Chargers' new attitude starts with drafting huge Joe Alt, beefing up defense, receivers

The Chargers drafted nine players at five positions with the parallel goals of immediate help in 2024 and further depth for seasons to come.

One of the spots they didn’t address — because they didn’t need to — was quarterback, where Justin Herbert is entering the fifth season of a career off to a record-setting start.

However, the Chargers did, in fact, draft someone who has played the position.

“I was a bigger quarterback,” Joe Alt explained, causing laughter throughout his introductory news conference Friday. “Let’s be real, I ran the ball most of the time.”

Alt, all 6-foot-9 and 321 pounds of him, was the team’s first-round pick, selected fifth overall and projected to take over at right tackle. His quarterbacking days ended back in high school in Minnesota.

His addition, plus the Day 2 selections of wide receiver Ladd McConkey and linebacker Junior Colson, highlighted the first Chargers draft for general manager Joe Hortiz and coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I’m really excited the way it went, especially [when] you look at our first pick,” said Hortiz, who then talked about Alt being the best tackle available. “And then the opportunity to take the players we took each time, we were just excited to take every one. I really believe we made our team better.”

Hortiz and Harbaugh addressed obvious needs, while sticking to selections with both production and potential mostly from major programs. The Chargers’ picks came from Notre Dame, Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, USC, Maryland and Troy.

There were no head-scratching decisions or glaring reaches that could be immediately questioned. The Chargers pretty much followed a path that was easy to understand.

“It was outstanding,” assistant general manager Chad Alexander said. “You could tell by how happy everyone was at the end … everyone’s high-fiving and just really pumped up and excited about the result.”

As the first pick, Alt will be the most instantly scrutinized as he makes a key transition that will help determine the overall success of the Chargers up front.

Alt played left tackle at Notre Dame but began working on the right side during his pre-draft ramp up to better prepare for all the possibilities that awaited him.

He said he trained with former NFL guard Alex Boone at a facility in Minnesota, adding he didn’t think the switch will be “very drastic” because of that experience and his time as a tight end, which Alt played after giving up quarterback.

As a tight end, Alt said he lined up with each hand on the ground, depending on whether he was on the left or right side of the formation. Alt’s athletic ability and footwork also are expected to aid in the move.

He clearly possesses the sort of attitude Harbaugh famously embraces, the coach always preaching blocking and tackling and old-school principles.

Last season, the Fighting Irish frequently pulled Alt on runs to exploit his skills in more open spaces.

“When I heard those plays called, it was the most fun because you get to show your athletic ability but also [you] have so much more speed rolling behind you to hit somebody,” Alt said. “You have a bigger impact.”

Alt said he has studied Joe Thomas and Lane Johnson in readying for the NFL. He also has watched tape of his father, John, who played offensive tackle for Kansas City for 13 years starting in the mid-1980s.

Hortiz specifically touted McConkey’s route-running precision, which he combines with quickness and 4.39 speed. Said Harbaugh, “I love the guys who can run in the 4.3s.”

McConkey is forecast to give Herbert a reliable target, particularly on the inside, where the Chargers lost Keenan Allen, trading the veteran in March because of salary cap constraints.

But Hortiz also noted McConkey’s production at Georgia when lining up outside, adding that there’s “a lot of football intelligence in his play that carries over in both positions.”

Colson also has flexibility, Harbaugh explaining that his former Michigan Wolverine star can hold down either inside linebacker position. Coming off a college national championship, Colson sounded ready to keep the momentum rolling.

“I believe I’m the guy in the middle they’ve been looking for,” he said, “that guy to be able to run the defense, call the plays.”

On Saturday, the Chargers first beefed up their defensive front by selecting Justin Eboigbe of Alabama in the fourth round. They followed a round later by focusing on the back end, taking a pair of cornerbacks — Maryland’s Tarheeb Still and Notre Dame’s Cam Hart.

Eboigbe, who is 6-foot-4 and 297 pounds, offers the sort of skill set that allowed him to play throughout the Crimson Tide’s defensive line and also has an NFL-ready level of resiliency.

In 2022, he lost his brother, Trey Larenz Earl, in May and then suffered a significant neck injury in September, ending his season after four games.

Eboigbe had surgery and then started on the road back, returning in time for spring practice last year.

“It made me more appreciative,” he said. “It made me understand you got to give everything you got today because one day it will be your last and you never know.”

Still and Hart present the Chargers with potential options in a secondary that features only one proven starter in Asante Samuel Jr.

Still was one of the most productive corners in college football last season, finishing with five interceptions. He played both inside and outside for the Terrapins.

Hart went to Notre Dame as a wide receiver before switching positions his freshman year when the Fighting Irish experienced injuries at cornerback. He has the size — 6-3, 202 — and length that the Chargers covet for the position.

The Chargers finished with an offensive push, adding Troy running back Kimani Vidal in the sixth round and two wide receivers in the seventh — USC’s Brenden Rice and Michigan’s Cornelius Johnson.

Only 5-8 but weighing 213 pounds, Vidal amassed more than 4,000 yards rushing in college, Hortiz noting his ability to break tackles and, especially, his prowess as a stiff-armer.

“He’s not a tall back,” Hortiz said, “but he’s not a small back.”

Rice is the son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and a player who caught the Chargers’ attention in part because of his ability to make plays down the field.

Alexander said both Rice and Johnson “have NFL bodies. They look like NFL receivers.” He also called Johnson perhaps “the best blocking receiver in the draft, certainly one of them.”

Rice took the call from the Chargers while he was out of town for a friend’s funeral. Because he was traveling afterward, Rice was unable to speak to the media.

“It was a tough one knowing what he and his family and friends were going through,” Hortiz said. “[I] certainly felt the emotion through the phone. I felt the emotion myself having to make that call.

“I know he was very excited, you know, while having to deal with the emotions he was facing. He told me when we were talking, ‘I’ve wanted to play for coach Harbaugh. I’m so excited to play for coach Harbaugh. I can’t wait.’

“He was so happy to be a Charger. To feel that, to hear that, it was a pretty cool moment for me. And I’m sure it was a great moment for him.”


After the seventh round ended, the Chargers proceeded to sign undrafted free agents: Karsen Barnhart (G, Michigan), Casey Bauman (QB, Augustana), Luke Benson (TE, Georgia Tech), Akeem Dent (S, Florida State), Jaelen Gill (WR, Fresno State), Thomas Harper (S, Notre Dame), Zach Heins (TE, South Dakota State), Savion Jackson (OLB, North Carolina State), Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste (LB, Mississippi), Leon Johnson (WR, Oklahoma State), Jaylen Johnson (WR, East Carolina), Robert Kennedy (CB, North Carolina State), Micheal Mason (DL, Coastal Carolina), Tremon Morris-Brash (OLB, Central Florida), Tyler McLellan (OT, Campbell), Willis Patrick (G, Texas Christian), Jalyn Phillips (S, Clemson), Tyler Smith (OT, Western Carolina), Zamari Walton (CB, Mississippi), Luquay Washington (LB, Central Connecticut), Bucky Williams (C/G, Appalachian State).

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