs for touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half in the 2023 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

The Chargers moved up to grab McConkey to help improve a depleted receiver room after they moved on from Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. 

It is easy to say McConkey is similar to Cooper Kupp, but he is faster. His comp is probably Tyler Lockett. He finds the defense’s cushion, and when he makes the catch, he turns up the field and burns them with his speed. He could be a home run hitter for this offense.

3rd round: Junior Colson, LB, Michigan

Jan 8, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker Junior Colson (25) against the Washington Huskies during the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A-

This one was simple. It was surprising he dropped to the third round even Hortiz mentioned they couldn’t believe he was there at 69. He wore the green dot in the Jesse Minter defense and knew precisely how to run it.

Colson makes plays and could be a perfect running mate for Denel Perryman. He can also play special teams and contribute that way, but this was a great value pick for them.

4th round: Justin EboigbeDT, Alabama

Grade: B

The defensive line needed a boost, and Eboigbe could help in that area. His strength at Alabama was his ability to stop the run. What he really grew into was his pass-rushing ability, going from 1.5 sacks in three previous seasons to 7.0 this last season.

He will be a good asset to a defensive line that is still in progress. Eboigbe should be able to make his mark on the line.

“When you watch his film, he does everything right,” Hortiz explained. “He plays the defensive line position how we want it done. It’s hat in hands, extending, two-gapping, reading, he’s instinctive. He has a high motor. He’s athletic. He’s a sneaky pass rusher. He’s great at picking. He’s great on twists. Kind of relentless motor. He’s earned the right wherever he came from, the riser.”

5th round: Tarheeb Still, CB, Maryland

Grade: B-

There were some questions about why Still was taken ahead of the next Chargers draft pick. He still seems to have the ability to be a solid nickel corner, especially because he can tackle. He isn’t scared of putting his hat in there, a trait that Minter’s defense needs. Hortiz mentioned his ability to play inside or out as well.

“He moves around, has that versatility, has that toughness, burst, explosiveness,” Hortiz said.

5th round: Cam Hart, CB, Notre Dame

Grade: A

Hart was a big part of the success of The Irish defense. He did a good job covering 4th overall pick Marvin Harrison Jr., so it was surprising he fell into the Chargers’ lap. Hart is also a solid tackler and can move to either side of the field. He is a starting-caliber cornerback.

“The traits are outstanding,” Hortiz said. “He’s highly competitive. He can challenge all throws when he is in position. Length to recover, speed to recover.”

6th round: Kimani Vidal, RB, Troy

Grade: B+

This might be a steal for the Chargers. Watching Vidal run the ball is something different. He is quick and has a burst once he gets past the second level—that breakaway speed. Gus Edwards is a bruiser, and it will be interesting to see how JK Dobbins has recovered, but Vidal could be their biggest weapon.

“(He) just runs through arm tackles, can make guys miss, take a hit, stay on his feet, great balance, strong,” Hortiz explained. “DBs are closing in on him, he’ll punch them with a stiff arm and just keep going. He just competes. He also offers something in the passing game, as well. When you watch him block, it’s impressive. He will throw it up in there against a blitzing linebacker.”

7th round: Brenden Rice, WR, USC

Grade: A-

Rice said at his Pro Day that he would love to play for Harbaugh, who heavily recruited him when he was in high school. Now they have a chance to make some magic. Looking on social media shows that Rice is ready to make an impact for the Chargers. He was projected to be a 4th rounder but dropped into Hortiz’s lap.

“When we were talking, he was like, ‘I’ve wanted to play for [Head] Coach [Jim] Harbaugh. I’m so excited to play for Coach Harbaugh. I can’t wait.’ He was so happy to be a Charger,” Hortiz said.

7th round: Cornelius Johnson, WR, Michigan

Grade: B

Another surprising drop as Johnson was seen as a 4th or 5th-round receiver. Harbaugh is familiar with Johnson and knows what he does well. He possesses good speed and is a great run blocker.

“Really productive, tough-minded individual,” Hortiz said. “He might be the best blocking receiver in the draft, or certainly one of them. He gets after it.”

Overall grade: A

The Chargers have many key needs in this draft, and the players will be able to contribute in some way. They still need guard, safety, defensive line and maybe another edge rusher.

Hortiz said when he was first hired that they would always look to improve the roster, so it would be interesting to see what moves they would make, especially after the June 1st cuts.

“Me personally, I sat in there and go through the process. I know the process,” Hortiz explained. “I’ve never done it from that chair, but after doing it, after meetings and after everything, you learn a lot more than you even realized just by sitting there and watching them. It probably took a little bit from each of them. 

Some philosophical stuff that Ozzie taught us way back when that came into play in my mind many times and, certainly, the mechanics and the strategy that Eric has employed since he was the director of college scouting and director of player personnel in Baltimore. I watched him do it for so long. A lot of that rubbed off on me and I tried to apply a lot of what I learned from both of those guys.”