COSTA MESA, Calif. – Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley says he’s always loved the NFL draft, dating back to when he was a kid growing up in Perry, Ohio.
“I remember the Staley boys are ordering Roman’s wings and potato skins and watching every pick in the draft,” Staley told NFL Network at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, referring to himself and his twin brother, Jason. “It’s a Staley family tradition, there’s nothing better.”
Despite the loaded responsibility that accompanies an NFL coach during the three-day draft, Staley hasn’t bucked all tradition. There will be wings aplenty when Staley participates in his third draft as head coach next month.
“Doing it the right way,” he said.
And making the correct picks, they hope.
The Chargers will have the opportunity to add key pieces and supplement a roster that they expected last season to deliver a deep playoff run. But after navigating multiple injuries to finish 10-7 and earning their first playoff berth since 2018, the Chargers were bounced from the postseason after a wild card playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 2023, they will attempt to make a deeper run than they have since 2018, when they advanced to the divisional round. The Chargers have not made the AFC Championship Game in 16 years.
At the start of the new league year, the Chargers managed their salary cap situation, where they were once more than $20 million over the limit, by restructuring the deals of receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack and releasing veteran left guard Matt Feiler.
They re-signed right tackle Trey Pipkins III and defensive lineman Morgan Fox, two key pieces on offense and defense, and swooped in to give a two-year, $13.25 million deal to linebacker Eric Kendricks, who became available when the Minnesota Vikings released him as a salary cap casualty.
However, holes in the lineup remain. The Chargers are continuing their pursuit of free agent safety John Johnson III, but also now must turn their attention to the draft to round out the roster for immediate and future needs.
“There’s strengths all the way through, you’ve just got to find them,” general manager Tom Telesco told the NFL Network about the 2023 draft class. “We’ll find those players, but we’re not necessarily drafting for whatever needs we have this year. We have to draft for the future, so we’ll find the right guys, but there’s plenty of good players in this draft.”
The Chargers own seven selections, including the 21st overall pick. Here is a look at the positions that could be targeted.
When asked about speed, the face of Kellen Moore -- the Chargers' new offensive coordinator by way of the Dallas Cowboys -- lit up.
“Speed is always dangerous ... When you do have speed, it is certainly a huge advantage,” Moore said at his introductory news conference last month. “Speed, you can’t coach it. Speed is very special. Certainly, you want some of that. Every guy doesn’t need it, there are plenty of ways to play in football, but, certainly, when you do have it, it’s a nice little advantage to be able to utilize.”
Look for the Chargers to seek a fast receiver who possesses the ability to stretch the field.
When healthy, the Chargers boast one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the league with Allen, Williams and Joshua Palmer. But they lack a true deep threat for quarterback Justin Herbert.
Telesco acknowledged after the season that they lacked explosive speed at receiver, but added that the playmaking ability of Williams, Allen and Palmer could mitigate it and that he was unwilling to part with any to attain it.
“Would I love a ... 4.3 receiver? Yeah. Are you kidding me? Absolutely,” Telesco said. “But, I like the guys that we have, too. I’m not giving those guys back.”
He won’t have to.
With the 21st pick, the Chargers will have the chance to add an explosive playmaker -- like USC’s Jordan Addison, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Boston College’s Zay Flowers -- at the position.
Tight ends played key roles in Moore’s offense in Dallas.
It’s an area lacking for the Chargers despite the return of seventh-year pro Gerald Everett, who possesses versatility in the passing game but leaves something to be desired as a blocker and who also is approaching the final season of a two-year contract.
Selecting a tight end early would accomplish both of Telesco’s draft goals: Filling a short-term need but also looking ahead to the future.
This is a key position that must be addressed and there are several prospects in the draft who have received first and second-round grades.
Austin Ekeler is exploring his trade options after the Chargers nixed discussions about a contract extension, but with a cool running back market, it remains a possibility that Ekeler will return to play out the final season of his four-year deal.
This position group must be addressed on multiple levels: In the near future, to build depth behind Ekeler. But looking to the 2024 season, it appears likely that Ekeler no longer will be a Charger, and the team must find a back who is capable of leading the group into the future.
The Chargers have continuously invested in their offensive line, which included utilizing their first-round picks the last two years on left tackle Rashawn Slater and right guard Zion Johnson.
Center Corey Linsley returns for the third season of a five-year deal, but it’s not too soon to be looking at the position’s future.
The Chargers could utilize a midround pick on a player capable of backing up Linsley, a 10th-year pro, and who could also learn at his elbow.
Bosa and Mack were anticipated to be among the top pass-rushing duos in the league last season, but that expectation failed to materialize after Bosa was placed on injured reserve after Week 3.
Bosa and Mack will try again in 2023, and both remain under contract for at least two seasons, but depth must be built behind them.
Chris Rumph II, a fourth-round pick in 2021, was unable to capitalize on his opportunity to fill in last season and watched veteran Kyle Van Noy (now a free agent) take most of the snaps at the position.
The Chargers are pursuing Johnson, who was released from the Cleveland Browns with a season remaining on his contract, but there’s no guarantee they’ll land the free agent.
Currently, the depth chart is thin behind Derwin James Jr.
Alohi Gilman can step in, as he proved last season when now-retired safety Nasir Adderley was benched. But questions remain around 2022 third-round pick JT Woods, who will need to prove this offseason that he has taken significant strides in his development.
A work in progress under Staley, the line remains an area that must be tended to this offseason.
If healthy, the Chargers return a lineup of Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Fox, plus Otito Ogbonnia. But depth in this group is paramount, as demonstrated last season when they were forced to finish one game with only three healthy linemen.